To Counter Burnout, One Must be Rekindled after Brain Injury

Brain Injury Blog

To Counter Burnout, One must be Rekindled

by Jessica Felix Jager, MSW

When one sustains a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), it not only changes his or her life from that point on, but also changes the lives of his or her family members. It is for this reason that it is claimed that when a TBI happens, it happens to the entire family. Family involvement is inevitable after a loved one endures a TBI. The level of family involvement needed however, depends on the severity and nature of the TBI that was obtained by the loved one.

Family Involvement

Immediately following a traumatic event that resulted in the Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), the family, as a whole becomes the main support system. The family advocates and helps with caretaking as they assist hospital staff in the initial stages of recovery. As the Survivor reaches the level of recovery that grants release home from the hospital and/or rehabilitation setting, the family members go through an adjustment period where different members continue to provide support and advocacy for their loved one, while adding on the role of caretaking and case management. Once the TBI Survivor and family members reach the 1-2 year mark post TBI, family members begin to feel/acknowledge the following according to the Essential Brain Injury Guide (2007):

  • Realism of the situation sets in
  • Family begins to get exhausted
  • Reduction of time with loved one
  • Bereavement like emotions may occur

It is after this point that each family member must be very mindful to not head down the path of burnout.


Burnout is defined by Encarta World Dictionary as psychological exhaustion and diminished efficiency resulting from overwork or prolonged exposure to stress (1999). Carrying the burden of caring for another’s needs in addition to one’s own can after time become rather heavy and exhausting, especially when one is reminded of how the one he or she is caring for once was pre-traumatic brain injury. Holding on to the hope and desire that in time the loved one will once again be as he or she was can add to the frustrations that the responsibilities of everyday life brings. Jesse Jackson in his Democratic National Convention speech in Chicago made a profound statement when he said, “Burdens shared are easier to bear” (Frank, 2001). There is much truth in this statement. If one were carrying a sack of bricks, would it not be easier to lift this sack if another came along side and helped? The same applies to the burdens that family members carry as a result of the newly acquired responsibilities that came with their loved one receiving a TBI. If one family member continues to be the sole person carrying the burden, then he or she is a step away from reaching the point of burn out.

The onset of burnout can be identified when the following symptoms present themselves, however, not all symptoms must be present in order for burnout to be recognized:

  • Chronic fatigue
  • Distorted perceptions
  • Too tired to tend to important small tasks
  • Sleep is not refreshing
  • Falling asleep is harder
  • Mind doesn’t stop- has trouble resting
  • Taps nervously
  • Tension in shoulders
  • Headaches
  • Digestion problems
  • Indigestion
  • Stomach ulcers
  • Increase feeling of anxiety
  • Questions God- faith waivers
  • Neglects renewal activities-doesn’t take time for self to get refreshed
  • Feel often frustrated
  • Feels what he or she does has become meaningless

*List of these symptoms were taken from Living Waters’ Healing the Heart teaching called Healing from Burn Out with additional symptoms added by this author.

Be Rekindled  

Once one identifies that he or she has burned out or are on the brink of it, actions to be rekindled must be taken. One cannot give what he or she does not have. Burnout can be countered if the sole caretaker takes some much needed time to get filled up, rest, delight in something and find peace and help among safe people such as trusted friends and family. Devoted caregivers often feel that if they take any time for themselves, they are being selfish and are essentially neglecting their loved one. The reality is the opposite. If the caregiver does not take time to get replenished and recharged, then he or she will have nothing left to give the loved one, and that will truly result in the inevitable: neglect.

The thought of finding time among every day responsibilities can in itself seem like an overwhelming chore. This does not have to be the case. Start small by taking an hour a day to focus on something outside of care giving that brings fulfillment in someway. Gradually add a little more time until a full day can be taken off. Scheduling time to get recharged can also be more efficient for those that like to plan out each day.  During this scheduled time incorporate activities such as:

  • Taking an hour lunch break outside in the fresh air.
  • Reading a book
  • Journaling
  • Watching a favorite program
  • Riding a bike
  • Going on a walk
  • Calling a close friend to catch up
  • Listening to music
  • Reading articles, news or blogs that are of interest
  • Making plans to spend time with friends or family members that do not drain, but instead bring joy and laughter.
  • Looking up funny youtube videos or encouraging posts online

Simply put, do something that requires little thought that brings enjoyment. This time can serve as an escape from the chaos that is battled daily. In order to do well in a battle and stay strong and persevere, one must get the proper training, tools and weapons. Getting rekindled does just that. If one takes the time to rekindle hopes, passions, and the things that once brought joy, then the caregiver responsibility will no longer be as dreadful of a chore or obligation, but rather will grow into an appreciated responsibility done out of sincere love and care. To counter burnout, one must be rekindled.


Brain Injury Association of America (2007). The Essential Brain Injury Guide (4th ed).

Ypsilanti, MI: Rainbow Rehabilitation Centers, Inc.

Encarta World English Dictionary. (1999) Microsoft Corporation. Bloomsbury Publishing Plc.

Frank, L.R. (2001). Quotionary. New York, NY: Random House, Inc.

Living Waters (2011). Healing the Heart Workshop Teachings. Hiddenite, NC.

5 responses to “To Counter Burnout, One Must be Rekindled after Brain Injury”

  1. Wonderful advice! I once had all the symptoms of burnout, but managed to stave it off with the help of family and friends that noticed and gave me a break. I would add one more thing to the list of things that may help and that is Guided Imagery. There are several relaxation tapes one can listen to that truly help a person under extreme stress to mentally take a break in their own home. It only requires one hour of quiet time and can truly make a difference. It helped me so much.

    Thank you for such an informative and helpful post!

  2. Barbara says:

    This is good very advice for survivors as well! The rehabilitation road is very long and very hard work. It is very easy to burn out, become depressed and give up hope. Your suggestions for starting with small steps are especially helpful.

    Thank you!
    Barbara Webster

  3. So glad you guys enjoy the article! Feel free to send me ideas or topics you would like me to write on for future articles! All feedback is welcome!


  4. Jessica, thank you for the great post. You pack a lot of good information into a short article. I hope that many family caregivers will read this and follow your advice. And thanks for including journaling in your list of rekindling activities. That’s always been one of my favorites!

  5. This was very helpful. I did not realize the small steps can help. I kind of overload myself and if I can’t get away for a day or week it won’t help. These little steps do help and I have begun to do them, adding a book club one night for an hour a month, then two book clubs, etc. Seeing a friend for shopping trip or lunch. Keep sending us these helpful ideas. Caregiving can be so isolating.

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