Gerbil Wheel Caregiving

Breaking The Cycle Of Gerbil Wheel Caregiving

Harriet Hodgson used the term gerbil wheel caregiving in her mid-April blog post for The Caregiver Space.

In her post, the seasoned caregiver (she has over 23 years of experience and has cared for family members from three generations) wrote, 

“I’ve felt like I’m running around a gerbil wheel. It’s upsetting. No matter how fast I run or how long I run, I don’t seem to make any progress. I feel like I’m behind constantly.”


Hodgson’s feelings likely resonate with many people. But when these feelings happen, they might be hard to accept. It isn’t uncommon for caregivers to wonder, as Hodgson did, 

“Why is this happening to an experienced caregiver like me?”

Hopping off the wheel might seem scary, especially if you feel like you can’t stop. But while the initial jump is daunting, it’s not impossible. 

Hodgson wrote how she ended the cycle of gerbil wheel caregiving before it led to caregiver burnout, starting by recognizing the need. 

Once she realized a change was necessary, Hodgson said she realized she needed to be proactive about following through with her decision. 

Talk About Your Feelings

She began by talking to her husband, who she helps with daily tasks because he has paraplegia. Hodgson expressed how certain things he said made her feel more pressure, even though he didn’t intend his words to cause an additional burden for her. 

Their talk eased some of the stress Hodgson felt while caring for her husband and helped her be more patient with him. 

Caregivers on the brink of burnout might resolve underlying hard feelings by communicating them with those they care for.

Discussing your feelings with other people around you, whether it’s other family members, colleagues, or friends, is also an essential aspect of ending the cycle. 

Don’t Be Afraid To Set Boundaries

Hodgson said that one way she stopped gerbil wheel caregiving was by asking her husband to wait. They agreed that if he called for help and she was in the middle of another task, such as dishes or laundry, she would explain what she was doing. 

Setting boundaries like these are vital. By asking her husband to wait (but still letting him know she’d be there), Hodgson no longer felt pulled in a dozen different directions. 

Caregivers should be clear about their needs and work with loved ones to set limits. 

Take Care Of Yourself


Boundaries are healthy and a necessary part of maintaining your wellbeing. When caregivers set limits, they can make more time for themselves. 

Similarly, when Hodgson set boundaries, she also promised herself that she would make a better effort to care for her wellbeing. 

Self-care can be difficult for caregivers, especially if you feel you don’t have the time. But even as little as fifteen minutes a day can help you recharge.

Explore New Things

Trying new things is one aspect of self-care that often goes unrecognized. But as Hodgson exercised self-care, she branched out to explore new hobbies and interests.

Gerbil wheel caregiving can make every day feel the same as the last. Adding something new (and positive) to your routine is an excellent way to mix things up and break the monotony that can come with this cycle.

Be Proactive About Loving Yourself

You have countless responsibilities besides caregiving — from housework to bills to your child’s extracurriculars. 

As she worked to end the cycle, Hodgson recognized that she didn’t have to finish every task in front of her. Instead, she listened to her body: when she needed a nap, she took one; when she needed to put her feet up, she laid on the couch and read.

Hodgson observed that minor changes, like putting her needs above chores that would eventually get done added up and made a big difference. And this difference helped her become a better caregiver. 

Everyone’s situation is unique, but every caregiver has it within themselves to end the cycle of gerbil wheel caregiving. As Hodgson said,

“I proved that I have the power to stop running in circles. You can too.


If you need time to find work/life balance or get away from gerbil wheel caregiving, consider hiring a qualified caregiver.

Meetcaregivers ensures that your loved one receives the best care while you rest and recharge. 

There’s nothing wrong with asking for help! Contact us online or call 1-888-541-1136.

Visit the Blog for more information and resources for caregivers, family members, and seniors.


Riddle, Robin. “‘Running in Circles: Gerbil Wheel Caregiving’ (The Caregiver Space Blog).” Brain Support Network, 18 Apr. 2020,

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