Navigating Caregiving: How Caregiving Can Lead to PTSD

Caregiver sits upright in the fetal position on a couch in a bright room.
Learn how caregiving can lead to PTSD and how to recognize the symptoms.

PTSD doesn’t just happen to people who have experienced a major life-threatening event. PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) can occur after any traumatic event or experience. It may surprise you to discover that providing care for a loved one is one of the main causes of PTSD. Yet, the condition often goes undetected, and thus untreated, as many people aren’t aware that caregiving can lead to PTSD. This is because the individual receiving care is usually the primary focus of both healthcare providers and the family at large.

As a family caregiver, it is essential to know the red flags of caregiver PTSD – which are noticeably different from other types of PTSD – and to seek help if you are experiencing them. These include:

  • Flashbacks: Reliving a traumatic experience can bring about the same degree of emotion as when the event occurred.
  • Anxiety: Heightened anxiety about your family member’s health and wellness can be particularly noticeable at night, and can result in night terrors.
  • Apathy: You may feel empty, numb, and emotionally detached from loved ones. This may occur in conjunction with compassion fatigue.
  • Pain: Both emotional and physical pain can be unrelenting and overwhelming. This can include stomach upset and headaches in addition to feelings of hopelessness and anguish.

How Does Caregiving Increase the Risk for PTSD?

There are many contributing factors to why caregiving can lead to PTSD, including:

  • Hospitalizations and other emergency situations that arise
  • Grief over a range of losses: watching a loved one’s health diminish, experiencing a relationship shift from simply being a family member to being in a caregiver role, not being able to live life as it was in the past, and more
  • The overwhelming responsibilities involved in caregiving: from day-to-day care tasks to managing life-changing medical and financial decisions on a loved one’s behalf
  • Challenging family dynamics and complex emotions like remorse, guilt, helplessness, and hopelessness

What Should You Do if you Believe You Have Caregiver PTSD?

First, discuss your concerns with your primary care physician to explain the symptoms you’re encountering. You’ll want to rule out any other health conditions, particularly if you’re experiencing any physical pain.

It is also important to identify a therapist who is specifically trained in treating individuals with PTSD. There are effective treatment options, including EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing) therapy, as well as individual, family, or group counseling.

Taking regular breaks from your caregiving role is also very important. Let friends and family members know that you’re struggling and that you could use further support. Caregiving should not be a one-person responsibility. Allowing others to step up and help benefits the person you’re caring for as well, providing them with additional opportunities for social connections.

How Does Home Care Help?

JFS Care’s in-home respite care services allow you to take the time away you’ll need for self-care while knowing a loved one is receiving exceptional care. Taking care of yourself is key to providing the best care for your family member. Email or call us at 213-383-2273 to find out more about our services in Los Angeles, Sherman Oaks, North Hollywood, and the surrounding areas.