One of the most talked about, yet under treated, medical mental illness issues is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. It is defined as one’s emotions and behavior, especially stress reactions, following a trauma. The good news is these behaviors and feelings can get better with time and therapy. When I speak to my corporate groups and individual clients, they often don’t realize PTSD impacts not only how someone functions in life, but how they react to certain situations at work.
First, let me describe some symptoms of PTSD:
- You may have nightmares.
- You may feel like you are going through the event again. This is called a flashback.
- You may avoid crowds, because they feel dangerous.
- You may not have positive or loving feelings toward other people and may stay away from relationships.
- You may forget about parts of the traumatic event or not be able to talk about them.
- You may think the world is completely dangerous, and no one can be trusted.
- You may have trouble concentrating.
- You may be startled by a loud noise or surprise.
- You might want to have your back to a wall in a restaurant or waiting room.
There are other prominent symptoms, too. And you don’t have to have lived through a war to have PTSD. Things like trauma in early childhood, specifically with sexual or physical abuse, can cause these symptoms.
So, how do yo deal with work and your impact on your environment at work when you are dealing with PTSD?
First, understand the symptoms at work;
- Feelings of fear or anxiety
- Physical problems
- Poor interactions with coworkers
- Unreasonable reactions to situations that trigger memories
- Interruptions if you are still in an abusive relationship, harassing phone calls, etc.
- Trouble staying awake at your desk
- Panic attacks
PTSD symptoms usually start soon after the traumatic event. But for some people, they may not happen until months or years after the trauma. And symptoms may come and go over many years, which is why understanding if any of the above symptoms last longer than a four week period, help is needed.
Having proper coping mechanisms, or working with a professional who can help you develop these and strategies, is important. Monitoring your emotional responses to situations will always help you increase your awareness of things that may trigger your PTSD symptoms. You can either navigate a way to avoid these triggers in the workplace or prepare yourself for them in meetings, etc.
Understand you will not be able to control everything and there are going to be times you will need to give yourself a time-out. Yes, the inevitable may happen and there will be times at work when your symptoms are triggered and you start to feel out of control. This stress not only impacts your quality of life and ability to produce quality work, but the stress you feel can impact your coworkers. To be ready for such a situation, plan what you’ll say if you need to excuse yourself from your co-workers or from a client. This isn’t avoidance, but the opportunity to be alone while you put your coping strategies to work. It is always OK to take a bathroom break to collect your thoughts and implement your coping strategy.
When I speak to my professional groups and one-on-one clients, I help them develop coping skills. While I like to personalize these skills and strategies to each person, below are a few tips to help get you started.
- Put music on to help relax the brain and the muscles. If you can’t do this, take a bathroom break and use your phone’s headphones.
- Work on deep breathing techniques. There are plenty of YouTube videos dedicated to this subject.
- Smells work wonders. If you can, spray your space with a pleasant smell or carry a heavily scented lotion that will work.
- Drink a glass of water slowly, this makes you focus on the water- which also adds oxygen to your system.
- Explain that you need a personal moment and step away for ten minutes to go outside for a walk or to sit on a nearby bench for some positive self-talk.
These are just the starting points to coping with PTSD at work. I highly recommend seeing a professional to help develop specific coping strategies and provide you with legal resources for working and living better.
Maryanne Nicholls of The Joy of Living