Managing Workplace PTSD

By Elizabeth Warren

Have you ever been relaxing, and the mere sound of a phone notification changes your entire mood? Now instead of enjoying some much-needed personal time your thoughts are racing back into work mode and your mind is already undressing the number of emails that could have graced your inbox since you were last at work. Have you ever found yourself cycling through memories of distressing work events in your free time? Maybe instead of all of this you battle nightmares that continue horrifying work scenarios. For those of you who wonder how you can end these routines and reclaim your personal time let’s explore this phenomenon.

For a majority of adults, the workplace is where a significant bulk of their hours are spent. Depending on the nature of an individual’s occupation or work environment they may witness or experience traumatizing events on a daily basis. After exposure to such shocking stimuli a person may begin to experience symptoms that include nightmares, intrusive thoughts relating to trauma, avoidance of settings that remind one of an event, heightened reactions, anxiety, or depressed mood (Beaudry, 2021). These symptoms are typically linked to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). PTSD is a disorder that can be seen in some individuals who have experienced or witnessed a shocking or life threatening event (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, 2022). Post-traumatic stress disorder is a term we hear regularly paired with veterans and survivors of assault, but we often forget this disorder can stem from any form of trauma, even the type that a person may experience in their work place. When we consider the debilitating stress that work trauma may cause an individual it is important to understand the significance of creating a healthy relationship with our work.

Importance of a Healthy Relationship with our Job
Many of us know our “scheduled hours” by heart but we still find ourselves engaging in work practices even when we are off the clock. Through keeping up these habits it becomes harder and harder to enjoy our lives when we are outside of the workspace. You must remember your life is not just work and if you neglect other aspects of life your health may suffer as a result! Work-life balance is an essential part of self-care as it allows one to balance the workday in a way that doesn’t negatively impact their mental or physical health. This balance enables a person to successfully separate work and personal time, which gives them the freedom to leave work stress at the workplace and live a quality life. One of the most common health issues related to the workplace is chronic stress. Creating and maintaining a healthy work life balance decreases the chances of experiencing psychological distress, emotional exhaustion, anxiety, and depression (Gragnano et al., 2020). Below are some tips you can implement as soon as today to work towards better health.

Tips for Creating Balance
1. Create a work mode on your devices.
Many of us will casually sort through our work notifications in our free time which exposes us to additional stress outside of the workplace and strips us from being fully relaxed in our personal lives. Through creating a work mode on our devices, we can effectively tap in and out of work as we start and end our working hours. Most devices have the capabilities to create a personalized work mode which allows you to stop receiving notifications from certain apps. Take a few minutes to figure out how to create a work mode on your personal device and be sure to fully unplug from work outside of your working hours.

2. Practice Mindfulness.
Mindfulness may help you increase your ability to cope with and manage distressing events through granting you the ability to focus on the present moment. As a person engages regularly with mindfulness exercises, they can learn to observe thoughts and feelings as well as let them pass without judgment which allows an individual to stay present (Mindfulness Practice in the Treatment of Traumatic Stress, n.d.). Explore some mindfulness exercises here (Pal et al., 2018).

3.Use your breaks!
Respect your time and take your breaks seriously. One example of this is being sure to take your lunch breaks. Yes, you may be busy but that doesn’t mean you should always work through your lunch or eat at your desk. Take a step back from work and use your lunch break as a time to reset. During lunch you can do a number of things to reboot the spirit in the middle of the workday. You can use your break to enjoy your meal mindfully, savoring every texture and flavor of the day’s meal. You can practice short meditations or breathing exercises. Or you can take a good old power nap (I recommend keeping a scarf at work that can double as a pillow and don’t forget to set a timer, so you wake up at the end of your break!)

4. Ask for help.
When dealing with workplace stress connecting with a therapist can be an essential part of building a new relationship with your job. Please reach out if you would like to work on developing a plan focused on putting yourself first!

 

Resources: 

Beaudry, J. (2021, September 8). What Is Workplace PTSD — and How Can You Support Your Employees Who Suffer From It? Lattice. https://lattice.com/library/what-is-workplace-ptsd-and- how-can-you-support-your-employees-who-suffer-from-it

Gragnano, A., Simbula, S., & Miglioretti, M. (2020). Work–Life Balance: Weighing the Importance of Work–Family and Work–Health Balance. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 17(3), 907. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph17030907

Mindfulness Practice in the Treatment of Traumatic Stress. (n.d.). U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. https://www.ptsd.va.gov/gethelp/mindfulness_tx.asp

Pal, P., Hauck, C., Goldstein, E., Bobinet, K., & Bradley, C. (2018, August 27). 5 Simple Mindfulness Practices for Daily Life. Mindful. https://www.mindful.org/take-a-mindful-moment-5-simple- practices-for-daily-life/

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. (2022, May). National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd