Managing PTSD Symptoms While on the Job


People with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may be bothered by intrusive thoughts about their trauma, experience flashbacks, have difficulty sleeping because of nightmares or become hyper-vigilant so they’re not caught unawares again. These symptoms can make daily life a tremendous challenge. Consider how difficult it could be to make it through a simple workday when PTSD is part of the mix.

For starters, not getting enough sleep at night will make it hard for the person to concentrate and finish projects in a timely fashion. This can heighten already elevated levels of anxiety. Office relationships could be strained because feelings of emotional numbness or detachment often plague PTSD sufferers. Even formerly close relationships can suffer.

Many people dealing with PTSD find it unsettling to be in crowds, or even groups of people like office meetings. They’ll want to be near an exit, and if this isn’t possible it can create significant agitation.

Even loud or unexpected noises at work can be a problem. Because the person is always on the lookout, their emotions are taut and sudden sounds can make those emotions snap. A person with PTSD can feel like a powder keg waiting to explode, and sudden jolts can ignite the fuse.

Cope with symptoms is necessary in order for the person to be able to remain on the job, which makes understanding the condition of primary importance. Therefore, learning all you can about your PTSD is step number one. A counselor can be an invaluable resource, as are books and articles dealing with the subject.

Next is to recognize your potential triggers. What situations are likely to set off an unwanted response? What reminds you of your past trauma? What makes you anxious or angry in the present? What things or people at work are potential triggers for your PTSD symptoms?

The final step is to brainstorm possible coping methods. Use a 3×5 card to list all the positive ways you could react to stress-inducing situations. Breathing deeply helps to lower anxiety when trapped in a closed room. Anger or startled responses could be dealt with by a moment or two of mindfulness meditation. Spend a couple of minutes focusing on three things you can hear, three things you can smell, and three things you can touch and feel. Identify what thoughts you are thinking and how those thoughts could be exchanged for healthier ones.

If you sense you’re on the verge of a flashback, find something to help keep you grounded in the present moment. Clasp a piece of ice in your hand, suck on a lemon and breathe in the scent of something pungent, such as peppermint. You want something that demands enough attention that you can’t slip away to somewhere else in your mind.

There is no way to be 100 percent prepared. But when surprising situations come choose a response from your 3×5 card and use it. If a friend or your counselor is willing to be available, call them. Going to work has its challenges, but with forethought and practice you can overcome them.

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