PTSD symptoms can have a major impact on a person’s life. The workplace is one of the many areas affected.
Some individuals with PTSD are able to function at a high enough level to hold down a job, attend work and often try to work through their symptoms in silence. Others have trouble even leaving their homes and cannot return to work for extended periods of time.
How an individual with PTSD manages symptoms at work, depends on many factors. These include, the severity of the symptoms and the support that they receive.
Symptoms can severely impact on the working day which can cause distress and great difficulty for the sufferer.
Here are some examples of how:
- Memory problems
- Lack of concentration
- Difficulty retaining information
- Feelings of fear or anxiety
- Physical problems
- Poor interactions with coworkers
- Unreasonable reactions to situations that trigger memories
- Trouble staying awake
- Panic attacks
Read on to find out more about these symptoms and how to manage them at work.
Hypervigilance can create difficulties with concentration. It can cause the mind to be in a constant state of alert, not allowing the person to focus on much except their environment. Creating lists and breaking down goals into small, specific tasks can help with concentration and create a sense of achievement. A useful idea is to plan to complete goals and daily tasks first thing in the morning or straight after lunch, when concentration can be at its highest.
Another way to help with concentration, is to limit distractions in the workplace. This could be by using headphones to block out unwanted noise, or to work in a quiet location if the work allows.
Our founder experienced severe concentration issues at work whilst suffering from PTSD. This often prevented him from being able to read long emails, pay attention when receiving instructions and concentrating in meetings. In some situations, when questions were put to him, he found that he would often just agree or offer limited answers, simply because he couldn’t concentrate enough on what was being asked to provide an informed opinion.
Memory issues can occur in PTSD sufferers, especially when they have too much on their mind.
By setting reminders, making lists and writing notes, memory issues and difficulty retaining information can often be overcome in the workplace.
Re-experiencing is the most well known symptom of PTSD and one of the most stressful symptoms to experience at work. A day that may have started well with a person feeling in control, can instantly become a helpless nightmare.
There are many stress management techniques to help deal with flashbacks. It can be helpful if a workplace offers a safe place to go, or a confidential ear to listen. If this isn’t an option, then calling a specific person (anchor) outside of work for a reassuring chat could help. When our founder experienced flashbacks at work, he found that a phone call to his “Anchor” distracted him from how he was feeling and often enabled him to compose himself enough to be able to return to his work.
It is extremely helpful for a person to have a well thought out plan in place for when they experience a flashback.
In order to address triggers of anxiety and startle responses, a person must first understand what causes them.
Quite often, people suffering from PTSD will find it difficult to not have a clear view of their surroundings. Also, someone walking up on them from behind or unexpectedly scaring them, could cause an extreme startle response. A change of desk may be a good solution, or even a mirror on a wall. This could be discussed with the employer.
Taking more short breaks throughout the day and practising 2 minute mindfulness exercises in a quiet place, may help to keep a resting calm state which, as a result, reduces levels of anxiety. It is always best to work to maintain a calm state, rather than having to pick up the pieces after reacting to triggers.
Dealing with co-workers can be stressful at times.
A person is under no obligation to explain that they are suffering from PTSD, although if they feel comfortable to discuss this with colleagues, it could improve some co-worker relationships.
Just like anxiety triggers, a person suffering from PTSD will find that certain situations with certain colleagues will cause emotional issues. Once these are identified, a person can begin addressing them. When the cause is identified, a discussion about the issue with the co-worker should be the first step in trying to improve the working relationship. Failing the success of this, a discussion with the employer may be needed.
Depending on your role and a discussion with the employer, working part-time from home may be a temporary solution to ease anxiety and other PTSD symptoms.
Managing stress is difficult for most employees. For those with PTSD, it becomes even harder. Stress management comes in many forms, but the key is to practice coping mechanisms with consistency. There are various ways to cope with stress at work. This may include taking more breaks and extending your working day. If a person is attending counselling, flexible working may be needed to accommodate appointments.
This flexible approach to work may also benefit individuals with a difficult home environment. Stress can be managed effectively when a person has a structured plan or routine. Changes to a routine can increase stress and therefore exacerbate symptoms.
We encourage people to create a “Day plan” that they can refer to, in order to take control of the day. The “Day plan” can just be a list of what is expected to occur during the day, with opportunities for breaks factored into the schedule. This can be updated daily with regular, or new tasks that need to be completed, ticking them off as they are achieved.
At PTSD at work, we believe that the above PTSD symptoms cause the most distress in the workplace to a person experiencing them. We aim to implement key measures to UK businesses, throughout England and Wales, to address them and help make the workplace more manageable for those experiencing them. You can help us achieve this mission by donating, here.