Managing Your PTSD at Work

What You Should Know, How to Plan Ahead

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No question, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) at work can be especially difficult to manage. If you have PTSD and a job, you probably know that PTSD-related stress and symptoms can make it hard to get your work done and "fit in" with your co-workers.

Let's talk about ways your PTSD symptoms can interfere with your life at work. Does any of these situations sound familiar?

  • You sometimes feel disconnected or detached from people, which can disrupt your work relationships as well as the way you get along with family and friends.
  • You're getting less pleasure out of activities you formerly enjoyed, maybe including work. When your work becomes less enjoyable or rewarding than it used to be, you may not feel as much like doing it--and others may notice.
  • Do you become very anxious and feel on edge when you're in a large crowd? That may make commuting to work uncomfortable for you.

You may also face other on-the-job situations that are hard to manage because of your PTSD. For example, does being closed into a meeting room make you feel trapped and on guard? Or are you often startled by sudden loud noises in your workplace? Or do some of your work problems stem from difficulty concentrating or not getting enough sleep?

You can't avoid PTSD at work, so it's important to take steps to make your work experience more comfortable for you and your colleagues. The coping strategies and tips presented here can help.

Increase Your Ability to Identify Your PTSD Symptoms

This is not only helpful in itself; it also provides a strong foundation for helping you build other coping skills.

It makes sense that it's difficult to manage PTSD symptoms if you sometimes don't know which ones you're having. A good way to get started learning more is to spend time reading about PTSD symptoms. It's an old saying but a true one: The more you know about a subject, the more control you can have over it.

Know Your Triggers

Monitoring your emotional responses to situations can help you increase your awareness of things that trigger your PTSD symptoms. Put this into practice at work. For example, be alert to specific activities, places, or interactions with colleagues that bring up unpleasant memories or thoughts about a traumatic event. 

List Ways You'll Cope with Triggers

Once you've identified some of the PTSD symptoms you have or could have at work, plan ahead. Write down strategies you can use to cope with those triggers if they appear, and carry the list with you. Then, when you feel one of your PTSD triggers sneaking up on you, look at your coping strategies list, pick one, use it, and notice how well it works.

Workwise, there are a number of coping skills you can put into action almost anywhere, whether you're in a meeting, at lunch with co-workers, or on your way to work. Some coping strategies that work well and can be used "on the spot" include deep breathing, mindfulness, and grounding skills.

Keep in mind that the more strategies you can find and put on your list, the better prepared you'll be to manage your PTSD at work.

As time goes on, get comfortable using your trigger-control strategies in a variety of work situations. Take note of the ones that work best in specific work settings and encounters. That way, your strategies for coping with triggers will be on the job whenever you need them.

Plan How You'll Cope in Unexpected Situations

You're probably well aware that even the best planning can't always prepare you for the times when PTSD symptoms take you by surprise. But you can develop a safety plan for when they happen. Your plan might include:

  • A list of supportive people you can call. Make sure you put more than one number on the list, in case the first person you call isn't available.
  • If you have a therapist and you're able to contact him or her outside of your sessions, ask if you can put that number on your list.
  • If you are on PRN (taken as needed) medication, make sure that you always have it with you.
  • And don't forget your list of trigger-control coping strategies!

Have a Plan for Exiting Truly Difficult Situations

Even with your careful preparation for managing your PTSD triggers, there will inevitably be times at work when your symptoms are triggered and you start to feel out of control. To be ready for such a situation, plan what you'll say if you need to excuse yourself from your co-workers. The goal isn't avoidance but the opportunity to be alone while you put your coping strategies to work.

Coping with symptoms of your PTSD at work can be very difficult, but it is do-able with careful planning and preparation.

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