How Post-Traumatic Stress Can Influence Your Work Performance

Post-traumatic stress can seriously affect your productivity and performance at work. This anxiety disorder consists of persistent mental and emotional stress symptoms due to an injury or severe psychological shock.

Post-traumatic stress disorder has three elements to it: Re-experiencing symptoms, Avoidance symptoms and Hyper-arousal symptoms. It is important to know what each of these three elements encompasses. Why? Because the symptoms in each category will most likely predict in which way your performance could be affected at work.


Intrusive Symptoms

These symptoms can include: flashbacks to the traumatic event, physical symptoms such as a tight chest, butterflies on the stomach, perspiring; scary thoughts or nightmares.

An example of how this can affect you at work: Craig was high-jacked at a filling station with a gun pointed to his head. Since then when someone approaches him unexpectedly at work or from behind, his heart begins to race and his mind freezes. He relives the incident that took place a few weeks ago.  When someone talks very loudly around him and there is a great deal of activity, he experiences similar symptoms.

Thankfully he mentions this to his manager who insists that he makes use of the company’s Employee Well-being Programme. After several trauma debriefing sessions, Craig feels calm. He is glad he went for post-traumatic stress de-briefing sessions.

Avoidance Symptoms

In this case you will find unwanted thoughts of the traumatic event intrude on your thoughts at all times of day. This results in your body shifting into hyper-alert mode. All you will want to do is escape or flee. You will go out of your way to avoid any people, objects or places that remind you of the traumatic event. You could also feel cut off and distant leading to you having difficulty communicating and interacting with others.

An example of how this may affect you at work: A nursing aid in an old age home was attacked by a patient and punched until she fell to the floor. Over the months that followed she first began to ruminate excessively. Stella refused to go anywhere near his room and withdrew from interacting with colleagues or her seniors.

Progressively she lost interest in social activities at home and remained indoors. Someone else had to do her household shopping for her. Stella became forgetful and unable to concentrate. At night she struggled to fall asleep. She described herself as feeling numb and dead with no interest in anything happening around her. Her manager fails to understand that she is suffering from post-traumatic stress.

Hyper-arousal Symptoms

The person always appears on high alert. They are extremely sensitive and reactive to sounds, smells, etc. that could trigger any memory of the traumatic event. Their fuses are short resulting in angry outbursts. They are always tense and quick to react emotionally. Because they are hyper-alert they easily fall into a defensive or attacking way of interacting.

Example: A woman is in a very abusive relationship with an extremely controlling and manipulative husband. He often invades her personal space and threatens to harm her and the children. She struggles to fall asleep and when she does she wakes often for fear of what he may do to her.  Although she feels safer and out of his reach at work she remains tense continuously.

At work she worries excessively. There is a colleague who is rather brash and abrupt and interactions with him make her feeler even more tense and anxious. She has difficulty to retain information that clients give her. In her interaction she is always very jittery and jumpy. As a result her colleagues avoid her. Her husband often calls her at work leading to her visibly shaking and stuttering. Her manager is becoming more impatient with her as the situation is not getting any better.


In the Work Place

Seldom do we know what really happens in a person’s private life. No one walks around with a label saying they are suffering from post-traumatic stress. At work we wear masks of bravado or pretense that all is fine. When we see a glimpse of vulnerability, the person often talks it away or changes the topic.

I once read a quote: “Be kinder than you think, every person is fighting some or other battle.” If you have experienced some traumatic event, it is best to seek help sooner than later. There are a myriad of techniques aimed at helping others to process the trauma and heal the hurt. Giving this gift to ourselves will allow us to move on and not have to revisit the hurt at a later stage after it has impacted on our life.

A senior manager recently commented that he did not realise the value of working through a traumatic event in his past until he did it.

So if you would like to resolve an event from the past that still has a hold on you today and take care of your well-being, you would benefit from some individual sessions.


Posted in Stress, Well-being.