Trauma in the Workplace: What to Expect and Finding Healing
If there’s one thing that’s fairly predictable in the helping fields, it’s that the unpredictable will happen. A crisis situation is an incident that goes beyond the everyday stresses of the caring for people or animals and often involves intense danger or difficulty. Often times it is an emergency that requires an immediate response, throwing us into a heightened state of fight or flight so that we can spring into action and do what needs to be done to handle the crisis. So why does our world feel like it’s been turned upside down even after the crisis is resolved?
Normal Reactions to Acute Stress and Trauma
When we are involved in, hear about, or witness a traumatic event, it’s common to experience a variety of emotional and physical responses. This is called the “acute stress reaction.” You can expect symptoms to last anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. This is normal!
Symptoms may include the following:
· Repeatedly replaying the traumatic memory in your mind OR refusing to ever think about it (avoidance)
· Difficulty sleeping
· Feelings of guilt or self-blame
· Anxiety or hyper-arousal
· Sadness and grief
· Irritability or anger
· Feeling numb or detached
· Mood swings
· Recurring flashbacks or nightmares
· Trouble concentrating
· Avoidance of people or places that remind you of trauma
· Bodily complaints such as headaches or stomach issues
· The inability to enjoy activities you once found pleasurable, including sex)
· Change in world-view (intense fear of danger, difficulty trusting others, etc.)
· Questioning your faith in God or other higher power
If you’ve experienced (or are currently experiencing) any of the above symptoms, the good news is that you’re completely normal. This is simply the brain’s way of trying to process the crisis or traumatic incident. But if your symptoms last longer than a month, are causing you extreme distress, or are interfering with your daily life, you should consult a mental health professional to help you process, cope, and heal from the trauma.
· It might be a good idea to limit your exposure to “trauma inputs,” e.g., the news, violent movies or video games, etc. while you are healing.
· Engage is hobbies and interests outside of caregiving/protection work.
· Get proper sleep and limit caffeine use if you feel you are struggling to fall or stay asleep.
· Eat at least three meals per day, consisting of clean, whole foods. Limit processed foods as well as caffeine (especially if you are struggling with anxiety) and alcohol (especially if you are struggling with depression).
· Exercise to help manage moods and release “feel good” chemicals in the brain. Even 30 minutes a day of walking can do wonders!
· Remember that trauma, including secondary trauma, puts the body into fight or flight. Practice self-regulation techniques and relaxation skills to help calm the body and mind. Examples include deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, meditating, yoga, etc.
· Find support to process and work through the traumatic event. This could be non-judgmental co-workers, friends, family, or a mental health professional.
· Be creative! Express yourself through writing, music, art, dance, etc.
· If your acute stress reaction lasts more than a few days or weeks, or you are concerned you may have something more serious, such as compassion fatigue, depression, or PTSD, please contact a mental health professional. If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact the Suicide and Crisis hotline at 988 or 800-273-TALK (8255).