When a Traumatic Event Happens in the Workplace: How to Cope

Posted Oct 12, 2016

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Summary

  • Return to work as soon as possible.
  • Set aside time to grieve or feel your emotions.
  • Take advantage of available resources.

Everybody has had a bad day at work and not wanted to return. But after a co-worker has died, or there’s been a serious accident or other disturbing event, those feelings are more serious. An inability to cope at work can affect a person’s livelihood.

How can someone return to his job? How can he be successful at it?

Returning to work

Scared or not, it is recommended that you try to return to the job soon after the event. The idea might make you feel uncomfortable, and being there might be uncomfortable. However, getting back into the routine of work could help the feelings of fear, self-doubt, or anxiety lessen.

That is the best-case scenario. Returning to work might increase anxiety, but you won’t know without trying.

Ways a person might be affected once he returns

  • Anxiety in the presence of the location, activity, or people
  • Inability to stop thinking about the event or person(s) involved
  • Sleep disturbance lasting more than a few nights
  • Irritability with family or co-workers
  • Social withdrawal
  • Difficulty enjoying activities

These signs shouldn’t be disregarded. Not sleeping well, especially, can be the beginning of a worse reaction.

The longer a person tries to “grin and bear it,” the worse the negative feelings can get.

Tools to manage anxiety

  • Talk about it. It is best if there is someone at work who can be supportive. Since it happened there, that person might have the best understanding. You can also talk to trusted friends and family so you’re not shutting yourself off. If talking about it makes you more anxious, limit the conversations. Yet, someone at work should know you’re having a hard time. It shouldn’t be kept secret.
  • Change something. A small change in the work environment might make the job feel new. Put a new picture on the wall. Wear a different item of clothing or jewelry. Take breaks at different times. Get reassigned to a slightly different activity.
  • Set aside time to reflect. See if a memorial or special space can be created at work. People can go to that space, plaque, or object and focus on it. If a person gives herself a certain block of time to remember the person or feel the emotions, it is less likely to spill over into other parts of her day.
  • Practice self-care. Exercise helps whether it is before or after work. During work, try to get out of your chair if you sit a lot. Do stretches. Take a short walk. Practice abdominal breathing or short meditative techniques. Major life decisions should be postponed during this time.
  • Slow down. If you can, slow your task down by doing one simple step at a time. Say each step as you do it: “I can reach for the switch and not be hurt.” “I can work the lathe and not be hurt.” Take one step at a time so you can see how safe you are. Be gentle with yourself by lowering your expectations for high performance or perfectionism.

If the tools above don’t help you feel comfortable or the feelings of grief and anxiety get worse or don’t lessen over time, speak to your manager or someone in Human Resources to see what options are available to you. You may be able to take time off while you seek help, have support group opportunities within your workplace, or have sessions with a mental health professional.

Resources

“Recovery in the Aftermath of Workplace Violence: Guidance for Workers,” Center for the Study of Traumatic Stress, www.cstsonline.org/assets/media/documents/CSTS_aftermath_workplace_violence_workers.pdf

By Jennifer Adler
Source: Elizabeth M. Johnson, MA, Health Educator, Outside the Mom Box; Dr. John Farber, Clinical Psychologist
Reviewed by Carolyn Meador, PhD, LMFT, CEAP, Director, Health and Performance Solutions, Beacon Health Options

Summary

  • Return to work as soon as possible.
  • Set aside time to grieve or feel your emotions.
  • Take advantage of available resources.

Everybody has had a bad day at work and not wanted to return. But after a co-worker has died, or there’s been a serious accident or other disturbing event, those feelings are more serious. An inability to cope at work can affect a person’s livelihood.

How can someone return to his job? How can he be successful at it?

Returning to work

Scared or not, it is recommended that you try to return to the job soon after the event. The idea might make you feel uncomfortable, and being there might be uncomfortable. However, getting back into the routine of work could help the feelings of fear, self-doubt, or anxiety lessen.

That is the best-case scenario. Returning to work might increase anxiety, but you won’t know without trying.

Ways a person might be affected once he returns

  • Anxiety in the presence of the location, activity, or people
  • Inability to stop thinking about the event or person(s) involved
  • Sleep disturbance lasting more than a few nights
  • Irritability with family or co-workers
  • Social withdrawal
  • Difficulty enjoying activities

These signs shouldn’t be disregarded. Not sleeping well, especially, can be the beginning of a worse reaction.

The longer a person tries to “grin and bear it,” the worse the negative feelings can get.

Tools to manage anxiety

  • Talk about it. It is best if there is someone at work who can be supportive. Since it happened there, that person might have the best understanding. You can also talk to trusted friends and family so you’re not shutting yourself off. If talking about it makes you more anxious, limit the conversations. Yet, someone at work should know you’re having a hard time. It shouldn’t be kept secret.
  • Change something. A small change in the work environment might make the job feel new. Put a new picture on the wall. Wear a different item of clothing or jewelry. Take breaks at different times. Get reassigned to a slightly different activity.
  • Set aside time to reflect. See if a memorial or special space can be created at work. People can go to that space, plaque, or object and focus on it. If a person gives herself a certain block of time to remember the person or feel the emotions, it is less likely to spill over into other parts of her day.
  • Practice self-care. Exercise helps whether it is before or after work. During work, try to get out of your chair if you sit a lot. Do stretches. Take a short walk. Practice abdominal breathing or short meditative techniques. Major life decisions should be postponed during this time.
  • Slow down. If you can, slow your task down by doing one simple step at a time. Say each step as you do it: “I can reach for the switch and not be hurt.” “I can work the lathe and not be hurt.” Take one step at a time so you can see how safe you are. Be gentle with yourself by lowering your expectations for high performance or perfectionism.

If the tools above don’t help you feel comfortable or the feelings of grief and anxiety get worse or don’t lessen over time, speak to your manager or someone in Human Resources to see what options are available to you. You may be able to take time off while you seek help, have support group opportunities within your workplace, or have sessions with a mental health professional.

Resources

“Recovery in the Aftermath of Workplace Violence: Guidance for Workers,” Center for the Study of Traumatic Stress, www.cstsonline.org/assets/media/documents/CSTS_aftermath_workplace_violence_workers.pdf

By Jennifer Adler
Source: Elizabeth M. Johnson, MA, Health Educator, Outside the Mom Box; Dr. John Farber, Clinical Psychologist
Reviewed by Carolyn Meador, PhD, LMFT, CEAP, Director, Health and Performance Solutions, Beacon Health Options

Summary

  • Return to work as soon as possible.
  • Set aside time to grieve or feel your emotions.
  • Take advantage of available resources.

Everybody has had a bad day at work and not wanted to return. But after a co-worker has died, or there’s been a serious accident or other disturbing event, those feelings are more serious. An inability to cope at work can affect a person’s livelihood.

How can someone return to his job? How can he be successful at it?

Returning to work

Scared or not, it is recommended that you try to return to the job soon after the event. The idea might make you feel uncomfortable, and being there might be uncomfortable. However, getting back into the routine of work could help the feelings of fear, self-doubt, or anxiety lessen.

That is the best-case scenario. Returning to work might increase anxiety, but you won’t know without trying.

Ways a person might be affected once he returns

  • Anxiety in the presence of the location, activity, or people
  • Inability to stop thinking about the event or person(s) involved
  • Sleep disturbance lasting more than a few nights
  • Irritability with family or co-workers
  • Social withdrawal
  • Difficulty enjoying activities

These signs shouldn’t be disregarded. Not sleeping well, especially, can be the beginning of a worse reaction.

The longer a person tries to “grin and bear it,” the worse the negative feelings can get.

Tools to manage anxiety

  • Talk about it. It is best if there is someone at work who can be supportive. Since it happened there, that person might have the best understanding. You can also talk to trusted friends and family so you’re not shutting yourself off. If talking about it makes you more anxious, limit the conversations. Yet, someone at work should know you’re having a hard time. It shouldn’t be kept secret.
  • Change something. A small change in the work environment might make the job feel new. Put a new picture on the wall. Wear a different item of clothing or jewelry. Take breaks at different times. Get reassigned to a slightly different activity.
  • Set aside time to reflect. See if a memorial or special space can be created at work. People can go to that space, plaque, or object and focus on it. If a person gives herself a certain block of time to remember the person or feel the emotions, it is less likely to spill over into other parts of her day.
  • Practice self-care. Exercise helps whether it is before or after work. During work, try to get out of your chair if you sit a lot. Do stretches. Take a short walk. Practice abdominal breathing or short meditative techniques. Major life decisions should be postponed during this time.
  • Slow down. If you can, slow your task down by doing one simple step at a time. Say each step as you do it: “I can reach for the switch and not be hurt.” “I can work the lathe and not be hurt.” Take one step at a time so you can see how safe you are. Be gentle with yourself by lowering your expectations for high performance or perfectionism.

If the tools above don’t help you feel comfortable or the feelings of grief and anxiety get worse or don’t lessen over time, speak to your manager or someone in Human Resources to see what options are available to you. You may be able to take time off while you seek help, have support group opportunities within your workplace, or have sessions with a mental health professional.

Resources

“Recovery in the Aftermath of Workplace Violence: Guidance for Workers,” Center for the Study of Traumatic Stress, www.cstsonline.org/assets/media/documents/CSTS_aftermath_workplace_violence_workers.pdf

By Jennifer Adler
Source: Elizabeth M. Johnson, MA, Health Educator, Outside the Mom Box; Dr. John Farber, Clinical Psychologist
Reviewed by Carolyn Meador, PhD, LMFT, CEAP, Director, Health and Performance Solutions, Beacon Health Options

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