Talk It Out

What are the symptoms of workplace trauma?

Workplace trauma can have a serious impact on productivity in the working environment. Indeed, trauma that stems from the workplace increases the chance of experiencing both physical and mental health problems. Depression and substance abuse are common problems.

  • What is workplace trauma?

Trauma can be defined as the event of being psychologically overcome or overwhelmed. If a person is experiencing trauma, he or she feels entirely powerless. Often this person is unable to deal adequately with the situation both emotionally and intellectually. Furthermore, trauma has not only psychological effects, but also has somatic consequences. Trauma can physically alter the way that people think, their biochemistry and the way that they experience emotion.

At the workplace, trauma can show up either as a result of one disastrous event (for example from an instance of physical or sexual violence). Trauma can also come from an accumulation of stress and tension in the work environment that accumulates over time. The latter kind of workplace trauma can be just as serious as the former.

  • Symptoms of workplace trauma

There are many ways in which trauma presents in the working environment. It is important to note that symptoms can be activated or worsened by the specific working environment – this is why trauma presents differently for different people in different working contexts. Often, those experiencing trauma go through anxiety, depressive episodes, paranoia and aggression. Frequently, those experiencing trauma in the workplace are unable to deal with new challenges or situations; they are defensive; they are more susceptible to ill-health; they appear closed-minded, and are inflexible in their thinking; and their reactions to minor stresses are often disproportionate.

There are many more indications and symptoms of workplace trauma. For example, workers may experience problems regarding their memories, and may be unable to recall information adequately. Those undergoing trauma may also suffer from concentration problems. They may experience severe fatigue or find it difficult to stay awake.  Physical disturbances (such as constant sweating, or aches and pains) and panic attacks may occour. Persistent feelings of anxiety, stress and terror re other symptoms.

Recognize the symptoms of workplace trauma

In addition, employees who are dealing with workplace trauma may be unable to communicate or engage with co-workers –  for example, they may appear as irritable, closed-off or aloof. They may also be continuously absent from work as a way in which to avoid the source of their trauma. They may create various excuses to avoid having to come to the workplace. On the other hand, even if employees are present, they may experience constant interruptions (particularly if the worker is in some form of an abusive relationship). He or she may receive continuous distressing phone calls for example.

Lastly, anything that triggers a memory of a specific trauma (for example an image, a particular object, noise, smell, sight or someone’s voice) can cause for exaggerated responses from the employee. This is because, to the person who has experienced or is experiencing the trauma, it gets replayed in his or her mind as if happening in real life. This replaying relates more to catastrophic, once-off traumatic events. One of the first steps to helping workplace trauma is the ability to recognise the symptoms.

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