It’s hard enough to focus in a busy workplace, but if you are one of the more than 7 million people living with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder—defined by the American Psychiatric Association as an exaggerated stress response to trauma—some days, it can feel nearly impossible.
Often, those living with the disorder will find themselves locked in the fight, flight, or freeze survival response mode, says Susanne Babbel, Ph.D., a trauma and PTSD specialist and the author of Heal the Body. Heal the Mind. A Somatic Approach to Moving Beyond Trauma. This can be especially difficult in a work environment.
If triggered at work, PTSD can leave you feeling anxious, edgy, nervous, irritable, and scared. PTSD can make it tough to sleep at night, leaving you tired at work. You may have a hard time remembering details, completing projects, managing your time, or even relating to others. Your mind can become muddled with distressing memories, and you might startle easily. Fortunately, there are things you can do to manage your symptoms so you can feel safer and more relaxed, says Babbel. Here’s how.
1. Learn what soothes you.
What calms you? Discover the sights, sounds, smells or other sensations that can help ease your anxiety and keep them close to access as needed. For some, certain smells, like lavender essential oil, can produce calm. Others might like the texture and feel of a stress ball. Ocean sounds or soft music can also help. Find the sensation that makes you feel good and use it when you are feeling triggered.
2. Decorate your desk or workspace with things you love.
Place pictures of the people and places you love the most, plants, and other feel-good items around your workspace. When PTSD is triggered, our focus goes narrows to past fear and traumatic memories. Shifting your attention to a few of your favorite or calming things can bring you back to the present and away from the trauma, Babbel says.
3. Practice breathing exercises.
Take slow, deep breaths. Inhaling through your nose, hold for a count of four or five, then exhale through your mouth, feeling your belly move in and out and the air pushing through your diaphragm. Repeat for about five minutes. This kind of slow breathing practice can stimulate the body’s relaxation response.
4. Chew gum, hum, or chant.
These behaviors activate the vagus nerve, which runs from our brain through our face to our gut and is central to our parasympathetic nervous system. It affects our ability to stay calm, Babbel says, because it controls the body systems that can quickly move us out of the fight, flight, or freeze mode. Breathing exercises, chewing gum, facial exercises, humming, and dozens of other things can help you ease the symptoms of PTSD in the moment.
5. Tap an app.
Apps on your phone can coach you through symptoms of trauma and PTSD. You can access meditations, breathing exercises, and more through your meQuilibrium account, or check out the free PTSD Coach app from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
6. Ask for help.
You should seek professional help if you believe you have PTSD or any other anxiety disorder. In addition, if your symptoms are severe and you feel as though your boss and colleagues can be a source of support, then it may help to share your diagnosis. Be prepared to educate them about PTSD and let them know what kind of support you need, Babbel says, but avoid disclosing too many details because it could trigger symptoms.
When deciding whether to disclose your PTSD, it’s important to check-in with yourself about what feels right for you. You deserve to feel supported throughout your recovery and beyond.
Polly Campbell is a veteran author and speaker specializing in psychology, resilience, and wellness topics for more than 20 years. She is the author of three books: How to Live an Awesome Life: How to Live Well. Do Good. Be Happy; Imperfect Spirituality: Extraordinary Enlightenment for Ordinary People; and How to Reach Enlightenment. Tweet her @PLCampbell.