Three Ways Trauma Survivors Can Manage Triggers at Work
Facing triggers at work can feel extra-challenging due to worries about maintaining a professional reputation, keeping your job, and looking competent. If you don’t have a coworker who knows that you’re dealing with PTSD and is supportive, being triggered at work can also feel lonely and isolating. You’re not the only one dealing with this, and here are some strategies that have helped others like you cope.
There are many ways to ground ourselves after being startled or triggered. Grounding is basically just ways to remind ourselves where and when and who we are. Our senses can help with this. Start naming to yourself things around you that you can see/hear/touch/smell. You might even keep a few items handy to help with this, like strong mints, an essential oil or cologne to smell, a fidget cube or small stone to touch, or bookmark some cute videos to watch.
Sometimes reminding ourselves of the date can help, since the traumatic event occurred in the past. Maybe you have a piece of technology, jewelry, or even a hair color or tattoo that didn’t exist at the time of the trauma. That can help remind you that you’re in the present now, not back in the event.
2. Go Soft and Slow
You could imagine being triggered like being inside a snow globe that got shaken up and bits of artifical snow are flying everywhere around you. The glittery fake snow bits will settle back down with time. You can help it by approaching the next few minutes/hours/days gently, as if you are recovering from the flu or a bad sprain. Your nervous system is already on high alert. Remind it that you’re in a safer situation now through things like moving slowly and smoothly, allowing yourself to rest when you can, and smoothing out your breathing. As you inhale through the nose, imagine you’re smelling something wonderful, and as you exhale gently through the mouth, imagine you’re blowing on a spoonful of soup and trying not to spill it. Longer exhales are calming for the body.
If you have a chance to make the space around you softer, do that too. Turn down the volume and brightness on screens, or find some sounds that are soothing to you (I like exploring the dozens of sounds on www.mynoise.net).
3. Make Space
Along the same lines, make yourself some space however you can. If you’re lucky enough to be able to take a little time off of work or adjust your schedule, that’s wonderful. If you can’t, see if you can ask someone to take over a task or to cover while you take five or ten minutes in the bathroom, out back, in your car, in an empty room—anywhere where you can feel a little space. If you can’t get space at work, maybe you can after work. Can a plan be cancelled? Can you ask a friend or family member to help with a task so you can rest for a bit? If you can’t find space that way either, maybe you can plan some for your next day off, or to escape into listening or watching something with earbuds so you can feel like you’re in your own space for a bit, even if you still have to cook or do other chores. Being triggered can be exhausting, and it’s really common to want a little time alone afterwards.
I hope you can hear the common themes through these suggestions: that you’re not alone, that it’s not unusual to feel upset after being triggered, and to treat yourself as gently and kindly as you can during the recovery time. We can’t avoid triggers completely, but we can get better at taking care of ourselves after being triggered.
Want to learn more about living with PTSD at work? I often write about it in posts like this one and this one because I believe that our work lives should be as empowered and healthy as any other part of our lives, and I want to help you get there. I’m a licensed clinical psychologist based in Austin, TX, who has been helping people like you built meaningful lives after experiencing trauma.
Image courtesy of Jason Leung