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When Trauma Follows You to Work — Breaking Free from the Invisible Chains

Trauma is a relentless shadow that often lingers long after the initial wound has healed. This shadow can extend into the workplace, affecting personal well-being and professional performance. For those in the helping professions—counselors, social workers, teachers, and healthcare providers—the stakes can be even higher. Given that research indicates a notable connection between Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and individuals choosing careers in these fields, helping professionals are at an even greater risk of experiencing the impact of trauma at work, often exacerbated by secondary trauma they experience on the job.


We all carry an invisible bag of bricks—past traumas that can trigger us at any moment. The brain never forgets, and when we experience trauma, its imprint remains with us. This doesn’t mean, however, that trauma has to dominate our lives. We can effectively cope with it, ensuring that while we may not forget, we don’t have to constantly remember. This June, as we explore the theme of freedom, it’s crucial to address how we can liberate ourselves from the chains of trauma that follow us to work. Ways Trauma Can Impact You in the Workplace


1. Decreased Productivity

Trauma can impair your concentration, memory, and problem-solving abilities, making it difficult to complete tasks efficiently. Intrusive thoughts and flashbacks drain your mental energy, reducing your productivity.


2. Increased Absenteeism

Physical and psychological symptoms of trauma, such as anxiety and depression, can lead to frequent sick days and medical appointments, increasing your absenteeism.


3. Strained Relationships

Trauma can make you more irritable, withdrawn, or easily triggered, leading to conflicts with colleagues and communication barriers. This strain can further isolate you and increase stress.


4. Impaired Decision-Making

The emotional burden of trauma can impair your decision-making abilities, causing you to be overly cautious or take unnecessary risks, which can affect your performance and workplace safety.


5. Physical Health Issues

Trauma can cause chronic pain, fatigue, and weaken your immune system, making you more susceptible to illnesses. These health problems can further hinder your job performance and increase the need for medical leave. Creating a Trauma-Informed Workplace


A trauma-informed workplace is one where employees feel safe, supported, and valued. This requires more than just policies and procedures; it involves a cultural shift towards inclusive leadership and cultural competence. Creating a trauma-informed workplace is an essential imperative for organizations, especially in high-stress environments like social services, education, and healthcare. A 2024 study from Georgetown University revealed significant benefits.


Financially, trauma-informed approaches lead to substantial savings by reducing employee burnout and turnover. Systemically, they improve workplace culture, enhance employee satisfaction, and improve client outcomes. These benefits contribute to a more supportive, productive, and financially stable organization, making the case for trauma-informed practices compelling for any workplace.


Here are some strategies to consider:


1. Education and Training: Implement regular professional development sessions focused on mental health awareness, crisis management training, and conflict resolution skills. This ensures that all employees, from frontline workers to upper management, are equipped to recognize and address trauma in themselves and others.

2. Support Systems: Establish robust support systems such as employee assistance programs, peer support groups, and access to mental health resources. Encouraging open dialogue about mental health can reduce stigma and promote a culture of care and support.

3. Workplace Safety Protocols: Develop and enforce workplace safety protocols that prioritize both physical and psychological safety. This includes creating clear procedures for addressing workplace violence, harassment, and other traumatic incidents.

4. Leadership Development: Invest in leadership development programs that emphasize inclusive leadership and diversity training. Leaders who are empathetic and culturally competent can better understand and support their teams, fostering an environment where all employees feel valued and respected. Practical Steps for Individuals


While organizational support is crucial, you play a key role in managing trauma expressions. Here are some practical steps to consider:


1. Self-Awareness: Recognize your triggers and understand how trauma affects you. This self-awareness can help you develop coping strategies and seek appropriate support when needed.

2. Self-Care: Prioritize self-care activities that promote physical and emotional well-being. This might include exercise, meditation, hobbies, or spending time with loved ones.

3. Professional Help: Don’t hesitate to seek professional help if needed. Therapists, counselors, and support groups can provide valuable guidance and support in managing trauma.

4. Setting Boundaries: Establish healthy boundaries between work and personal life. This can help prevent burnout and ensure that you have the time and space to recover and recharge.

5. Creating Safe Spaces: Identify and utilize de-escalation spaces at work where you can retreat and regroup when feeling overwhelmed. This might be your car, an empty conference room, or an unused office. Having a designated safe space can provide immediate relief and help you regain composure.


Immediate and Long-Term Responses


Immediate, just-in-time responses are vital for managing acute stress reactions. Techniques such as deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, and grounding exercises can help reduce anxiety in the moment. In the long term, engaging in regular counseling and building a strong social support network are essential for sustained well-being.


The Role of Freedom in Healing


As we focus on the theme of freedom this June, it’s important to recognize the power of liberating ourselves from the trauma that no longer serves us. Freedom from trauma doesn’t mean forgetting or ignoring the past; it means acknowledging its impact and taking steps to heal and move forward.


By creating supportive, trauma-informed workplaces and empowering individuals to take charge of their own healing, we can foster a culture of resilience and well-being in the helping professions. This not only benefits employees but also enhances the quality of care and support we provide to our clients and communities.

 


Master Trainer, International Speaker and author of the book “Invincible Social Worker”, Anthony President has empowered and inspired more than 100,000 professionals to perform, produce and partner better at their places of work. Thousands of companies and organizations have been transformed as a result of Anthony’s work.


As Founder and CEO of Presidential Consultants, LLC, Anthony leads a team of more than two dozen experienced learning development and coaching professionals who together serve more than 16,000 helping professionals each year in the areas of leadership, inclusion, and workplace wellness. As a thought leader in the field, Anthony continues to research, innovate, and drive positive change in the realm of professional development and organizational transformation. Watch Anthony speak!

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