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Can workplace stress cause emotional trauma?

July 11, 2022

Unfortunately, being “scarred” by bad experiences in a workplace is an extremely common phenomenon for a majority of working professionals. This is popularly becoming known as workplace trauma or emotional trauma. 


Occupational stress is the most common contributor of stress in adults. Around 66% of stressors faced by people with chronic stress are job-related. 


While such high stress levels definitely impact one’s physical health, what kind of impact does it have on mental and emotional well-being? 


What causes high occupational stress? 

There are multiple factors that cause contribute to the high stress levels at work 


i) Lack of work life balance 

This is one of the most commonly reported causes of job-related stress. This contributed to stress levels in a dual manner, by both- adding additional stress and the lack of rest to cope with the existing amount of work. 


ii) Nature of job 

Some jobs are considered highly stressful due to the work timings, exposure to tragedies, emergency nature, etc. This can include jobs like medical support, traffic control, rescue services, fire fighters, public relations, etc. Such jobs pose a mental health risk due to the nature of the job. Individuals working in these sectors are also more prone to tragedies and thus, trauma or PTSD. 


iii) Work environment

There are other miscellaneous factors like management style, crowding, reinforcement, employee relations, conflict, noise, etc that can be common and recurring stressors. Exposure to such stressors is often prolonged and limits job satisfaction, motivation, and productivity in the long run. 


iv) Long-term workplace related stressors

These stressors consist of long-term cases of abuse like bullying, racism, peer pressure, layoffs, and so on. These stressors can have a long-term impact on individuals even after quitting or leaving the workplace. 


How is work stress related to emotional trauma? 

Work stress related trauma is a significantly new issue that is raising concern as more and more people become aware of mental health and workplace related issues. Often being treated as a joke in the past, it is now becoming very clear that workplaces can cause chronic stress and emotional trauma that can be extremely challenging to recover from. 


While there is not nearly enough research to present, work stress related trauma is a tangible and significant phenomenon in many places. 


The symptoms of emotional trauma can manifest themselves in multiple ways- from more generic like absenteeism, task avoidance, conflicts, loss of motivation, to more severe and chronic issues like sleep problems, suicidal ideations, anxiety in the workplace, helplessness or even quitting. 


Oftentimes the symptoms of such emotional trauma are so severe that they might induce an anxiety attack from simply retracing one’s old path of commute, even after quitting their job. 


One of the major concerns is not just the continued existence of such workplace emotional trauma but also the lack of awareness, ignorance, and normalisation of it. 


How to address work-stress related emotional trauma? 

1. Awareness and advocacy

One of the most promising signs in this fight against workplace induced emotional trauma is the increasing sensitivity towards mental health issues. The awareness about a toxic work environment helps many workplaces in not just addressing such workplace issues but also provide mental health support to employees who might need it . 


2. Identifying triggers 

In a toxic workplace, it is necessary for management to step up and identify the root cause of the problem. It is helpful to identify what is contributing to chronic stress and trauma symptoms in order to address and avoid it. 


3. Cultivating a healthy work-life balance 

Creating a habit of having a health work-life balance is necessary at both individual and organisational levels. Employees should feel encouraged and supported to take breaks, talk about their mental health, and prioritise their emotional well-being. 


Reaching out 

Helpers at heyy, are trained and experienced Mental Health Professionals who are equipped with tools to provide 24×7 mental health care to our users. Toxic workplace, trauma, and chronic stress are severe issues that can have grave mental health consequences. 


If you identify with any of the symptoms mentioned in this piece, we recommend you reach out to our Helpers to seek help. It is important to remember that it is okay to reach out! 


Download the heyy, app to take a quick self assessment and get your own stress score to guide you in the next steps of your mental health journey! 



Why long-term workplace trauma is a real phenomenon

Anxiety, depression, PTSD, impacted by occupational stress


Further Readings

Trauma at the workplace, what to do about it

Career trauma is a real thing. Here’s how to recognise and recover from it 

4 best stress management techniques

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