Managing traumatic stress

Managing traumatic stress

Managing traumatic stress – given this time when trauma and distress are so common, I thought it useful to  re-publish this piece from the American Psychological Association Help Centre 

Managing traumatic stress – Tips for recovering from disasters and other traumatic events

Disasters are often unexpected, sudden and overwhelming. In some cases, there are no outwardly visible signs of physical injury, but there is nonetheless a serious emotional toll. It is common for people who have experienced traumatic situations to have very strong emotional reactions. Understanding normal responses to these abnormal events can aid you in coping effectively with your feelings, thoughts and behaviours, and help you along the path to recovery.

What happens to people after a disaster or other traumatic event?

Shock and denial are typical responses to traumatic events and disasters, especially shortly after the event. Both shock and denial are normal protective reactions.

Shock is a sudden and often intense disturbance of your emotional state that may leave you feeling stunned or dazed. Denial involves not acknowledging that something very stressful has happened, or not experiencing fully the intensity of the event. You may temporarily feel numb or disconnected from life.

As the initial shock subsides, reactions vary from one person to another. The following, however, are normal responses to a traumatic event:

  • Feelings become intense and sometimes are unpredictable. You may become more irritable than usual, and your mood may change back and forth dramatically. You might be especially anxious or nervous, or even become depressed.
  • Thoughts and behavior patterns are affected by the trauma. You might have repeated and vivid memories of the event. These flashbacks may occur for no apparent reason and may lead to physical reactions such as rapid heartbeat or sweating. You may find it difficult to concentrate or make decisions, or become more easily confused. Sleep and eating patterns also may be disrupted.
  • Recurring emotional reactions are common. Anniversaries of the event, such as at one month or one year, can trigger upsetting memories of the traumatic experience. These “triggers” may be accompanied by fears that the stressful event will be repeated.
  • Interpersonal relationships often become strained. Greater conflict, such as more frequent arguments with family members and coworkers, is common. On the other hand, you might become withdrawn and isolated and avoid your usual activities.
  • Physical symptoms may accompany the extreme stress. For example, headaches, nausea and chest pain may result and may require medical attention. Pre-existing medical conditions may worsen due to the stress.

Managing traumatic stress – how do people respond differently over time?

It is important for you to realize that there is not one “standard” pattern of reaction to the extreme stress of traumatic experiences. Some people respond immediately, while others have delayed reactions — sometimes months or even years later. Some have adverse effects for a long period of time, while others recover rather quickly.

And reactions can change over time. Some who have suffered from trauma are energized initially by the event to help them with the challenge of coping, only to later become discouraged or depressed.

A number of factors tend to affect the length of time required for recovery in managing traumatic stress , including:

  • The degree of intensity and loss. Events that last longer and pose a greater threat, and where loss of life or substantial loss of property is involved, often take longer to resolve.
  • A person’s general ability to cope with emotionally challenging situations. Individuals who have handled other difficult, stressful circumstances well may find it easier to cope with the trauma.
  • Other stressful events preceding the traumatic experience. Individuals faced with other emotionally challenging situations, such as serious health problems or family-related difficulties, may have more intense reactions to the new stressful event and need more time to recover.

How should I help myself and my family?

There are a number of steps you can take to help restore emotional well-being and a sense of control following a disaster or other traumatic experience, including the following:

  • Give yourself time to adjust. Anticipate that this will be a difficult time in your life. Allow yourself to mourn the losses you have experienced. Try to be patient with changes in your emotional state.
  • Ask for support from people who care about you and who will listen and empathize with your situation. But keep in mind that your typical support system may be weakened if those who are close to you also have experienced or witnessed the trauma.
  • Communicate your experience. In whatever ways feel comfortable to you — such as by talking with family or close friends, or keeping a diary.
  • Find out about local support groups that often are available. Such as for those who have suffered from natural disasters or other traumatic events. These can be especially helpful for people with limited personal support systems.
  • Try to find groups led by appropriately trained and experienced professionals. Group discussion can help people realize that other individuals in the same circumstances often have similar reactions and emotions.
  • Engage in healthy behaviors to enhance your ability to cope with excessive stress. Eat well-balanced meals and get plenty of rest. If you experience ongoing difficulties with sleep, you may be able to find some relief through relaxation techniques. Avoid alcohol and drugs.
  • Establish or reestablish routines such as eating meals at regular times and following an exercise program. Take some time off from the demands of daily life by pursuing hobbies or other enjoyable activities.
  • Avoid major life decisions such as switching careers or jobs if possible. These activities tend to be highly stressful.

When should I seek professional help?

Some people are able to cope effectively with the emotional and physical demands brought about by traumatic events by using their own support systems. It is not unusual, however, to find that serious problems persist and continue to interfere with daily living. For example, some may feel overwhelming nervousness or lingering sadness that adversely affects job performance and interpersonal relationships.

Individuals with prolonged reactions that disrupt their daily functioning should consult with a trained and experienced mental health professional. Psychologists and other appropriate mental health providers help educate people about normal responses to extreme stress. These professionals work with individuals affected by trauma to help them find constructive ways of dealing with the emotional impact.

With children, continual and aggressive emotional outbursts, serious problems at school, preoccupation with the traumatic event, continued and extreme withdrawal, and other signs of intense anxiety or emotional difficulties all point to the need for professional assistance. A qualified mental health professional can help in managing traumatic stress for such children and their parents understand and deal with thoughts, feelings and behaviours that result from trauma.

Wendy Smith, Career, life and Business Coach
Wendy Smith, Principal Coach, WiseWolf Life and Career Coaching

Wendy Smith is a career consultant, life coach and business coach with depth of experience in organisational development, management, coaching and personal development. That experience means she is equally at home helping clients find a new career direction, starting-up new businesses or dealing with life’s more challenging personal issues. You can contact her at

Wendy has written a little eBook on how to get on with your boss and a book on job search – you can find all her books on Amazon at this link



Christmas Stress – Here is Help!

Christmas Stress – here is help!

Christmas stress! Stressful situations can happen at home as well as at work and Christmas is a particularly stressful time. If you’ve coped with a lot of stress at work then dealing with the extra stress of Christmas at home may make you feel overwhelmed.

What happens in stress is that your body goes into overdrive and you may find yourself with

  • Pounding heart
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Chest pains
  • Feeling faint
  • Sweating
  • Nausea
  • With shaking limbs and jelly legs

Now, of course, chest pains and breathlessness should be checked out with a medical adviser. But all these symptoms can be exaggerations of your body’s normal response to fear or stress (the “fight or flight” mechanism). They can feel very frightening in themselves and that makes things worse. But once you’ve checked with a doctor, you need to keep in mind that they are not dangerous or harmful provided you take action to help you handle the stress.

They are happening because your body is flooded with stress hormones such as adrenaline and corticosteroid. They were helpful when we had to run away from dangerous animal but now they produce those frightening symptoms.

So what can you do to feel better.

  1. First recognise the symptoms for what they are.  If it is possible to remove any of the pressures on you, then do so. Use the same techniques you would use at work to organise and prioritize any work you have to do at home.
  2. Start to control you thoughts – when anxious thoughts and worries come into your head take a pause and start to repeat to yourself quietly; “This will pass.” Each time a negative thought comes into your head say it again, until the new thought replaces the negative one. And you know at Christmastime that the 2nd of January does come round remarkably quickly.
  3. Have little stock of things you enjoy, such as, music on your iPod, or in my case very old BBC Radio comedies. Even if you can only find 10 minutes alone to enjoy to them, do so everyday.
  4. Be quite ruthless in protecting yourself from the harmful effect of negative friends and relatives. If you have to spend time with them then make sure you take regular breaks and reward your self for your patience in dealing with them.
  5. Avoid over eating and drinking too much but make sure you have a little of everything that you enjoy.
  6. If it is at all possible take short walk in the open air each day.
  7. Recognise that this is an emotionally demanding time and if you feel like having a good cry then do so – tears can be a very healthy response to the feelings within us.
  8. Practice relaxed breathing – the technique is described below

Christmas Stress! Relaxed breathing can help

Practise deep breathing at a regular time and in a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed.

Loosen or remove any tight clothes, such as shoes or jackets. Make yourself feel completely comfortable.

Sit in a comfy chair which supports your head or lie on the floor or bed. Place your arms on the chair arms, or flat on the floor or bed, a little bit away from the side of your body with the palms up. If you’re lying down, stretch out your legs, keeping them hip-width apart or slightly wider. If you’re sitting in a chair, don’t cross your legs.

Good relaxation always starts with focusing on your breathing. The way to do it is to breathe in and out slowly and in a regular rhythm as this will help you to calm down.

Fill up the whole of your lungs with air, without forcing. Imagine you’re filling up a bottle, so that your lungs fill from the bottom:

  • Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth.
  • Breathe in slowly and regularly counting from one to five (don’t worry if you can’t reach five at first).
  • Then let the breath escape slowly, counting from one to five.

Keep doing this until you feel calm. Breathe without pausing or holding your breath.

Practise this relaxed breathing for three to five minutes, two to three times a day (or whenever you feel stressed).

I wish you the happiest holidays and if I you need help to handle the after shock, please get in touch.

Remember I offer a trial free half hour coaching session by phone or Skype.

Warm regards


Stress and the HR Professional

 Stress and the HR Professional

Human Resources UK is the leading LinkedIn group dedicated to those involved in HR in the UK.  Discuss HR is the HR blog written by Human Resources UK. I am one of the Discuss HR team of writers and yesterday a post I wrote on stress and the HR professional was published.

HR staff are under constant pressure in the current economic climate.  While they are great at advising others on the management of stress, I suspect they may not be so good at identifying and managing their own.

Anyway here is a link to the post and I would very much welcome your views;

Wendy Smith is a career coach.  She helps people reach their goals and aspirations, without sacrificing their home and personal life.  Before working as a coach, Wendy had a long career in both the public and private sectors in general management and consultancy as well as spells in HR.  She now divides her time between coaching and writing. You can contact Wendy at and find out more at

Stress-Reducing Techniques to Help Cope with School or College

Stress-Reducing Techniques to Help Cope with School or College

Today we have a guest post from Isaiah Banks who is a full-time graduate student studying health care administration. During his undergraduate studies, he realized academic stress was overtaking his life. He investigated stress-reducing techniques, which allowed him to study effectively and, he hopes, will eventually prepare him for healthcare management jobs. 

Image provided by Sara V. from Flickr’s Creative Commons

It’s no secret that school can be stressful. Pursuing a degree requires a student to perform at his or her absolute best. If this stress is left unchecked, it can be devastating to a student’s overall success, not to mention their entire well-being.

Fortunately, there are numerous ways to keep stress in check. Each technique will work differently, depending on your preferences as well as your mind and body. Take time to thoroughly practice each to find one, or even several,  that will work best for you.

Techniques to Reduce Your Stress

The can significantly below reduce stress. Explore these strategies until you find one that is right for you.

  • Meditation The state of your body and mind have a profound effect on your ability to handle pressure and conflicts. Pressure from professors, as well as internal conflicts, are a major source of stress. Regularly meditating can prevent stress from building up. Take time at the beginning of each day to sit in a comfortable position with your eyes closed. Attempt to clear your mind by focusing entirely on your breath. Count the length of your inhales and your exhales. This will provide your brain with more oxygen, and you’ll start the day with a clear head.
  • Time ManagementOne of the biggest sources of stress in a student’s life is worry. They worry about not getting everything done, worry about upcoming projects and worry about fitting in an active social life. However, this source of stress can be entirely eliminated by enacting a time management strategy. At the beginning of each week, create a schedule with everything you are required to complete. Include studying, classroom hours and projects that are due. Now, you can clearly see how the week ahead of you will transpire.
  • Proper NutritionAccording to the Mayo Clinic, having a well-balanced diet can alleviate stress by providing your mind and body the nutrients they need to function. When you do not receive required nutrients, your body goes into panic mode. This is aggravated by the external stresses of school. Depending on your degree, you may be aware that nutrition has a profound effect on a person’s ability to think clearly. Someone pursuing a master in health administration or a similar degree has likely covered this phenomenon in their studies.
  • Leisure TimeSchedule time to do whatever it is that you enjoy — whether this means relaxing on the couch, sitting by the pool or spending time with friends. Leisure time can help you process and release accumulated stress. Make an effort to not think or talk about your studies to maximize the quality of your leisure time.
  • Disconnecting from ElectronicsThe modern world is one of constant connection. It’s important to take time out of your day to disconnect. Turn off your laptop, smartphone and tablet. Don’t turn on the TV, either. Simply relax by yourself without having to process any external stimuli. This will significantly allow you to reduce and release stress.

Stress Can Be Avoidable

Carefully explore the above techniques to become a considerably less-stressed student. You’ve taken time to study, completed projects and done everything in your power to earn high grades. You owe it to yourself to put this same amount of effort into finding a way to reduce stress throughout your education. Not only will mastering one or two of these techniques help you make the most of your studies, it will also help you in your career and personal life. Forming a lifelong habit to cut down on stress can lead to a longer, happier and altogether more fulfilling life.

About the Author: Isaiah Banks is a full-time graduate student studying health care administration. During his undergraduate studies, he realized academic stress was overtaking his life. He investigated stress-reducing techniques, which allowed him to study effectively and, he hopes, will eventually prepare him for healthcare management jobs. 

Are you stressed-out by your poor work-life balance?

I’ve been there and got the tea-shirt in coping with work-life balance problems and I know that I can help you.
You know you have a work-life balance problem when you
  • Don’t have enough time for everything and spend what time you have handling scheduling conflicts,
  • Feel stressed and overwhelmed by trying to balance your different roles.
Find out more on  WiseWolf’s Your Happiness Factor Blog at this link

Are you stressed-out by your poor work-life balance?

Wendy Mason is a Life and Career Coach.  She helps people have the confidence they need to be successful at work and to change career while maintaining a good work/life balance. You can email her at wendymason


Leading Change – excuse me while I quietly burn-out


Change teams can be intense and exhausting places to work.  If it is large and complex change, it may put huge demands on everyone.

Everyone feels stressed! 

The Team Leader needs to recognize this and manage the team so that no undue stress is put on any particular individual.

Judging this, and then getting the resources you need to prevent harm to your team, can be difficult.

But stress and burnout are different.  And in a long standing change team, you may well see symptoms of impending burnout.

You need to know what to look for and you need to act.

If having been through a period of  constant stress, someone begins to feel disillusioned, helpless, and completely worn out, they may be suffering from burnout.

If you know your team well, you will notice the difference in attitude and approach.  Suddenly that person you relied on to be enthusiastic, just isn’t anymore!

When you’re burned out, problems seem insurmountable, everything looks bleak and it’s difficult to muster up the energy to care, let alone do something about what is happening to you.

The unhappiness and detachment burnout causes can threaten jobs, relationships, and health.

But burnout can be helped.

If you recognize the signs and symptoms of burnout in its early stages, simple stress management strategies may be enough to solve the problem.

In the later stages of burnout, recovery may take more time and effort, but you can still regain your balance by reassessing your priorities, making time for yourself and seeking support.

Burnout is a state of emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It occurs when you feel overwhelmed and unable to meet constant demands. As the stress continues, you begin to lose the interest or motivation that led you to take on a certain role in the first place.

Burnout reduces your productivity and saps your energy, leaving you feeling increasingly helpless, hopeless, cynical and resentful. Eventually, you may feel like you have nothing more to give.

The negative effects of burnout spill over into every area of life – including your home and social life. Burnout can also cause long-term changes to your body that make you vulnerable to illnesses like colds and flu. Because of its many consequences, it’s important to deal with burnout right away.

As team leader watch for burnout in both your team and yourself!

  • Make sure stress gets managed and that people seek support
  • Encourage your team to take care of their physical and emotional health.
  • Encourage people to eat properly and to go for a walk at lunch time.  Working through lunch can look like macho dedication but as a long-term habit it puts people at risk!
  • Make sure things are kept in balance.

You can recognize burout and deal with it.  Make sure it doesn’t become a full scale break down.

Personal Burnout Prevention Tips   

  • Start the day with a short quiet space for relaxation or meditation before you go to work.
  • Adopt healthy eating, exercising, and sleeping habits.
  • Set boundarieslearn how to say “no” at work and at home – remember  “no” means you can say “yes” to the things that truly matter.
  • Take a daily break from technology.   Put away your laptop, turn off your phone and stop checking email.  Go out for a walk.
  • Nourish your creative side.  What do you really like doing?
  • Learn how to manage stress. At this link is a simple breathing technique that may help when you feel overwhelmed by stress .
  • 10 Tips for Healthy Living (
  • Burnout: What is it? Do I Have it? (
  • Burnout checklist [Eddington Pindura] (

Wendy Mason works as a personal and business coach, consultant and blogger. She has managed or advised on many different kinds of transition and she has worked with all kinds of people going through personal change. If you would like her help, email her at or ring ++44(0)2084610114 or ++44(0)7867681439  

Great group – sad about the leader – mood contagion.

A Mantled Guereza, close-up, looking sad

Mood contagion is the automatic and unconscious transfer of mood between individuals.

It occurs because we tend to mimic others’ nonverbal behaviour.

Research has shown that intense moods are more likely to be transferred.  Joy or distress are more likely to be passed on than calmness or boredom.

Although mood contagion can transfer between any two or more people, leaders probably have an even greater impact on their group mood.  This is because of their importance to the organization.

If you, as a leader, can’t regulate your emotions,  members of your group might often experience stress and anxiety.  This is both in trying to cope with you as the leader and in dealing with the tasks at hand.

Leaders in a bad mood don’t need to be abusive or hostile!  Their mood needs only to be negative. Research shows that even subtle expressions of negative mood can have an impact on followers.

This raises all kinds of issues in the present economic downturn!  This is a time when we all feel miserable sometimes.  But you as a leader have to work to manage down the impact of your own feelings.

Think about those leaders who handle a crisis well. Do they manage their mood and communicate clearly while creating a safe environment for their employees? Or do they just let it all hang out and then deal with the casualties?  Who would you rather deal with and what kind of leader do you want to be?

Remember when you feel down you need to

  • Recognize that your mood will an impact on your group
  • Work to reduce that negative impact
  • Intentionally change your mood – there is a technique at this link that you can learn for this.

I would welcome your thoughts on all of this and your tips for handling your own feelings.

Wendy Mason works as a personal and business coach, consultant and blogger. She has managed or advised on many different kinds of transition and she has worked with all kinds of people going through personal change. If you would like her help, email her at or ring ++44(0)2084610114 or ++44(0)7867681439 or 

Do you wear a mask at work? Can you be yourself at work or even at home?

I’ve always had a dilemma!  I have spent much of my life trying to reconcile the needs of my interesting and satisfying professional life as a manager and consultant, with my spiritual and creative life as a seeker and a poet! For many years, I would rarely let my work colleagues know anything about my other interests!  Even now I exercise a degree of caution in who I tell and how! But life running my own business does mean that I have greater freedom to make my own choices! I was lucky, as I say above I enjoyed my life as a manager and I now enjoy the work I do as a consultant.  I could express myself in both my worlds!

But there are many who are far less lucky than me! Some of us cannot be ourselves at home, let alone at work!  And there is a penalty to pay from the time we spend adapting to meet the needs of others; time we spend pretending to be someone we are not! We can damage our health far more than we probably realise!

Dr Katherine Benziger is a pioneer and leading expert in her field. She has given three decades of teaching and research in psychology working to help people understand, value and use their own and other people’s natural gifts! Her work has focused on the proper and ethical development and application of personality assessment in the global business environment. Significantly, Dr Benziger prefers the term personality assessing, rather than personality testing, to describe her approach. She is keen to distance herself from the ‘personality testing’ industry, which puts the needs of the organisation ahead of the individuals who make it up!

Dr Benziger believes, in simple terms, that there are four different areas of one part of the human brain (the processing section or neocortex) that equate to four different types of human behaviour.

SENSING/BASAL LEFT The fundamental goal of the Basal Left/Sensation Type is to have the fullest possible experience of what is immediate and real, in order to be able to produce dependably. For this reason, the Basal Left is said to contribute or be responsible for the productive foundations in life.

FEELING/BASAL RIGHT The fundamental goal of the Basal Right/Feeling Type is to create harmony, connectedness and good will in the community. For this reason, the Basal Right is said to contribute or be responsible for the peaceful foundations in life.

INTUITION/FRONTAL RIGHT The fundamental goal of the Frontal Right/Intuitive Type is to discover the furthest reaches of the possible, in order to perceive new patterns, invent new solutions, or solve “theoretically insurmountable” problems. For this reason, the Frontal Right is said to contribute or be responsible for the adaptive in life.

THINKING/FRONTAL LEFT The fundamental goal of the Frontal Left/Thinking Type is to create rational order and make sound plans and decisions based on logical analysis. For this reason, the Frontal Left is said to contribute or be responsible for the Directing or Prioritizing function in life.

She believes that each of us is born with a hard-wired connectivity in one of the four areas which usually leads to how we interpret the world around us and how we react to it.  It results in personality styles, thinking styles, behaviour styles or communication styles.

Dr Benziger’s work has focussed on the common tendency of people in work, whether being assessed or not, to adapt their natural thinking and working styles to fit expectations of others.   This can apply both at home and at work! It can be a particular issue for women as many of us strive to be good partners, as well as successful mothers and supportive carers for our elder relatives! The result is tension and stress.  People become increasingly unhappy and ineffective, if they behave in unnatural ways! Much of Dr Benziger’s work focuses on dealing with these issues and the costs of this pressure to adapt.

Dr Arlene Taylor has been a leading specialist in ‘wellness’ since 1980, and has collaborated with Dr Benziger for much of that time.  Arlene Taylor’s work has confirmed, and builds on, Benziger’s observations about the cost of adapting!  Her work has included identifying anecdotally a collection of symptoms. The complete family of symptoms which Dr Arlene Taylor identified within PASS (Prolonged Adaption Stress Syndrome), as linked to Benziger’s work the “Falsification of Type”, are:

  1. Fatigue
  2. Hyper-vigilance
  3. Immune system alterations
  4. Memory impairment
  5. Altered brain chemistry
  6. Diminished frontal lobe functions
  7. Discouragement and or depression
  8. Self-esteem problems

So what does this mean for us as leaders and managers of groups of people at work? Remember that any personality assessment or psychometrics test can be skewed!  This is particularly likely if someone is practised at falsifying their type and spends their time continually trying to be someone they are not. Don’t rely solely on the results of such tests when you are recruiting. Get to know the people who work with you, and for you.  Make sure they know that you value difference in your team!  Don’t put pressure on them to confirm to a stereotype – value the differences between them!

We need to recognise that we are cannot all be good at everything and it is legitimate for us to do less well at some things and better at others! It is also OK for us not all to like or want the same things!   Don’t increase the pressure with unrealistic expectations of yourself and others. Be aware of the people around you and learn to recognise when they are showing the signs of stress!  It could be that they are trying too hard to live up to your expectations and that is causing the problem!  Make sure your expectations of yourself and others are legitimate and that they are reasonable!

You can find our more about Dr Benziger and her work at this link.

My Boss Is Trying to Kill Me | Personal Success | BNET

My boss is killing me. She constantly takes on more and more for our department.  We recently got impressive new titles, which elevated us to an exempt salary level (no more overtime), no raises, and a few more hours work per day for each of us. Stress is so high, I dream about work at night (when I can sleep at all), my hair is falling out, and I’m having digestive issues and sometimes, when things are really bad, chest pains. I wake up every weekday morning with a headache.  Read more at

Do you agree with the advice given?

Reactionary Workflow – Breaking the Pattern

Reactionary Workflow – Ideas for Breaking the Pattern

Reactionary Workflow! Where do you really draw the line on your “to do” list? Some of the things we assign ourselves really are necessary; get our teeth cleaned, answer the jury duty summons, pick up the kids. Another category might be negotiable, and yet another list usually contains all those things we actually WANT to do.

And then there is the incoming flow of communication, via email, phone, texts, and our incessant belief that we need to know what is happening and be available to all new sources of information…

Reactionary Workflow

Find the rest of the post at this link