The Toxic Work Environment and PTSD: Why Do I Get Sick So Often?

A toxic work environment can cause PTSD.  Period.  When psychologists first became aware of the set of symptoms that they later described as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), they assigned it to individuals that had been through extreme trauma, such as soldiers coming home from the warzone, or victims of crime.  The more traumatic, the more likely the individual will start feeling these set of symptoms.

This continues to be true today, as many people who go through these traumatic situations tend to later on experience symptoms related to PTSD.  However, in the last few years, psychologists began to see that it is not necessary to have experienced great trauma in order to experience PTSD.  In fact, there are people that are subjected to heightened states of stress and hyper-awareness on a daily basis, and they too experience many of the symptoms that victims of crime had experienced.  Psychologists began to notice that people who had been subjected to bullying can develop PTSD too.

You may be aware of the stories where the bullied individual takes his/her life.  Imagine the amount of stress that that person may have been under.  But bullying is not confined to certain places or certain age groups.  Bullying can happen anywhere and at any age, and if it is happening to you, you shouldn’t feel ashamed.  You should know that there is help and it all starts with recognizing the situation and understanding it so that you can take the steps to leave that situation behind.

Many people who experience a toxic work environment, often because of a bully boss wonder why they get sick so often.  The answer is quite simple.  You may have heard of the “fight or flee” reaction.  It typically means that when your body is under stress, it tends to react to protect you from danger.  Your body does not know the difference between being attacked by a lion and being reprimanded for the tenth time by your bully boss.  Your body thinks it’s under attack and needs to protect your life. 

When your body is constantly under stress, and you feel like you are inside a pressure cooker, your body goes into survival mode and wants to either fight the danger or flee it.  But as you sit in your cubicle, or in your home office, or wherever your place of work happens to be, you realize that you can do neither and your body continues to produce stress hormones.

These stress hormones are there to make you hyper-aware of the situation and to safeguard your life, and even though they are adaptive and very useful when you are in actual danger (as in the example above, when you are about to be eaten by a lion), they are dangerous when you experience them every day.  Your body’s immunity will slowly decrease, and you will start feeling and getting sick much more often than you had in the past.

You may have heard my story before.  I explain a little bit of what happened to me here.  I left that toxic place behind and so can you.  I can assure you that you will be better in the end.  I used to get sad thinking about what I left behind.  Today, my thinking has shifted completely, and I am nothing but thankful for the opportunity that leaving a toxic work environment has brought to my life.

Remember, you can do it too! (Join my free Facebook group right here)

Are You in a Toxic Work Environment? 5 Signs To Look For.

You are probably exhausted.  You are tired of the constant criticism and sometimes feel like crying when you get home from work.  You have a knot in your stomach every time the train approaches the station for work.  Are you in a toxic work environment?

Chances are, if you are experiencing any of the situations above, you probably are.  In fact, once you start feeling that way, you are most likely already experiencing some of the first signs of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  Learn to recognize the signs of a toxic work environment so that you can plan your exit if you have to.

What are the signs to look for?

  1. Your boss gives you “busy-work” that does not advance an agenda:  One way that bullies exert their influence over their targets is by assigning work of no consequence.  For example, I worked with an employee who was being told that since her grammar was not “up to par,” (neither was her boss’ grammar), she needed to prove, every day, how she would improve her grammar, by reading, training, going to classes.  The employee’s grammar was just fine, but the boss was trying to put her down and assign her something that would not advance her agenda.  The employee was so humiliated by this and other acts that ended up leaving in the end.
  2. Your boss is overly critical.  Does your boss criticize you for small, insignificant things?  I worked with an employee whose boss criticized her for wearing a shirt that was “too big” or “too red.”  I also worked with someone whose boss criticized her for being “too sweet,” (she worked with families and children).  Their bosses sought any excuse to criticize them in order to make them uncomfortable and anxious, not because there was any reason to criticize them at all.
  3. You constantly feel like you are walking on eggshells.  You don’t know what to do as the rules keep changing. You see that certain rules apply to you but they don’t apply to your coworkers.  And there are rules that apply sometimes, and other rules that apply at other times.  You are surrounded by uncertainty, and even though uncertainty is part of life, it is completely maximized at your workplace in order to increase the anxiety levels. 
  4. Rules don’t apply to everyone the same.  Technically, rules should apply to every employee fairly.  In toxic work environments, some rules apply to some employees and not others.  I worked with an employee who had to submit every decision to her boss, who decided whether she could go ahead and implement her decision, or not.  This happened while others in the same position did not have to go through the same procedures. 
  5. You are constantly being accused of “subpar” work.  And this will happen even when you are submitting quality work that gets dismissed, and while other people submit questionable work that gets accepted.  I once sat at a meeting where a boss questioned every single one of the teams’ accomplishments, making fun of the members of the team, and saying that she did not believe that they could have accomplished the goals.  Every single one of the members of that team resigned in protest.

I went through this experience myself.  I experienced it firsthand.  My boss started bullying me precisely when our project was starting to gain recognition and showed the first few signs of success.  It was precisely this success that led to myself and my team to be the targets of a boss that only cared about her own standing in the organization. 

If you have identified some of the signs above in your own work situation, you are probably in a toxic workplace.  Do you want to know more about my experience and how I was able to get out of it?  Do you need help identifying the situation and need help planning the exit?  Follow my plan here.

Best of luck!

The Toxic Work Environment and PTSD

Yes, a toxic work environment can lead to PTSD (Post -Traumatic Stress Disorder).  We typically would not think of it, as this is usually what we hear when we refer to combat troops, people who have gone through severe trauma, or those who have experienced serious injury or abandonment.  But there is a category of people who have been showing up to their doctor’s office more and more these days, and that’s those who are being subjected to a toxic work culture.  These employees tend to exhibit symptoms similar to those who have experienced trauma. Why?  Because in reality, they are experiencing trauma!  There is no room to breathe when exposed to a pressure-cooker type of work environment.

What symptoms do employees present with that are cause for red flag?

Let’s name a few:

  1. Hypervigilance:  Employees feel like they are constantly “walking on eggshells,” not able to understand how to behave and having to account for other people’s feelings and emotions. 
  2. Problems concentrating: It is hard to focus when you don’t know when the next shoe is going to fall.  Fear is the enemy of concentration.
  3. Persistent negative feelings about oneself:  Feeling depressed sad, and helpless.
  4. Having nightmares, distressing dreams:  You repeat the distressing events over and over and as a consequence, you have difficulty sleeping.
  5. Difficulty sleeping (see above).
  6. Physiological symptoms:  Digestive issues, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, headaches, high blood pressure.

If you are experiencing any of the symptoms above, or similar ones, you may be in a toxic work environment, and you need to figure out your next steps.

I thought of no better time to bring up these issues than right now.  Even though I have been free from this type of work bullying for almost three months now (Yayyy!), I still experience some of these symptoms, and I want to share them with you so that you don’t have to go through what I went through. 

In my old job, my boss(es) ganged up against employees, made them feel devalued, unwelcome, and unimportant.  I used to constantly have nightmares about events at work, a situation that many of my coworkers also shared with me.  Some of us had difficulty sleeping, eating, and experienced physical symptoms such as headaches and stomachaches.  I actually experienced what it meant to be “disgusted” by a situation as my gut told me exactly what that was. 

I was lucky enough to seek the help of my primary health care provider.  When I told her what was happening and what I was feeling, she recognized the symptoms right away.  She let me cry for about 30 minutes, non-stop during that first visit.  She constantly checked on me to make sure that I was putting myself first.   I will be forever grateful to her for helping me understand that I need to take care of me

This is the message that I want to leave with you today:  Remember, your number one responsibility is to YOURSELF

Girl crying by a rained on window.