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How Do You Deal With Trauma In The Workplace?

Written by: Dr. Adriana Popescu, Senior Level Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.


The modern workplace is already a pressure cooker of stress, tensions, emotions, and judgments, and the world events of the last two years have just added new fears and demands to the mix. People at work are feeling the increasing strain, difficulties, and pressure. Stir in growing fears about security, inflation, changes to compensation and work hours, and interpersonal dynamics, and you have a recipe for something I see with clients now more than ever: Workplace Trauma

businessman stress out, sitting on the floor in the office.

I am a licensed clinical psychologist, addiction and trauma specialist, and empowerment coach whose target is to educate people about the impact that trauma can have and how we can heal from it. As I have said previously here in Brainz Magazine, my Ask Dr. Adriana video series, or my podcast Kaleidoscope of Possibilities: Alternative Perspectives on Mental Health, trauma involves events that we perceive to be overwhelming or terrifying. We can be impacted physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually when we experience a traumatic event or witness these events occurring with others. It is not the nature of the event itself that creates a traumatic response; it is our interpretation and reaction to it that determines whether or not we are able to recover and heal from it.

Without working through the trauma of the past, we may get “stuck” in these experiences, and anything that seems similar to the initial trauma may elicit a trauma response in the body and mind. When aspects of past traumas are triggered, it recreates a fight, flight, or freeze response in the brain, just as intense and real as when first activated by the originating traumatic event. This is what happens when people with PTSD (Posttraumatic Stress Disorder) experience flashbacks or other intrusive memories of past traumatic events.

What complicates matters is when these traumatic responses show up in the workplace. We often find ourselves in work environments that have similar energy or feel like the unresolved hurts of the past. A boss makes a critical comment about your work performance, and suddenly, you feel as if you are back in the third grade, being mocked by a teacher who didn’t like you. Being left out of an important project triggers memories of being excluded on the playground or not being able to find a seat during lunchtime. Having a colleague take credit for your work brings up old feelings of hurt and betrayal from family relationships or sibling rivalries.

And it isn’t just the small “t” traumas that can impact us in the workplace; many people struggle with the more severe and debilitating impacts of past trauma at their jobs, making it difficult to focus, stay present and grounded, and be able to function at one’s best. Sometimes people will unconsciously recreate similar experiences at work, leading to patterns of re-traumatization and sometimes even abuse of various kinds that mirror the experiences they had in the past. Many in this situation wake up in the morning with a huge sense of dread, riddled with anxiety and worry about having painful and frightening experiences they feel they cannot control.

Further adding to all this stress are growing economic concerns, financial pressures, and a sense of choice-lessness. I often find that clients are afraid to stand up for themselves or deal with workplace stressors since they don’t want to “make waves” or risk losing their jobs.

I have seen many clients deal with the stress and pain of workplace trauma and other toxic environments in unhealthy and unproductive ways. Tardiness, avoidance, conflict, drinking, smoking or other substance use, getting sick, distractions (especially of the internet/device kind), or creating dramas are just some of the ways that people attempt to numb or escape their unresolved traumas in a less conscious and present manner.

There are some healthy, productive, and empowering steps you can take if you are dealing with workplace trauma.

  1. First and foremost, recognize that you are not wrong. What if nothing is wrong with you if you are triggered at work or by co-workers? What if you could use the trauma that is getting triggered in work situations as a springboard to healing the past?

  2. Take short breaks in your day to care for yourself. If you are feeling stressed, traumatized, or activated, take a few moments to use a self-care strategy. This could be a simple breathing exercise (, a few moments of meditation, music, yoga, or even just going for a short walk.

  3. Steer clear of people who drag you down. Avoid those folks who gossip, complain, or leave you feeling drained when you deal with them. If you have to interact with these individuals, keep your conversations short and work-related.

  4. Shift your perspective by asking open-ended questions when you are struggling. Some of my favorite go-to questions with clients are from Access Consciousness®: What’s right about this (or me) that I’m not getting? What is this really? What do I know here? What else is possible?® How does it get any better than this?® Asking these kinds of questions may not only bring you new information, but it also activates the phenomenon of asking and receiving and invites in different possibilities.

  5. Address your underlying traumas. If you find that your work environment is triggering old wounds (or if new experiences at work have been traumatizing), get some assistance to deal with the core traumas, beliefs, and interpersonal dynamics at play in the situation. There are many extremely effective therapeutic methods and tools to change these traumatic patterns in your life. Using these strategies can have positive results that extend far beyond the workplace. You can find out more about these here on the website for my trauma treatment program, Firebird Healing.

  6. Be a leader in the workplace. A true leader is willing to look for empowering ways to make things better for everyone. Rather than going into reacting in situations that are stressful, a leader takes a moment to get present, ask questions, and seek alternatives.

Workplace trauma is real, and it is increasing in today’s world. However, there are many positive and empowering ways to make things easier on yourself. If handling these issues seems daunting on your own, seek out a qualified professional to discuss your unique situation and get the support that you need to show up at work happy, productive, and ready to contribute.

Follow me on Facebook, Instagram, Linkedin, and visit my website for more info! Read more from Adriana!


Dr. Adriana Popescu, Senior Level Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine Dr. Adriana Popescu is a licensed clinical psychologist and empowerment coach with over 25 years of experience in the mental health field. She specializes in treating addiction, co-occurring disorders, and trauma, and has directed a number of treatment programs in the San Francisco Bay Area. Adriana has a private practice in San Francisco and travels around the world coaching and facilitating transformational and empowering workshops. She coauthored the Conscious Being, Conscious Recovery, and Conscious Creation Workbooks, and she hosts a fascinating podcast called Kaleidoscope of Possibilities – Alternative Perspectives on Mental Health. She loves to empower people to overcome their imagined limitations, release their self-judgments, and discover the brilliance within – creating a life of infinite possibilities.



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