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Mental Health In The Workplace: ACEs Role

Anyone else have trouble with work stress and triggering work environments (physical and social)? Holler.


It's been just over 3 months since I quit my super triggering and toxic job... and holy shit, I feel so much better NOT reporting in for the daily abuse.


How much better? Well, it looks like I've anti-aged by 10 years, lost several pounds, and I quit smoking the same day I quit my job... so that says a lot.


To be fair, my workplace included a culture of tribalism, unnecessary ambiguity, sexual harassment, coworker alcoholism & other untreated mental health disorders, gaslighting, an entirely male social environment, rampant favoritism/nepotism, and frequently slammed doors/thrown objects in temper tantrums. So...


Still, for years, I've wondered if I'm just not "cut out" or "tough enough" to work a regular 9-5. I've felt like my work environments have repeatedly been too chaotic and triggering for me to have a functional life outside of being a work perfectionist. And I've known that my C-PTSD was somehow related to the overwhelming, freezing, dissociative effects that I feel in a bad workplace.


Still, for years, I've wondered if I'm just not "cut out" or "tough enough" to work a regular 9-5. I've felt like my work environments have repeatedly been too chaotic and triggering for me to have a functional life outside of being a work perfectionist. And I've known that my C-PTSD was somehow related to the overwhelming, freezing, dissociative effects that I feel in a bad workplace.

Hey, here's an article that lends merit to my theories on the negative effects of unhealthy work environments on Trauma sufferers.


Of course, Complex Trauma affects work performance. Why wouldn't it? Sometimes I just need someone else's words as proof for this inner critic to stop telling me it's all my fault.



Below: not my article, but a pertinent one for many of us. Sauce! Then, back to my work environment analysis.




Adverse Childhood Experiences, also known as ACEs, are powerful. ACEs are traumatic or stressful events that occur in a person's life before the age of 18. But many people who have experienced ACEs in childhood can carry the results and effects from those events long into adulthood, including the workplace. How do ACEs potentially impact the mental or physical health of you and your teammates?

How Can Mental Health Affect Employees?

Poor mental health and stress can negatively affect employees in different ways.

  • Job performance and productivity

  • Engagement with one's work

  • Communication with coworkers

  • Physical capability and daily functioning


Mental health in the workplace is important, according to Jessica Crunkleton, MS, LMFT, LMHC, CADAC II, MATS, therapist with Franciscan Health's Employee Assistance Program in Crown Point. "Without mental health, there is no health," she said. "We have to have it." "When everyone is not taking good care of themselves, that can affect the entire workplace," Crunkleton said. "We have to have mental health. It is vitally important."

ACEs In The Workplace

People with a higher ACEs score, or an increased number of traumatic events early in life, may see incidents in different perspectives than others. This can impact workplace interactions, Crunkleton said.

"For example, a situation that happens may not be as serious to one employee than the next, because of their past and history," she said. "Some employees with a higher ACEs score may also be less likely to trust others in this environment."

Crunkleton also noted that more issues, like conflict, can occur overall with people who have experienced multiple ACEs, both in the workplace and outside of work.

"Adaptation, anxiety and impact are just a few things that can be caused from ACEs, and many times people are not always aware of it," Crunkleton said.

Mental Health Warning Signs

According to the National Alliance of Mental Illness, common signs of mental illness in adults and adolescents can include the following:

  • Excessive worrying or fear

  • Feeling excessively sad or low

  • Confused thinking or problems concentrating and learning

  • Extreme mood changes, including uncontrollable "highs" or feelings of euphoria

  • Prolonged or strong feelings of irritability or anger

  • Avoiding friends and social activities

  • Difficulties understanding or relating to other people

  • Changes in sleeping habits or feeling tired and low energy

  • Changes in eating habits such as increased hunger or lack of appetite

  • Changes in sex drive

  • Difficulty perceiving reality (delusions or hallucinations, in which a person experiences and senses things that don't exist in objective reality)

  • Inability to perceive changes in one’s own feelings, behavior or personality ("lack of insight" or anosognosia)

  • Abuse of substances like alcohol or drugs

  • Multiple physical ailments without obvious causes (such as headaches, stomach aches, vague and ongoing "aches and pains")

  • Thinking about suicide

  • Inability to carry out daily activities or handle daily problems and stress

  • An intense fear of weight gain or concern with appearance


"Changes in behavior is a good indicator (of a problem)," she said. "For example, if an employee starts to become late often, miss work, has a major change in mood or appearance, these are important to pay attention to."

How To Manage Mental Health At Work

Mental health is important and recognizing if you have a disorder will help you in the long run.

"The key is treatment and do not have a stigma about mental health," Crunkleton said. The workplace can be a key location for activities designed to improve well-being among adults. Workplace wellness programs can identify those at risk and connect them to treatment and put in place supports to help people reduce and manage stress.

It is vital to have awareness of mental health, as well as maintaining a healthy life by eating healthy and exercising regularly. To be the best you and for your mental health, take time off when you need it.

"You have to take care of yourself," Crunkleton said.

If there is a conflict at work, talk it out, don't let it escalate. Be transparent with your manager or supervisor to receive the proper accommodations.

Crunkleton emphasized how important mental health is. "Mental health has to a priority, both at home and at work."





Workplace disempowerment


In my experience, old trauma presents in the workplace following similar stimuli. Ambiguity, social disapproval, unpredictability, low transparency, poor communication, rapid changes, bullying, and unclear expectations definitely strike up my trauma responses.


Unfortunately, I think these are relatively common characteristics of poorly managed organizations... and I have yet to find a well-run one.


The hierarchy of employees in many workplaces creates this perceived (or very real) power imbalance; the folks at the top call the shots but don't necessarily have to answer for them, meanwhile, the folks at the bottom scramble to keep up with rapidly changing and obtuse plans, while being on the line for any potential mistake.


The hierarchy of employees in many workplaces creates this perceived (or very real) power imbalance; the folks at the top call the shots but don't necessarily have to answer for them, meanwhile, the folks at the bottom scramble to keep up with rapidly changing and obtuse plans, while being on the line for any potential mistake.

In both of my prior "professional" careers, for example - as a lab supervisor and researcher, and as a craft beer logistics manager - I've found myself in a position that was drastically affected by the actions of everyone around me. They didn't have to provide logical plans, defined guidelines, accurate or timely information before I was expected to carry out their whimsical demands. So, in general, I was always waiting for disaster and anticipating blame when their harebrained ideas fell through.


I know that this is a similar story for a lot of us "low to mid-level" employees and managers.


"You're so important to the operation," they say... while never giving us the tools we need to confidently do the job... while pointing the finger our direction when an undisclosed detail becomes a bigger problem... while blatantly playing favorites through widely discrepant expectations and allowances...


In my experiences, I've been expected to liaise between various departments and superiors to find the information required to complete the jobs they chaotically throw at me. There have never been well-thought out plans or directions. There have been very few honest conversations about expectations, processes, or upcoming changes. It's kindof been a crapshoot of, "What's changing today without any prior warning?" And no one has to answer for their mistakes... except me, when they inevitably trickle down and become my problem.


Thought you had a plan for your day? Not anymore, because we just changed the entire business model for the foreseeable future - could be forever, could change it back next week. Did you work ahead to get these projects completed for the next 6 months? Do it again, because we told you the wrong information from the get-go. Your coworkers are going to write down wrong or incomplete information in their daily jobs; you'll just have to figure it out in the aftermath... but also, you need to explain why the numbers are wrong.


Not only are humans often unreliable and inconsiderate, but they seem to be relatively unaccountable in these positions compared to the consequences that I faced.


What the fuck happens to a traumatized brain when it's always expecting something to be altered or to fall apart? What's the consequence for your mental health when your livelihood is on the line for events outside of your control? How does someone with complex trauma functionally navigate an environment filled with chaotic plans, inter-personal drama, favoritism, and social punishment?

What the fuck happens to a traumatized brain when it's always expecting something to be altered or to fall apart? What's the consequence for your mental health when your livelihood is on the line for events outside of your control? How does someone with complex trauma functionally navigate an environment filled with chaotic plans, inter-personal drama, favoritism, and social punishment?


Oh, how that trauma brain goes haywire.



Childhood Throwbacks


For a lot of us, these are shared characteristics to our childhood homes and early social experiences. For a lot of us, the emotional and sexual abuse from our childhood and adult lives is echoed through the office. For a lot of us, uncertainty and opacity are threats to our personal safety.


For a lot of us, these are shared characteristics to our childhood homes and early social experiences. For a lot of us, the emotional and sexual abuse from our childhood and adult lives is echoed through the office. For a lot of us, uncertainty and opacity are threats to our personal safety.

We've learned that it's always dangerous to make a mistake. That we have to be responsible for ourselves and everyone. That social exile is always just one wrong word away. That our security can be torn away at the drop of a hat.


This is why Complex Trauma affects our daily work lives.


Not because we're overly sensitive. Not because we're incapable of great things. Not because we're lazy, rigid, or unaccountable....


It's because we're overly accountable. Because we've always had to be responsible. Because we thrive when we have some semblance of control in our worlds. Because we've learned to always be on the lookout, to expect the worst, and to be punished when more important humans are even minorly inconvenienced.


While we can easily beat ourselves up over our abundant work stress that flows into every kind of life stress, the bigger question is, how can organizations continue to operate under such deft pretenses? Traumatized or not, the effects of devoting your life to an institution that can't even value your daily operations enough to provide fair and transparent treatment is mental health challenging. You don't need a history of abuse and neglect to be negatively impacted by chaos and biased social treatment.


While we can easily beat ourselves up over our abundant work stress that flows into every kind of life stress, the bigger question is, how can organizations continue to operate under such deft pretenses? Traumatized or not, the effects of devoting your life to an institution that can't even value your daily operations enough to provide fair and transparent treatment is mental health challenging. You don't need a history of abuse and neglect to be negatively impacted by chaos and biased social treatment.

Maybe I'm sensitive to my work environments. Maybe I struggle to overcome the politics and interpersonal challenges that come with working among other messy humans. Maybe I'm unskilled in compartmentalizing my work stress from my outlook on my life.


But with all of these organizational challenges mimicking the conditions that formed my unstable perspective of the world in the first place, who could really blame my trauma brain for throwing out danger signals all the time? My employer is my provider. My coworkers are like my kin. My survival depends on my social acceptance.


When tribalism, chaos, and financial uncertainty are running the business, how can a Traumatized Motherfucker expect to simultaneously run their life?


Ya can't. Or, at least that's been my work experience so far.


Plus... I just have to throw in a few more questions from my previous job. How's a Traumatized Motherfucker going to function when there are pretty-universally triggering stimuli, like slamming doors and flying file folders, in their daily work environment? When they're told that, "The {guy} at the top wants to fire you - not because of your performance or anything you can do differently - he just doesn't like you." And, in fact, the only nice things he says to you are about your appearance? When there is such a dysfunctional work culture that it's absolutely permissible to lose the company tens of thousands of dollars because of repeated hangovers.


Mhmm.


For me, the challenge in working has never been the work, itself. Give me a task and it will be done, correctly and before you asked for it to be completed, forever onward. I love working. I love problem solving. I love being busy. I love the fulfillment of accomplishing.
The difficult part has always been the social challenges of my jobs. The organizational structure, the middle-school gossip, the toxic coworkers. The shifting responsibilities, the poor planning, the unbounded expectations.

For me, the challenge in working has never been the work, itself. Give me a task and it will be done, correctly and before you asked for it to be completed, forever onward. I love working. I love problem solving. I love being busy. I love the fulfillment of accomplishing.


The difficult part has always been the social challenges of my jobs. The organizational structure, the middle-school gossip, the toxic coworkers. The shifting responsibilities, the poor planning, the unbounded expectations.


I'm a hyper-responsible, crazy vigilant, extremely motivated employee. But I am harshly negatively impacted by the dis-empowerment, sexism, and fear-mongering that characterize our workplaces.




Improvements


These days, I work as an independent contractor for a few small businesses and I'm doing much better.


Away from the drama and insecurity of an organizational hierarchy with firm dependence on fellow coworkers, my brain is much happier. I love having control over my work and my schedule. I appreciate the independence from rapidly shifting social strata among other employees.


As an independent writer, I can plan my days. I can complete my work ONE time, rather than redoing it based on changing information. I can stop worrying about social punishments and financial threats. I can let down my guard without any wandering eyes and creepy comments. I can keep a routine. I can keep my somewhat managed mental illnesses away from the untreated conditions of others.

As an independent writer, I can plan my days. I can complete my work ONE time, rather than redoing it based on changing information. I can stop worrying about social punishments and financial threats. I can let down my guard without any wandering eyes and creepy comments. I can keep a routine. I can keep my somewhat managed mental illnesses away from the untreated conditions of others.


These are better work characteristics for a MF.


I encourage ANYONE who feels like their job is a threat to their mental health to TAKE ACTION to improve your circumstances. I know that's easier said than done, especially when you're providing for more than yourself and a dog in a wheelchair. But the payoff is massive, pervasive, and life-changing.


Even without the conventional "stability" of a steady salary, a 401k, or health insurance... I promise, I'm doing a lot fucking better since the day that I quit being a slave to an unstable work environment.


Traumatized Motherfxckers

Not doomed. Not damaged.

Not dead yet.

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