The Guide to Managing PTSD As A Tradesman

Learn how to understand why you may face greater risk of PTSD and how to handle triggers you may encounter

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People develop PTSD for all kinds of reasons, be it surviving a dangerous situation, a childhood trauma, or even the unexpected death of a loved one. This, combined with the fact that each person copes with PTSD differently, means workplace triggers will be different for just about everyone. Your symptoms may appear while you’re actually working, or problems they cause at home could lead to subsequent issues at work.

A common trait in people with post-traumatic stress disorder is severe general anxiety. They may constantly be looking over their shoulder, or have an extreme reaction at an unexpected loud sound. Depending on your exact area of expertise, this could make the work environment an incredibly difficult place to be.

The sudden shriek of a table saw, a burst water pipe, a sudden spark in the wire you’re trying to fix — it’s enough to make anyone a little jumpy, but with PTSD, the feeling can be impossible to shake.

If you’re working in a major construction zone, the potential for issues amplifies. There’s constant yelling and raucous noise from every direction, not to mention a need to be completely aware of your surroundings to avoid danger. For someone with PTSD — who may not have slept the night before — this can make concentrating a major challenge. For some, it can even cause memory problems, which can be especially troublesome if you’re new to the job.

Whether you’re working on a large-scale project with dozens of other people or are individually contracted to work on someone’s home, interpersonal relations are an important part of the job. If people are generally aware of the trauma you went through, they may able to recognize your PTSD symptoms and accommodate as they can, but even so you could still run into conflict. For example, your client may intend to simply stop by to check in on progress, but to you it may feel more like a criticism of your ability to stay on schedule.

The jarring sound of a mishandled tool hitting the ground may startle you so much that you lash out at the coworker who dropped it, leading to an unproductive argument. There’s also the risk of turning a simple difference of opinion into an altercation; if there’s a coworker you normally don’t get along with, any disagreements could easily escalate into major fights, potentially even physical ones.

If your clients or colleagues are completely unaware of your situation, it can lead to even greater problems. First, if they have no reason to believe you might be somewhat sensitive, they can’t actively take steps to avoid problems before they start. Second, if there is a situation where your PTSD symptoms come into play, they may not be as willing to step back and walk away, leading to potentially explosive conflict. Finally, even if the dispute gets resolved, they may not be able to shake off your extreme reaction as heat-of-the-moment.

This kind of unstable environment may even lead to flashbacks, which can be overwhelming and debilitating for many with PTSD. As you begin to identify what triggers you into episodes, to some extent you may be able to avoid these situations.

For a recently-retired Army vet who spent several years in Afghanistan, the sound of a nail gun could unexpectedly trigger memories of gunfire and send his or her mind right back overseas. An abuse survivor could be so alarmed by unanticipated — albeit harmless — physical contact that he or she loses all sense of personal security.

Unfortunately, the inconsistency with triggers and symptoms is part of what makes PTSD so complex. It will be difficult to predict exactly how, when, or even if your symptoms will affect your work. It’s important to consider your personal situation, including your trade, typical day-to-day job duties, relationship with your direct supervisor and coworkers, and the kind of trauma you’re coping with.

But whether you’re an electrician, construction worker, plumber, carpenter, or any other type of tradesman, there are ways to reduce your episodes in the workplace. You can even find ways to effectively bounce back from them when they’re unavoidable.