A couple of weekends ago I was in Galveston, Texas which is an island in the Gulf Coast about 60 miles south of Houston. The weather was perfect!

This perfection contrasted starkly with what was occurring on the East Coast. People there were bracing for Hurricane Matthew, the Category 4 Hurricane projected to hit them that evening.

My sister and I met one of her friends for lunch that day. She commented on how all the hurricane media coverage was triggering her to remember the emotional anxiety she felt as she tried to evacuate Galveston in 2005 in anticipation of Hurricane Rita. Not only were her emotions on high-alert, her body was actually acting as if it was once again in real danger.

Then she turned to me and said, “You should blog about this. I don’t think people realize how all this coverage is impacting other people who have lived through hurricanes.”

But before I had a chance to write the blog, I happened upon an article that discussed how Employee Assistance Programs were seeing an increase in requests for assistance because of the presidential campaign. A number of callers stated watching and hearing Trump’s campaign had “triggered” memories of past abuse.

Memories of a past traumatic event can be triggered by sights, sounds, comments, smells, or even feelings.
Moreover, triggers fall into two categories: internal and external. Both elevate levels of stress in the body and produce physical sensations such as sweating, increased heart rate and/or trouble breathing.

Internal triggers are a result of thoughts or feelings associated with a previously experienced traumatic event.

External triggers occur when people, places and situations are similar to a traumatic event already experienced.

From an employer perspective this can be a slippery slope as there is no way to tell what will trigger an employee. It varies by person. In the above situations, both were reacting to individual situations that acted like triggers that threw their thoughts, emotions and feelings back in time to a traumatic event. They actually begin to re-live the trauma and anxiety of the earlier event.
For my sister’s friend, the current hurricane evacuation and associated stories of the storm threw her into the anxiety she had felt in 2005 while in a similar situation.

The employees mentioned earlier were seeking help from assistance programs because of the perceived violence associated with the sights, sounds, stories and comments surrounding the current presidential campaign. These things happening in the present are triggering past traumatic events associated with violence.

However, as an employer, you may not understand the impact these situations are having on your staff, or how it is possible that present day circumstances could be affecting your employees when they are not actively involved in the situation.

Today’s organizations must educate themselves on recognizing the symptoms of trauma.
Because traumatic events are becoming more commonplace and the fallout of these events seems magnified by acts of terrorism worldwide, it is imperative that employers understand trauma; both what it is, and how to identify it in the workplace.

One area to consider is the potential impact of high profile media stories and their effect on the workforce. Once your management team identifies a situation, they could consider meeting with employees and perhaps conveying coping strategies as well as indicating that should any staff have a situation they would like to discuss, their door is open.

Receive your FREE chapter of Invisible Casualities, Overcoming Adversity After a Tragedy in the Workplace

Taking a proactive approach in opening the lines of communication is a win-win for both the organization and its employees, as it reinforces the concept that employees are valued and the organization is there to support them.

About Alicia

20 years ago I had no idea other people didn’t recognize and interpret body language the way I did. It was just something I picked up on naturally.
I am a national conference speaker, facilitator, and coach, specializing in non-verbal communication. I received my Master of Science in Human Resources from the University of Houston.
My passion is helping others become influential so that they can reach their career and business goals.

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