Workplace Health
Trauma In the Workplace: Getting Fired CAN lead to Anxiety Issues

Are you suffering from workplace anxiety? Read the below scenario to find out.


You are sitting at work listening to sounds of keys from a computer keyboard typing like as if your co-workers are busy, and then there are people walking around your desk or cubicle. You are wondering why they did not stop at your desk to say hello or good morning, but kept walking instead. You then hear whispering and laughing sounds from co-workers and you wonder if they are talking about you? Now your mind is racing with thoughts of someone conspiring against you; or the worst, vivid images of being pulled into the boss’ office again or imaging different ways on how your boss will fire you because you believe he or she does not like you.

Then you realize that you have been sitting at your desk for several hours thinking of all of this and none of this is even true at all. Now you feel as though you have to get out before they get you out, and you feel as though no one likes you for any variety of reasons. You find yourself hiding in the bathroom, crying, feeling sick and want to go home. After you get home, you’re still not at ease because you know when the morning comes, you have to psych yourself up to go in and do it all over again.

Facts and Resolution:

Well, if you experienced anything like this scenario on more than one occasion you may have workplace anxiety. Approximately 90% of employees have experienced some type of workplace anxiety or trauma. Some have overcome it, and most people are still dealing with it on some level. Workplace anxiety can derive from either experiencing a previous a hostile workplace or multiple instances of employment termination; all of which can result in trauma to your mind. I can attest that I have gone through these types of experiences on a daily basis. I have also seen others go through it as well. Too often this has become the norm of acceptable behavior in which people treat each other at work. As a result, it has manifested in a number of way including workplace harassment. What is workplace trauma you ask? Let’s look at what I mean by trauma and its definition.

According to an online article written by David Lee of Human Nature at Work, he states, “Trauma is the experience of being psychologically overwhelmed. When traumatized, a person is rendered impotent. At that moment, they are incapable of coping either intellectually or emotionally. Trauma can come from a single catastrophic event, such as violence in the workplace, or a series of less dramatic stressors which, through their cumulative effect, create debilitating psychological and physical changes. Cumulative Emotional Trauma is created by the combined effects of stressors such as demeaning work conditions, worker/job mismatch, prejudice, unclear job expectations, impossible workloads, abusive treatment by peers or superiors, emotionally draining interactions with difficult people, and job insecurity. Although not as cataclysmic as a major violent episode in the workplace or a natural disaster, these factors chisel away at a worker’s sense of security, value and well-being.”

I would like to go further to add that when someone is fired from a job for any reason; and especially when it is not due to his/her performance this repetitiveness of termination can lead to anxiety issues, similar to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) effects. What tends to happen is that the person will take a lot of emotional baggage with them to their new workplace such as:  apprehension, prejudice feelings, assumptions without facts, bias, scheming, hiding, withdrawn, or even creating situations or scenarios that does not exist, which can create a volatile and toxic work environment. Soon, the same experience that got them fired starts to occur over and over again until they become nearly unable to function in a normal state.

Now, let’s turn the table – what if this person is a manager or owner? As a business owner or manager of staff the pressure is on even more. Not only do you have to save face but also you have to maintain your composure all of the time. This can become increasingly difficult over time. So, how does one manage stress and anxiety in this scenario? Here are five coping methods, which are really realizations that I have found to be very helpful.

Do Your 8 and Hit the Gate:  There is one important fact that everyone needs to remember while on the job, and that is: “you were hired and are paid to do a job, nothing else.” Now this may seem a bit harsh, but it is true. Business owners know that when they hired someone they did so because the candidate was vetted and proven to do a specific job. Once they are paid for their services, there really is no allegiance. An employee can be fired, with or without cause and without warning at any time. This is the true definition of “At-Will” employment. As such, an employee has the right to leave an organization in the same way. So do your eight hours to earn your pay and leave accordingly knowing that you done your job for the day. Leave work issues at work if you can. When you get in the car or at home, talk to a confidant to get perspective then let it go. You will feel much better coming in the next day.

Learn to Control Your Triggers: Employees and bosses can suffer from workplace anxiety. So what can they do to help maintain a good working relationship? Recognize and control what your triggers your anxiety, and then learn what communication methods can be used to get along. One example you can do is control how much of your personal feelings you want to invest in your job and with your co-workers; especially if you work in a high-demand, or fast-paced environment. Remember, that your co-workers are people whom you work with on a daily basis. They are not your family members or close friends you would normally establish or have a personal relationships with. There is nothing wrong with making “work friends”. However, if what they are doing or behaving is triggering your anxiety you may want to limit your interaction with them to only necessary tasks and assignments that are required for your job. This does not mean to be withdrawn because you still have to work with them. Rather, communicate your schedule so you can control the frequency working together until you can manage more time with them. Most times, we tend to want to be “friends” or establish some kind of relationship as soon as we walk in the door. When it doesn’t work out, here comes a trigger and you are crawling up the wall trying to figure out the problem. Not to mention, you may be working with someone else who has some form of workplace anxiety, may or may not even know it, and have triggers of their own as well. Just keep in mind to recognize the signs and adjust accordingly.  Your triggers can be adjusted when you know what triggers them and how. The best to find way to manage this is to learn common communication methods you have with your coworkers. Below are three really good tips to consider:

  • Learn what sets off their trigger: By learning the work habits and personality of others, you can quickly recognize their trigger and adjust accordingly in your conversation with them. This will also help you understand why some workers are able to get along with them and you are not. This process takes time, so be patient.
  • Have a one-on-one conversation: Sometimes just letting the other person know a little bit more about you and your work ethics can help them understand more about you and learn how to communicate with you. In turn, you are learning more about them and how they communicate with them as well. I have found that this is the best way to re-establish a good working relationship with coworkers and reduce the occurrence of a trigger.
  • When their trigger has been set off, do not allow your trigger to be activated:  This by far is the hardest to do because human nature dictates that when one person behaves a certain way, a natural reaction occurs.  When you know what triggers a behavior, just remember you have the control over your own triggers. If it does, stay calm and separate yourself from the situation to recollect.

Recognize the difference between Workplace commitment and Personal Commitment: This is when your prior experiences does not match up with the current work environment or culture, aka “keeping up with the Jones” so to speak. A commitment to a job is not the same as a personal commitment. Personal commitment are those made in your personal life e.g. set a budget, get a degree, etc., and have set to lenient expectations. Workplace commitment are those expectations to the boss to get a task done on time or complete a project. These are commitments may have very strict deadlines and expectation to not only the manager but others in the office.  So as you can see, personal and professional commitments have nothing with each other and are completely different. How does this related to workplace anxiety? Some people over-reach by trying to exceed expectations that do not match the environment they are in at the time; because the lines between personal goals and workplace goals are misplaced. When this happens, the employee cease being a team player but rather a troublesome person to work with because he/she is always trying to impress someone. When that effort is not recognized or do not work out, they begin to feel as though they did not do the job right, failed in some way, or the person they tried to impress does not care. This can lead to alienation from team meetings, group discussions and projects or just feeling out of place. Of course, the final result can also lead to being totally withdrawn followed by severe depression. The key is to keep your workplace goals in written form such as a to-do list reminder of what expectations are required. I found that goal will be exceeded if you submit only what is required in a timely fashion and refrain from impressing anyone. For your personal goals, always include some type of work-life balance to-do list so that you can keep track of your progress.

Use Coping Methods:  Even when having a great day, there are times where anxiety would still try to occur. When this happens, have several coping methods to deter those feelings. One example is to put on some earphones and listen to relaxing instrumental music. Another way is finding a quiet spot at the desk or a conference to calm down for about 15-20 minutes, then return to work. Third way is to talk a short walk. Sometimes the best way to cope is using the resources you have that will bring you back to normalcy quickly.  

Join a Support Group: It is true that having a really great support person or group can help you deal with anxiety in the workplace. This can be the company’s Employee Assistance Program where you can speak with a counselor anonymously about what is going on at work and where to get additional advice on how to manage your anxiety. Other ways to cope is to call your closest and most trusted friend who is also calm and objective and talk to them about how you are feeling. This help you get a different perspective on why you feel this way and how to handle it. This can also be a spouse or family member who knows of your situation, keep it confidential and offers support. Joining a group is also help because the group is made up of people who have similar problems and seeking help. All of these methods can greatly help you come up with ways to deal with anxiety in the workplace and can keep you from taking unnecessary medications or escalating to depression or other difficult to manage mental illnesses such as suicide.

To recap: just about everyone has experienced some type of workplace anxiety or trauma. They key to management is to: 1) recognize and acknowledge what that is to you; 2) how it was caused; 3) how it affects you by knowing the triggers; 4) and how to manage and cope with it when it occurs. To help with this, set clear personal and workplace goals to keep expectation of others in line, do not try to impress anyone to get attention from coworkers, just do your job. Also have coping methods and support groups ready for an unexpected episodes. With this knowledge in hand, you can manage anxiety and life a very productive life.



Lee, D. (1986). The Hidden Costs of Workplace Trauma, pgs. 18-21, APA Exchange, retrieved from

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