Can You Work With PTSD? Understanding How PTSD Affects Daily Function

Can you work with PTSD? The answer is not a simple yes or no, but unfortunately for many people with this condition, maintaining a job and other responsibilities is difficult or impossible. With the right treatment, though, the debilitating symptoms of PTSD lessen and it is possible to regain normal functioning. By focusing on treatment and facing past traumas, you can learn to manage and recover from this condition and get back to work.

Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, is a mental illness triggered by experiencing trauma. It causes serious symptoms that can become debilitating. You may struggle with PTSD and be unable to control your emotions and outbursts, avoid frightening thoughts, or even control flashbacks to trauma that feel very real. These symptoms and complications make working with PTSD a challenge, but it is possible.

Effective treatments for PTSD are available, and they can help you manage symptoms and be able to go back to work.

Symptoms of PTSD

PTSD is often associated with military veterans, and it is more common in this population than others with one in eight struggling with the condition. But, anyone who has experienced trauma, including abuse, sexual assault, vehicle accidents, natural disasters, life-threatening illness, and other terrible situations, may develop PTSD. The symptoms include:

  • Intrusive memories. This can take the form of persistent thoughts and memories of trauma, flashbacks that make you feel as if you are reliving the experience, nightmares, and distress when faced with anything that reminds you of the trauma.
  • Avoidance. PTSD causes people to avoid any thing, person, event, or place that reminds them of trauma. It is also common to avoid talking about the experience at all.
  • Unstable reactions and behaviors. You may get startled easily and be jumpy and on guard constantly for a source of danger. PTSD can make sleeping or focusing on tasks difficult. It can also trigger anger and aggressive outbursts as well as self-destructive behaviors.
  • Negative thoughts and moods. This may include a negative outlook on the world, loss of interest in activities, difficulty with relationships and socializing, feelings of hopelessness, or even emotional numbness.

The intensity of symptoms of PTSD can vary a lot. One day you may feel fine until a loud noise triggers a flashback, for instance. More stress in general can also worsen symptoms.

PTSD Symptoms and Complications Impact Everyday Functioning

The symptoms of PTSD can be severe and debilitating. You may have good days but also periods of time when you simply can’t function normally. When you are constantly on the lookout for danger, susceptible to terrifying memories and flashbacks, and emotionally unstable, doing normal, everyday activities becomes extremely challenging.

In most people with PTSD, especially those not benefitting from treatment, the symptoms have a ripple effect and cause a number of serious complications. For instance, people with PTSD are at an increased risk for mood disorders like depression or anxiety disorders. They are also more likely to struggle with substance abuse and to have neurological difficulties, like headaches, memory loss, and symptoms of dementia. Other potential complications of PTSD include:

  • Suicidal thoughts or attempts
  • Accidents and injuries
  • Legal problems
  • Damaged relationships
  • Poor performance at work or school
  • Financial problems
  • Poor physical health
  • Homelessness

Can You Work With PTSD?

It’s clear that the symptoms of PTSD can lead to a number of very serious complications that impact how a person functions on a daily basis. It’s hard to go through the chores and responsibilities of a job when there are scary memories butting into your thoughts or if you feel like you need to watch out for danger around every corner.

Things like depression and low mood, difficulty interacting with others, substance use, and avoiding triggers that remind you of trauma can all impact your ability to do a job well, if at all. For too many people living with PTSD, it is not possible to work while struggling with its symptoms and complications.

Some people do continue to work and are able to function for a period of time. They may have milder symptoms or be more able to hide their negative emotions and thoughts from others. They may also have more difficulties alone or when at home at night. But, eventually, without treatment the symptoms will only get worse, function will deteriorate, and even these high-functioning individuals will no longer be able to hold down a job.

There is hope, though, because the symptoms of PTSD don’t have to last forever. If you engage in dedicated treatment, you can process trauma in a healthy, productive way. Treatment can restore function and allow you to work and support yourself again.

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Treatment Improves Function, Including at Work

The most important thing anyone with PTSD can do is get treatment. Trauma-focused therapies, along with family support, medical care and medications when appropriate, social skills training, and other types of treatment can improve and ultimately restore function.

Because PTSD is so debilitating, many people benefit from intensive treatment in a residential setting. Here you can get a complete diagnosis, including any co-occurring conditions, and individualized treatment from a multidisciplinary team.

The main type of PTSD treatment is trauma-focused therapies. Experts in trauma disorders will guide you through the process of safely facing your memories of past events. They will help you learn how to control those memories, recognize and manage triggers, and change negative patterns in your thoughts and behaviors.

A good treatment plan will also include specific strategies for improving function. This may include working on social interactions and skills, job training, family therapy, and education, and relational counseling. All of this together will eventually allow you to function at work again, which means restored independence.

Listen to the stories of patients who saw great improvements after treatment for PTSD:

“My symptoms from PTSD had gotten so bad that I got fired from my job. I thought one of my coworkers was the man who assaulted me years ago. I panicked and nearly hit him. Clearly, I was unable to interact normally or safely, so I finally decided to go into treatment. After a couple of months of focused therapy and learning to face my past I was able to go back to work at a different job. I haven’t forgotten what happened to me, but the flashbacks are gone and I no longer feel so uncomfortable around other people.” —Gale M.

“One of my biggest problems with PTSD was that everything scared me. When my car broke down and I couldn’t afford to fix it, I had to take the bus to work. It became obvious that this wouldn’t be possible. Everything about riding the bus, including the sounds and smells as well as being close to other people, was terrifying. I stopped going to work simply because I couldn’t get there. After treatment at a residential center, I finally stopped being afraid. I went through therapy, but they also helped me practice daily, normal things like talking to strangers and, yes, riding the bus.” —Dante S.

“Dealing with memories of being abused as a child triggered PTSD and caused severe depression. I found I felt so bad about life and about myself that I didn’t care about anything anymore. At work, I couldn’t focus on tasks and my performance reviews went downhill fast. My boss was really understanding, but she said I needed to do something about it, and I knew she was right. I went to treatment and came out with better control over my moods. I found a medication that works for me, and I started learning that I was victimized. I was not to blame for what happened to me. My nightmares have mostly gone away, and my boss brought me back on board.” —Shannon M.

Working while struggling with PTSD is often impossible. This is why it is so important to take some time out of your life to engage in dedicated treatment. Being able to focus solely on healing from trauma will allow you to recover more quickly and get back to work and a life you love.

Bridges to Recovery offers comprehensive treatment for people struggling with mental health disorders as well as co-occurring substance use disorders. Contact us to learn more about our renowned Los Angeles programs and how we can help you or your loved one start on the path to lasting wellness.