Job coach: How do you deal with a traumatic event at work

Job coach: How do you deal with a traumatic event at work

Suddenly the colleague collapses in the elevator: a dramatic event at the office throws Mrs. B. off the track. Mental health expert Reinhild Fürstenberg explains how eyewitnesses and rescuers can deal with accidents and similar shock situations at work.

By Reinhild Furstenberg

Mrs. B.*’s manager advised her to contact us directly. Mrs. B. had experienced a stressful event in the company two days ago and was therefore completely beside herself and no longer able to work. What happened?

Mrs. B. has been working in sales for the small company for two years now. Every day she takes the elevator to the eighth floor, where her office is. That was also the case on Tuesday when a colleague she knew very well suddenly fell into the elevator next to her and was no longer contactable. A Difficult Situation for Ms. B.: The frantic efforts to help her colleague and provide first aid while simultaneously stopping the elevator caused Ms. B. to panic and the rest of the journey until the elevator door opened seemed like an eternity . A total stress moment for Ms. B., especially as she was alone in the elevator with her colleague, feeling out of control and at the same time fearing for her colleague’s life.

Even after the colleague had long been taken out of the elevator by two paramedics, she became entangled in an ever-worsening vortex of fear, confused thoughts and self-blame until all she could do was cry. An hour and a half later, Mrs. B heard that her colleague was stable again, which gave her great relief, but did not significantly improve her condition.

Reinhild Furstenberg

Reinhild Furstenberg is a health scientist, systems consultant and family therapist. The Fürstenberg Institute in Hamburg, which she leads, advises companies, managers and employees on how to reduce psychological stress, make changes healthy and improve the compatibility of work, family and private life. For the star the expert reports in a loose sequence of cases from her consultation – and explains what we can learn from it.

© Verena Reinke

Help with direct consultation

On the same day, Mrs. B. contacts our direct advice service about her company. The rescuer first asks what happened and calms Ms. B., who is still very upset. She also asks what was particularly bad for Ms. B. in the situation. Mrs. B. says that she was very shocked when she saw her colleague, when he no longer moved and could no longer be spoken to. In addition, two of her colleagues could not understand their fear at all, because “help came quickly and everything turned out well”. Mrs. B. thought: is there something wrong with me?

The counselor explains that her reaction is a normal reaction to such an abnormal event – and that Mrs. B. was not the one who reacted incorrectly or overly sensitively. The soul is simply overwhelmed in such extraordinary situations – the amounts of data that then enter the brain often cannot be processed so easily, even if it is very different from what people perceive as traumatic. Such a traumatic situation is like an earthquake to the soul; our whole organism is shaken once. We have nothing to hold on to: the ground is literally being pulled out from under us.

The counselor also explains to Ms. B. that this condition does not last and improves day by day – the amount of data is gradually “processed” by the brain. She also advises Ms. B. to be aware that her life and daily life have remained essentially the same as before, it just feels different because of what has happened, which has a full impact. Mrs. B. is relieved – on the one hand about the good prospects and on the other hand about being able to speak with a person who understands her situation and is familiar with her subject.

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Find your way back to everyday life

The confidential counselor discusses with Mrs. B. what she should pay attention to now. First of all, it is important to give yourself as much structure as possible in daily life, because the event ensures that the inner structure is no longer as tangible as usual. A fixed daily routine, light activities, but also relaxing exercises such as regular walks can help and are for many Those affected are a great support, especially in the early years. The faster you find your way back to daily stability, the better it is for your own well-being. It’s often helpful to talk about what you’ve been through with people you know who are interested in you and who understand you. And to do things that are good for you and help you relax. It is also advisable to drink plenty of fluids and eat regularly to strengthen the body after a stressful event.

Mrs. B. reports that the photo of her colleague in the elevator comes to her mind several times during the day and also at night and that she does not know how to delete the photos. The counselor recommends two ways to do this: On the one hand, Ms. B. should let the images that appear as clouds dissipate, but not counteract them—then they tend to intensify. The second possibility is that she is consciously distracting, doing something practical, going out or getting up at night. The counselor explains that the appearance of the images is a processing mechanism and that they should diminish over the next few days and weeks. If, contrary to expectations, this is not the case, there are good methods such as “EMDR” or “Wingwave” that can balance the images in the brain and then cancel each other out.

The counselor goes through the structure of the coming days with Ms. B. so that she has a good and relaxing structure that she can use as a guideline. Mrs. B. would like to get in touch again in three days and thinks she will pass the time until then. The confidential counselor is pleased that Mrs. B. wants to stay on top of the subject. Mrs. B. is happy that she now has a point of contact that she can always call if she realizes that she needs reinforcements again. Since she has a very good relationship with her manager, she briefly informs them about the positive impulses she has received. The manager is also relieved that Mrs B is doing better.

These are my tips for you:

  • Realize that being shocked and incompetent is a normal reaction to an abnormal event.
  • If you can, talk about what you’ve been through with people you trust and who understand you. Do not suppress their feelings, but at the same time do not give them too much importance.
  • Try to get back to your usual routine as soon as possible.
  • Pay attention to structure: A regular daily routine, light exercise and light activities support the healing process.
  • Even though it may be difficult, do things that give you pleasure and that you find beneficial and relaxing. This helps the psyche in processing.
  • Eat regularly and drink enough.
  • Do not hesitate to seek psychological help if necessary.

* Case study from the consultancy practice of the Fürstenberg Institute. The case has been anonymized with the consent of the person concerned.

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