We know workplace bullying causes health issues. In a 2012 Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI) poll, more than half of respondents were treated by a physician (71 percent) and/or mental health professional (63 percent). Not surprisingly, respondents reported their top five workplace bullying-related health problems (in order of frequency):
- Anxiety (76%)
- Loss of concentration (71%)
- Disrupted sleep (71%)
- Hypervigilance symptoms (60%)
- Stress headaches (55%)
Putting it all together
Symptoms translate to serious health issues — all due to the hurt, pain, and often shock of the workplace abuse from toxic bosses’ and coworkers’ insecurity and entitlement.
- PTSD. More than 30 percent of respondents had symptoms Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) when we consider that PTSD includes intrusive thoughts, hypervigilance, and avoidance-disassociation.
- Clinical depression and anxiety. Nearly 50 percent reported symptoms of clinical depression, including sleep disruption, loss of concentration or memory, uncontrollable mood swings, and emotion-regulating medications. Nearly 80 percent reported overwhelming anxiety. More than 50 percent reported panic attacks.
- Suicidal and violent thoughts. Nearly 30 percent reported suicidal thoughts, and 40 percent understood how a person could be driven to hurting or killing those who bullied them.
- Heart problems. More than 60 percent reported heart palpitations, and nearly 60 percent reported high blood pressure.
- Mistrust and grief. More than 74 percent reported sense of betrayal by peers, more than 62 percent reported distrust of institutions, and nearly 47 percent reported grief over losses.
Thoughts lead to emotions, and emotions can spiral out of control, leaving you feeling helpless, depressed, and anxious. That’s one of the lessons from a 5-week class I’m taking called “Secrets to a Satisfied Life,” a course about taking control of your life path and inner peace.
Last night, the teacher introduced a “challenging beliefs worksheet” used in cognitive behavioral therapy for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), a disorder common with veterans and workplace bullying targets (bullying can cause shock to a positive, trusting worldview).
The idea with the worksheet is to change a pattern of problematic thinking and reframe it. Do you have evidence? Are you confusing the possible with the likely? Are you jumping to conclusions? Are you oversimplifying a problem? (This coping technique by no means excuses workplace bullying. It is simply a way to help you unteach yourself the bully’s toxic lessons.)
Walking through reframing a thought pattern
For example, you might believe you’re incompetent because your boss treats you like you are. Following the worksheet:
A. She may have belittled you at a meeting or given you unreasonable expectations.
B. Your stuck point may be that you’re not good enough.
C. You might feel hurt, angry, or resentful.
D. You challenge the thought. You may realize that you’re accepting an untruth.
E. You might decide that your boss puffs up her feathers and belittles and acts pompous when she’s threatened by your competence. Your worry about your own self-worth missed that importance piece of the puzzle.
F. When she belittles you next time, you can say to yourself “this belittling is just her insecurity talking. It has nothing to do with me, but I’ll take it as a back-handed compliment.”
G. Now you realize you are good enough — better than good enough, actually.
H. You feel much better.
Try these steps next time you’re bullied or you find yourself in negative self-talk or overwhelmed with negative emotions. See if it will help you separate yourself from your bully’s toxic worldview and understand it has nothing to do with you.
Worksheet source: https://cpt.musc.edu/resource_info/challenging_beliefs.pdf
Workplace bullying can often lead to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). According to the Mayo Clinic, “symptoms may start within three months of a traumatic event, but sometimes symptoms may not appear until years after the event. These symptoms cause significant problems in social or work situations and in relationships.”
PTSD symptoms are generally grouped into four types:
Symptoms of intrusive memories may include:
- Recurrent, unwanted distressing memories of the traumatic event
- Reliving the traumatic event as if it were happening again (flashbacks)
- Upsetting dreams about the traumatic event
- Severe emotional distress or physical reactions to something that reminds you of the event
Symptoms of avoidance may include:
- Trying to avoid thinking or talking about the traumatic event
- Avoiding places, activities, or people that remind you of the traumatic event
Negative changes in thinking and mood
Symptoms of negative changes in thinking and mood may include:
- Negative feelings about yourself or other people
- Inability to experience positive emotions
- Feeling emotionally numb
- Lack of interest in activities you once enjoyed
- Hopelessness about the future
- Memory problems, including not remembering important aspects of the traumatic event
- Difficulty maintaining close relationships
Changes in emotional reactions
Symptoms of changes in emotional reactions (also called arousal symptoms) may include:
- Irritability, angry outbursts, or aggressive behavior
- Always being on guard for danger
- Overwhelming guilt or shame
- Self-destructive behavior, such as drinking too much or driving too fast
- Trouble concentrating
- Trouble sleeping
- Being easily startled or frightened
The Mayo Clinic advises to see a doctor when “you have disturbing thoughts or feelings about a traumatic event for more than a month, if they’re severe, or if you feel you’re having trouble getting your life back under control.”