Working with PTSD – Managing Work Stress

As a successful entrepreneur and small business owner, your work hours certainly don’t look like a cushy 9-5. If they do, please tell me how you did it! This can be especially challenging if you live with PTSD, because the stress of owning a business can be difficult to manage along with the other stressors you experience post-trauma.

It’s different with PTSD. Rapid changes of plan, customer and client demands and the constant stream of problems that need solutions (and yesterday) can take a lot of energy that you may or may not have depending on how well you’re doing with managing your symptoms and where you are in the recovery and healing process. What looks like a difficult or annoying or busy day for other people can turn into crippling anxiety and debilitation exhaustion for others. I would know.

I knew yesterday that I would likely spend today visiting a couple of projects to check in on progress. I didn’t have a clear plan for it because I was on the road and in meetings all day yesterday, and I was really tired when I got home. I woke up a little later than I meant to this morning (if I’m busy at work I need 8-9 hours of sleep, period, and my body will knock me out until it gets what it wants), did my morning routine (which involves checking my HRV and a 20 min guided meditation) and headed out for what I thought might be a morning excursion, then back to my office by lunch to work at my desk the rest of the day.

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I ended up watching a board-by-board dismantling of a house that a client is having salvaged because some of the materials that were hidden under 100 years of carpet and wall paper were important to capture, and the craftsmen are working fast. My job is to document the process, and today was too full of information to leave until late in the day. By the time I got back to my office I had a stack of emails to answer, 300 photos to upload over a network because my cord isn’t working and two projects to prep for tomorrow, which I will have to do around observing the salvage operation. I have project requests stacking up quickly and a bit unexpectedly, and I am starting to feel the pressure.

Is this totally normal situation? Yes. Do I have a totally normal brain with which to deal with it? No. If I don’t keep a careful eye on myself and manage my work stress effectively, a busy day and packed schedule can turn into an epic meltdown that can send me back to bed for a couple of days with a few days to a couple of weeks to recover. It can make me completely ineffective, kill my creativity and steal my energy from my clients, my work and most importantly, from me. It can terrorize my brain, cost me time and resources that don’t get to be spent on succeeding at work and convince me that I am really not cut out to do my own thing. And all of those negative consequences were a real possibility today. So what do I do?

  1. I respond to everything that actually needs a response today.
    1. I needed to visit projects today, and I did that.
    2. I needed to respond to one email today because the person asking for clarification needed my response for a meeting this evening. It was time-critical, and needed a response today. No other emails are time critical today, and no other projects are time-critical today.
  2. I stick to my self-care routine
    1. I woke up later than planned, but I did not have a firm time to be anywhere today and I checked my HRV and listened to a guided meditation when I woke up. It helped me start the day mindful and calm.
    2. I ate breakfast, because lunch was unclear and I cannot not eat. Not eating can make me have a meltdown.
    3. When I had done everything from Point 1, I stopped work, acknowledged that I would be better off working a little more today but not right this moment and switched to doing things that are calming and that I enjoy – shower, dinner, blogging, fashion blog. When I post this I will do a yoga practice, then I’ll go back to working.
  3. I get organized for tomorrow
    1. I’ll go back through the emails that came in today and see if anything can be responded to quickly or easily tonight.
    2. I’ll list out the work that needs to be done and give it an honest priority ranking.
    3. I’ll decide what really does need to be done tomorrow and give some quick thought to how it gets organized.
  4. I’ll stop for the day after I’m organized for tomorrow, because I’m already tired and getting the sleep I need will make me much more productive tomorrow than I will be if I keep working now.

Taking care of yourself and your needs first can be really counter-intuitive, but if you are an entrepreneur and business owner, you are probably the best asset you have. Take care of you and take care of your brain so that you are able to take care of business. You will be able to work up to more stamina and energy, but it’s a process. I know, because I’m right there with you.

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