Are You Affected by Business Traumatic Stress Disorder?

Jim was visibly upset when he sat down for our coaching session. He told me that the previous day one of his staff had started yelling at him during a meeting in front of his team members. He admitted that he too had lost his cool when the staff member “freaked out at him” but had eventually walked away.  This was not the first time this person had verbally abused him and Jim hadn’t slept all night.

My friend John Kason coined the phrase Business Traumatic Stress Disorder to describe the side effects that are often associated with the chronic stress of owning or running a business or organization.

PTSD or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder occurs if you have experienced a traumatic event where you or someone you observed has been exposed to violence. BTSD has similar symptoms however the causes are likely much much different.

According to the American Psychiatric Association people with PTSD might experience a range of symptoms across 4 categories:

Category 1 symptoms: Intrusive symptoms related to the event, such as nightmares, flashbacks, or unwanted thoughts about the trauma;

Many business owners have been traumatized by bankers, creditors, suppliers, and landlords who have put considerable pressure on them when the business has been in financial difficulties. Like Jim they may have been subject to abuse from staff, partners or customers.   Clients have told me that they wake up in sweats, and have had unwanted thoughts about these conversations. Some are waking up with nightmares, while others can’t get to sleep because they are so stressed.

Category 2 symptoms:  Avoiding Reminders this is when people have behaviors designed to avoid people, places, or situations that are reminders of the event;

If you have ever dealt with shoplifters, crooks, irrational staff members, compounded with demanding customers and the everyday problems of a business, you may start to have similar symptoms of avoidance reminders. Chances are that you are going to start avoiding the people, places and things which remind you of your current overwhelming business difficulties. In some cases you may face a real reluctance to go back into work.

Category 3 symptoms: Negative thoughts and feelings may include ongoing and distorted beliefs about oneself or others (e.g., “I am bad,” “No one can be trusted”); ongoing fear, horror, anger, guilt or shame

Are you feeling ashamed because you aren’t as successful as you think you should be?  With many struggling business leaders, there is often a deep sense of shame about our inability to do what we need to do to enable us to pay our bills or keep our organization floating.  Leaders often feel guilt about laying off employees, anger at oneself for getting into this business in the first place, and ongoing fear and anxiety about the future. You are not alone if you feel this way.

Category 4 symptoms:  Arousal and reactive symptoms may include being irritable and having angry outbursts; behaving recklessly or in a self-destructive way; being easily startled; or having problems concentrating or sleeping.

Having owned businesses for over 35 years my staff, partners and family can attest to the fact that there have been many times when I have been irritable, had angry outbursts, couldn’t concentrate and have had trouble sleeping.  These could be considered normal in business owners who have businesses that are challenging or dysfunctional for any period of time.

Finally, while it’s unlikely that a medical professional will understand clearly the root causes of BTSD, it's important that if you or someone you know is exhibiting symptoms of BTSD, get help. In some cases this might include counselling or medical intervention, however most likely it will take the support of a mentor or business coach who has experience in dealing with business challenges and turning around businesses. Without an intervention to solve the problems of the business and support the leader, the BTSD conditions will continue to spiral downhill.

Dave Fuller, MBA, is an Award Winning Certified Professional Business Coach and the author of the book Profit Yourself Healthy.  Know someone who is suffering from BTSD email dave@pivotleader.com

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