PTSD – Pre or Post?

Published: December 3, 2020

Pre-Traumatic Stress. At one time or another, almost everyone suffers from this behavioral health condition. The better-known Post Traumatic Stress is the mind’s way of coping with the aftermath of trauma. The lesser-known P (Pre) is the psyche’s way of anticipating adversity. It’s the form of anxiety that tells you there’s danger ahead. It is the insidious wearing down of the immune system that comes from prolonged stress. Bracing for a loss can consume more energy than enduring one. If this feels familiar, read on.

Anxiety and depression are siblings. Anxiety is the anticipation of loss and depression is the experience of loss. Each phase of the sequence causes remarkably different symptoms and, therefore, calls upon a much different set of coping skills. When we are anxious, our central nervous system zooms into fight-flight-freeze mode as the body activates all the primitive functions needed to fend off a threat. When we are depressed, everything is designed for healing. We shut down to enable a reboot. Ideally, a fresh start follows.

How does this affect your relationships, families, teams, organizations and communities? Both preparing for danger and healing from trauma are best done with the help of others. Coping alone usually leads down an unproductive rabbit hole. The absence of reality-checks, support, understanding and empathy permits emotions to spiral into free-fall. Teammates come to the rescue. Here’s how.

  1. They help to name the pain. Under stress, it is especially difficult to pinpoint why you feel overwhelmed. Identifying the source of the discomfort is the first step to selecting the best coping plan. This is more easily accomplished with the objectivity of a partner.
  2. They support you in embracing the emotion. Avoid the urge to make uncomfortable feelings disappear. Relief doesn’t come from symptom reduction. Relief comes from looking the emotion in the eye and understanding what it is trying to tell you. Whether fear or sadness, acknowledgement is an essential validation of the legitimacy of a crisis.
  3. Sharing the struggle allows the coping cycle to advance. Each phase of growth has a purpose. It’s normal to feel depleted after a loss. The depletion signals a chance to refuel. That leads to a reinvestment with new energy and fresh perspective. Even if you feel stuck, the cycle always has a next stage.

The circumstances of the past year have taken a toll on individuals and teams big and small. Everyone is doing the best they can in light of their circumstances. Stepping back and seeing the bigger picture provides hope when things look dismal. Whether pre-trauma or post-trauma, we anticipate, prepare, heal and recalibrate most effectively together.

Photo of Steve Ritter, the co-founder of The Center for Team Excellence

Steve Ritter

Steve Ritter is an internationally recognized expert on team dynamics whose clients include Fortune 500 companies, professional sports teams, and many educational organizations. He is on the faculty of the Center for Professional Excellence at Elmhurst University where he earned the President's Award for Excellence in Teaching. Steve is the former Senior Vice President, Director of Human Resources at Leaders Bank, named the #1 Best Place to Work in Illinois in 2006 and winner of the American Psychological Association's Psychologically Healthy Workplace Award in 2010. Steve provides ongoing workplace culture consultation to many thriving companies including Kraft Foods, Advocate Health Care, Kellogg's, the Chicago White Sox, AthletiCo, and Northwestern Mutual Financial Network.