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PTSD, SPD and Fight-or-flight Response: 20 Tips for Surviving in the Workplace

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Being in the workplace when you have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and sensory processing disorder (SPD) can feel close to impossible. Not only are there triggers everywhere, but you’re expected to remain professional while enduring them. Going against the constant self-care that you need. Causing frequent bouts of dissociation and meltdowns. But there are ways to survive in the workplace even when you suffer. 

I worked for decades before learning I had been suffering from PTSD and SPD. I didn’t know I was living in a constant fight-or-flight response. So I had a lot of jobs. 

I was always trying to find the right fit. And a boss and coworkers who understood. Who didn’t judge me or find it too difficult to work with me. Who saw my abilities beyond my disorder. And who were forgiving toward me when I became triggered. For it can happen often. 

Being outside of your own environment each day, the triggers are everywhere. Smells of someone’s perfume or reheated food. People rubbing against you as they walk past you. Accidentally bumping into you. Or worse, smacking you on the back. Sudden loud noises. Or worse, construction in or near the building. People invading your personal space. Trying to engage you too frequently. Demanding your attention. 

Any of which can be the last bit of stimulation you can handle before you can’t take it anymore. Especially on a difficult day. Causing meltdowns. Or acting as triggers. Triggers you try to suppress. Hide. Until you can go home and deal with yourself. Which can be dangerous if you self-harm. 

When I was constantly in an office environment, it took all my energy just to get through the day. Leaving me crashing at night and on the weekends. Barely able to think. To speak. To function. And having to get up and do it all over again the next day felt close to impossible.

So if you suffer from PTSD and/or SPD, here are 20 tips for surviving in the workplace:

  1. Plan what you will wear and what you will bring with you the night before. I lay out my clothes. Pack my bags. Prepare my food. I find it keeps me from getting frazzled in the mornings. And minimizes my chances of getting overwhelmed. 
  2. Follow a routine. From the moment you get up until you leave work. Do the same things at the same times if you can. If your job doesn’t allow for that, then at least structure your morning and your breaks.
  3. Switch from coffee to tea and limit caffeine and stimulants during the day. This was a hard one, but coffee overstimulated me so much that I was even more alert and on edge. Same as other stimulants. Now I drink chai tea in the mornings and herbal tea throughout the day, and I find it doesn’t have the same crash-and-burn effects that coffee had. If I get a coffee craving, I drink decaf.
  4. Meditate in the morning and practice conscious breathing throughout the day. I meditate each morning to center myself and to set my intentions for the day. Also, it is important to remember to breathe. Especially as you get overwhelmed during the day. 
  5. Journal throughout the day. I find that if I address my feelings in writing, I am more likely to be able to handle my emotions throughout the day. You can write in a journal or even speak into the Notes section on your phone. However you record your thoughts, be sure to do it every day. Especially if there is something troubling you. For tips on journaling, click here
  6. Do yoga. I used to close the door to my office and do yoga. Even 10 minutes can give you the boost of energy you need to make it through the rest of the day.
  7. Exercise. Whether it’s before or after work, make sure you move your body during the day to regulate your nervous system. I find I typically need some form of cardio, but some days even a brisk walk will do.
  8. Minimize small talk and socializing. I used to get so distracted when coworkers wanted to make small talk when I was in the middle of a task. And when you’re neurodivergent, task-switching is no easy task. If socializing is what you’re naturally inclined to do, try to take small breaks to engage with others, but always save some time to reset.
  9. Rest. Taking time to rest is essential to avoiding a meltdown. I used to nap in my car on my lunch break. All I needed was 20 minutes, and I felt refreshed enough to be productive for the second half of the day.
  10. Wear earplugs and/or noise-canceling headphones. To dull or cancel out the noises around you.
  11. Listen to music. In addition to wearing noise-canceling headphones, I’ve always listened to music while I work. To help me focus. I find that meditation music and brainwave activation music help me the most. Especially in the morning.
  12. Wear sunglasses. Fluorescent lights disrupt my processing. Always have. And I have yet to work in an environment without them. I’ve found that wearing my sunglasses indoors helps. It also helped me tell my coworkers about my disorders. Because they were always questioning why I was wearing my sunglasses. 
  13. Hydrate. I aim for 80 ounces of water a day. I find that the more hydrated I am, the better I can think. 
  14. Eat small, protein-rich meals. If you overeat during the workday, your body will slow down in order for your digestion to process your food, which can limit your focus and slow down your mental processing. If instead, you eat small, protein-rich meals, you will give yourself a boost of energy without disrupting your processing.
  15. Skip going out to lunch. When I went into work everyday, I found I had to pack my lunch and eat alone as socializing during my lunch break was often too much. Yes, it can be lonely, but you could always suggest to meet a coworker after work so it doesn’t take your energy during the workday. 
  16. Take fatty oil and magnesium supplements. Fatty oils, like fish oil and evening primrose oil, help your neurological transmitters travel throughout your nervous system, so taking them when your processing is low can give you the mental boost you need.
  17. Work the night shift. I taught night classes for a few years and found the building was quieter. Calmer. Not to mention I had my mornings to myself. Which is always a tougher time for me.
  18. Limit activities after work and on weekends. Again, this can be tough especially if you live close to family or have a family of your own, but you’ll need the time to recharge if you’re going into work five days a week. I found that limiting my activity to one night during the week and one day during the weekend helped. 
  19. Ask to work from home. Even if it’s just one day a week. Especially if you travel for work. You’ll need the time to recover. 
  20. Tell people about your disorders. You don’t have to provide more details than you’re comfortable with sharing, but explaining your disorder will help them understand your needs better. Well, hopefully. Tell your coworkers. Tell your boss. Give them the chance to do the right thing. If your office environment isn’t safe for you, and if your boss is unwilling to help accommodate your needs, there’s a boss out there who will. 

Telling my boss about my needs has allowed me to work from home full-time (watch me at The Moth to see the full story. Please note: I performed prior to receiving a PTSD diagnosis). I hope sharing your needs with your boss will allow you the accommodations you need to feel safe too. 

If you or a loved one suffer from a neurological disorder, click here to read how occupational therapy can help.

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PTSD, SPD and Fight-or-flight Response: 20 Tips for Surviving in the Workplace

Jenna Grace

Jenna Grace is a writer and educator with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), sensory processing disorder (SPD), premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), social anxiety disorder (SAD) and generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) diagnoses. She writes and speaks about topics including healing from trauma, coping with neurological disorder and practicing mindfulness in order to help others and to explore new meaning. Visit her website for more of her stories.

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APA Reference
Grace, J. (2020). PTSD, SPD and Fight-or-flight Response: 20 Tips for Surviving in the Workplace. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 4, 2020, from


Last updated: 1 Feb 2020
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