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I have a very stressful job in the chemical industry. I work shift work and often do not get enough rest.

A few days ago, I received some devastating news about some family issues, which increased my stress factor ten fold.

On the same day, I witnessed a little girl get ran over at my children's school. When I saw her pass, I lost it. Now that's all I think about. I can't think about anything else, especially work. I don't know what to do. Advice would be greatly appreciated.

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Hi David, welcome to Workplace SE, the Q&A site for members of the workplace navigating the professional setting. Sorry to hear about the stress you've faced recently and hope the answers help you so far. –  jmort253 Oct 31 '12 at 5:24
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Talk with your manager. Unless he/she is a complete @#%#@ they are going to sympathize with you and let you take at least some time off. –  enderland Oct 31 '12 at 12:22

7 Answers 7

This does indeed sound like a lot of stress. Too much! Here are some things that you should seriously consider doing:

  • Talk to a friend or family about your issues. Sometimes talking helps relieve some stress.

  • Try to request some time off work to get yourself together and get some rest. You need sleep.

  • You may want to consider some professional counseling. I'm assuming you mean to say the girl died. That is very stressful, and sometimes people who witness such events need some help getting through them. The school is most likely offering counseling to the children and staff in the school. It may be helpful to ask if you can talk to one of the counselors. Although doubtful, they may extend this to parents as well.

When your stress levels are too high, sometimes it's best to take a break and give yourself time to recover. If you don't reduce your stress, this could seriously impact your health, and it could seriously, and negatively, impact your job, which will only cause further stress.

It's important that you do things to reduce your stress now before it becomes too much to deal with. Hope this helps! Good luck!

DISCLAIMER: I want to emphasize that, although managing stress in the workplace is a skill that many of us learn to master, in this case, because of the nature of the issues you're facing, you may want to seek professional help. When it comes to Psychology, I am not an expert and cannot legally provide counseling.

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+1. The best thing to do is to get professional counselling. Your workplace may also offer a counselling service, or be able to recommend one. –  Timothy Jones Oct 31 '12 at 6:32
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Some workplaces offer access to counseling services (usually they pay most or all of the cost). Someone in HR can probably point you in the right direction to getting that access. –  FrustratedWithFormsDesigner Oct 31 '12 at 15:11
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Lovely answer - add to it, that depending on where you live and the laws and culture in your work place, you can talk to your manager and get help from work - in the US, situational stress can (if bad enough) be a reason to take medical leave, and workplaces may have provisions for this situation - either your manager or someone in Human Resources may be able to give more detailed advice. –  bethlakshmi Oct 31 '12 at 18:06

Advice about overcoming these traumas is out of scope for this site, but to focus on the workplace aspect specifically:

The first thing you should do is to talk with either your manager or your HR rep and ask for some immediate time off for "an urgent personal matter". (They don't need to know the details, and don't be surprised if they don't ask.) In some jurisdictions and under some circumstances they may even be required to grant this request (e.g. Family Medical Leave Act in the US), but any decent employer will work with you on this. If they won't, treat that as a wake-up call about whether you want to continue to work there (later). The corporate management training I've received has emphasized the need to be sensitive to such matters, and I have had several coworkers who've taken leaves of weeks to months suddenly for medical needs.

Second, for extended time off you're going to eventually need to document the need, so talk with your doctor sooner rather than later about evaluation, referrals, etc. Tell your doctor that this is affecting your ability to work so that he can be prepared for whatever paperwork will be needed later.

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This is a great answer because it focuses more on the workplace aspects; specifically, it focuses on things David can do at work to help solve the problem. –  jmort253 Nov 1 '12 at 0:13

I'm going to make a few suggestions since I have recently had something similar happen to me. (Family situation, and although not a child, some other issues due to Hurricane Sandy) that affected me personally.

1. Request if you can some personal days to take care of family situations. If your company doesn't offer it, take vacation time, if they refuse then, you may want to find another place to work, because most companies will allow you time to recoup from loss or situations that deal with family.

2. You may need to see a councilor to help you with the child situation. It sounds like you may have some form of PTS, I am not a psychologist, so don't take my word for it. I'm no doctor.

Your child's school may have some grief counselors on hand, use them if they are available to see if there is something they can do, or if not them, direct you to someone who can.

I know 2 sounds cold, but in reality I am still dealing with the family issue right now myself, and I am still affected by it so I may not be as emotionally sensitive as I probably should be, sorry. Some things honesty need time to go away, or to "heal"...

3. Talk to family, and friends if you trust them enough to open up. Sometimes a good cry helps a lot. I'm serious here, there sometimes people just need to know they aren't the only ones feeling like that.

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From a workplace perspective, how do you deal with personal issues?

First, if you trust your boss at all, sit down with him or her in a room where you can close the door and tell enough about what is going on so that he knows you are stressed. Ask him if he can give you some time off or if not, work with him to reduce the level of workplace stress by moving some tasks to someone else. Most bosses will appreciate knowing there is an issue to be worked around before deadlines are missed and work is done incorrectly and especially if there is any kind of a workplace safety issue as a possibility (which I assume there could be in the chemical industry).

From what you describe as your current state, a few days off will probably be as much to the company's benefit as yours.

I know some people prefer to keep their private issues private, but you will get much more support from the boss and HR (if need be) if they know the situation. Make sure to ask that the information be kept confidential or that you tell them what they can let others know and what they cannot.

It may be the nature of the type of places where I work (not all are supportive I am well aware and the lower you are in the organization the less supportive they may be), but I have seen far more people get into trouble of the reprimand/firing type by not disclosing a personal issue and their work suddenly falling of than those who do bring it up and get help from the organization in managing it. Often, the worst action you can take when your work is being affected by a personal issue is not leveing with your boss about it as soon as possible.

If you are a good worker and they know what the situation is, most workplaces will try to make accommodations to keep you working through the crisis or to give you the time off you need to deal with it Or both). Truly I was amazed by the amount of help I got from the organization for the whole year that my performance was affected when my spouse died.

If you are not a good worker, you are less likely to get as much support (but probably still will in the really big issues like a cancer diagnosis or a the death of a child or a spouse). The company has little vested interest in keeping you when your performance goes down if it is already not acceptable.

Human Resources people can also be a huge help when your personal life has unavoidable stresses. I know when my spouse died, the HR person really helped me by pointing me to the benefits I could take advantage of such as the EAP and bereavement leave.

I don't know the nature of your personal problem, but it still might be helpful to talk to someone in HR about anything that could be impacted by the situation (for instance, in a divorce, they could help you figure out all the things like insurance beneficiaries, etc, that you need to change.)

I know when a co-worker had cancer, the HR people helped her through the process of getting short-term and long-term disability (think about it, do you know how to get these benefits activated when you need them even though you are paying for them in your paycheck?) HR is mostly best for personal situations where there might be an impact somehow on your benefits.

Because you are distracted and upset, you might want to have someone else do a look over of your work. Mistakes are much more common when you are stressed and having a second set of eyes can only help. It also shows management that you are aware that the work still needs to be done and done right even when stressed.

Your office may have an Employee Assistance program, this is the kind of situation that these programs are designed for, so take advantage of them.

On a personal note, it really might be helpful to get some professional counseling. It is hard to get through major crisis. There is nothing wrong with needing some help.

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I think that how to deal with the trauma from watching a child die after being run over is not something that can really be addressed with advice from this site. It is not ordinary work-related stress.

I would use sick days to take some time off, and see what kind of coverage you have in your benefits package for counseling. (This really does call for professionals.)

The stress from work, changing hours and irregular sleep are not going to help. Sometimes a good night's sleep can make a difference (one can wake up "refreshed" and with a "new perspective").

You are almost certainly afflicted with this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acute_stress_reaction

But not necessarily, and hopefully not this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Posttraumatic_stress_disorder

Not a lot of time has passed yet since the traumatic event. Time will certainly put a distance between you and that event. You will feel differently a week later, a month later, six months later and so on.

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Hi Kaz, since we're not medical professionals, I suggest editing the two sentences with the links to maybe suggest David instead ask a professional if he might be experiencing one of those disorders. I'd hate for your post to be construed as medical advice. ;) Hope this helps! –  jmort253 Oct 31 '12 at 6:33

In this revised preface, due to the gravity of the stress the OP is dealing with, I wholely recommend from personal experience to make the manager aware of the severity of the stress, but not to expect much from them. There are few workplaces and fewer managers that equipped to meangingfully contribute to someone's recover in OP situation. The workplace may have an adequate policy or tools, but likely not. The manager may have enough sense to give relevant, meaningful advice, but I doubt it. That isn't raw, cynical pessimism, that is experience.

In order to personally manage stress and emotional pain, there are three simple things that have often helped me:

Outlets

Take on a physically demanding task or activity: destructive (ideally, not personally destructive), creative, or entertaining. Maybe it's splitting wood, cleaning the yard (and the neighbors yard), or painting a fence (or painting a mural on the fence). Maybe join an amatuer sports club like softball or basketball, or start cycling regularly.

I went the extra mile, and left a technical field to work in construction for several years. Now that the trauma is behind me, I am slowly finding my way back to a technical field. The opportunity I found in construction through the work and the common culture to build and demolish, be creative and efficient, and frank and brash was therapeutic. Plus, I am a little handier around the house.

For my brother, and many, many other people, the gym works great for this.

Leaving your job is hopefully a last resort, but no matter what, do what is right for you.

Perspective

For all the ugliness and sadness around you, there will be beauty and happiness. Try to gain an appreciation for these things that are surrounding you that to this point perhaps take for granted. Keep in mind the cycle of life.

Family and very close friends. They are in part why you feel like you do, but it is also those same people whom you will mutually see through this rough spot. They will help you, and you will help them. The opportunity to reconnect with those who have drifted is right there to take advantage of. You need no other reason. With more than ten years difference in age between myself and my youngest brother, we were close, but not very close until after my own turmoil. If it wasn't for that turmoil, we may never have built that relationship.

Focus on purpose

Breath in, breath out.

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
 The courage to change the things I can,
 And the wisdom to know the difference.

I really don't think this needs much explaination, but per the encouraging comments, let me suggest that while this seems like a greeting card, it is a good practice to put in place. Be literal about it. Actually do the breathing with a purpose.

Being anxious or fearful about what is to come, or regretful or angry about the past isn't going to have any effect on either. The story about the past is written, move on. Some of it's less than pleasant. Things happen. Things happen all the time, everywhere, and to many different people. The story about the future can change based on what you do now. So do now, whatever it is you can do. Be hopeful, but realistic. Take chances, but be practical.

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1 - Bad idea - Focusing your emotions in a destructive manner can have a building effect on the pain. Some people come away from these activities converting their pain to anger. And eventually that anger gets redirected at other sources. Constructive is almost always more beneficial to healing pain that destructive. That said physical exertion and splitting wood have a constructive end so long as you are not dwelling on the pain. –  ReallyTiredOfThisGame Nov 1 '12 at 19:30
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This is a very vague answer, and it reads as a mashup of popular self help techniques. Answers on the Workplace are generally expected to focus on the workplace aspects of the question's premise, and ideally provide an actual solution to the problem presented, not just discuss the problem. Furthermore, we have a "back it up" rule in our FAQ that calls for answers to be backed up by solid references or personal experiences, and your answer presents none. Personal experiences, in this instance, would only apply to the workplace aspect of the question, not asking you to spill your guts out. –  Yannis Nov 1 '12 at 21:43
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Thanks for the feedback. I appreciate the opportunity to contribute, and in the future I will keep those guidelines in mind. –  JustinC Nov 1 '12 at 21:58

Sorry to hear about that!
I was recently reading an article about how people handle negative events by Paddy Upton(South African Cricket Team Leadership coach) In the end, he summarized these critical points to overcome disappointment/stress:

  1. Feel the feeling – find it (sinking feeling in your stomach, a heaviness in your chest, tightness in the throat, heat in the forehead, etc because of stress) in your body, acknowledge it, and watch it subside.
  2. Accept the result – it‘s part of sport and life. Assess the processes later
  3. Support others – self-focus sinks, helping others uplifts
  4. Reflect on preparation – what did you do well, what can you do better next time?
  5. Reflect on the event – what did you do well, what will you do differently next time?
  6. Commit to action – write it down, commit to action, ask for support.

I believe few of aforesaid points will help you reduce stress and concentrate on objectives again.

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I didn't downvote, but the sports metaphor doesn't work for me. How could you prepare better to watch a little girl run down by a car next time??? Plus, it doesn't address the workplace aspect. –  Amy Blankenship Oct 31 '12 at 15:37
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1. I've used "few of aforesaid points will help you reduce stress" & possibly you didn't read complete article. –  kern Oct 31 '12 at 17:02
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I didn't upvote the question or downvote the answer--I merely offered insight into how your answer looked to me. Not sure why you're so bothered. –  Amy Blankenship Nov 1 '12 at 0:55

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