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Recognising work-induced stress and trauma

  • Work that involves supporting people through difficult times can be highly rewarding — it can also be very exhausting
  • It’s not uncommon for support workers to experience their own stress when helping other people through personal trauma
  • The content in this section looks at the signs of work-induced stress and trauma and offers some tools to prevent and respond to it

What is work-induced stress and trauma?

Exposing yourself to another person's traumatic experiences can bring about personal changes, including to your psychological, physical and spiritual wellbeing. It can also affect how you see yourself as well as your relationships with other people. This process of change happens over time and you may not even notice that it is taking place.

Sometimes the effects can be negative, but it’s important to remember that they can be very positive too. Helping people can result in personal growth, a greater connection with other people and personal satisfaction that comes from doing meaningful work.

What are the effects of work-induced stress and trauma

Supporting people who have experienced trauma requires empathy and compassion. The stress and demands of this type of work can become overwhelming and can result in work-induced stress and trauma.

The effects of work-induced stress and trauma can also vary from person to person. Some people experience 'burnout' or ‘compassion fatigue’ which may express itself as negativity or disinterest towards clients, or exhaustion.

When the symptoms become more severe, it turns into 'vicarious trauma', which can produce nightmares, sleep problems, depression, fearfulness and complete withdrawal, similar to post traumatic stress reactions. If these things are not addressed, they can take have serious effects, both at work and in your personal life.

Further information and resources

Stress, trauma and work: How to look after yourself

11 NOV 2014

Preventing work-induced stress and trauma

  • Feeling stressed or anxious because of work is not ‘just part of the job’
  • Some jobs are more stressful than others but there are ways of managing stress before it becomes work-induced trauma
  • If you recognise any of the signs of work-induced trauma, there things you can do to take action and connect with support

What can I do if I'm experiencing work-induced stress or trauma?

Training for professionals

Checklist for work-induced stress and trauma

Work-induced stress and trauma checklist

This checklist is a way to gauge how you are feeling about your work. The things on the list do not necessarily mean that you have work-induced trauma or are suffering from burnout. An answer of ‘yes’ to any of the questions can alert you to the need to speak to someone. Counsellors at 1800RESPECT are trained to talk about recognising work-induced trauma.

  • Are your relationships with close friends, family, children or partners changing for the worse?
  • Are you finding yourself irritable, anxious, agitated or ‘snapping’ more frequently than usual?
  • Is your work performance dropping or are you making mistakes?
  • Are you avoiding, or getting anxious about engaging with work, clients or patients?
  • Do you notice mood swings or feel your moods are sometimes out of your control?
  • Are you feeling flat, sad, lacking energy, overtired for no reason, or as though you’re ‘spacing out’ from things around you when you are stressed?
  • Are you getting run down or catching more colds or infections than usual?
  • Do you feel unsafe or overly anxious about your safety?
  • Are you self-soothing in ways that might be numbing or can cause you increased stress later, such as mindless eating, alcohol or substance use, or smoking?
  • Do you feel you’ve lost hope, or that there is little ‘goodness’ in humanity?
  • Do you have nightmares, poor sleep, intrusive thoughts or images that are upsetting?
  • Check your breathing throughout the day — is it more often than not above 15 breaths per minute? Or below seven? Is this linked to thinking about work, or clients, or other stress triggers?

Hearing about other people’s trauma can trigger our own unresolved trauma. Remember to ask for help if you need it.