Over the years, I’ve worked with a number of business leaders who have had breakdowns from the stress of owning or running a business or organization. The symptoms they’ve exhibited are very similar to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
However, it’s very unlikely that a psychiatrist or psychologist would give them a diagnosis of PTSD. PTSD occurs if you’ve experienced a traumatic event where you’ve been exposed to violence.
Similar symptoms are experienced by business owners and leaders on a regular basis. Unfortunately, there’s no clinical diagnosis for business traumatic stress disorder or BTSD. (Yes, I’ve just coined that phrase.)
Let’s examine some symptoms to get an appreciation of how prevalent this condition is in the business community.
According to the American Psychiatric Association, people with PTSD might experience a range of symptoms across four categories:
Intrusive symptoms related to the event, such as nightmares, flashbacks or unwanted thoughts about the trauma.
Many leaders of organization have been traumatized by bankers, creditors, suppliers and landlords who have put considerable pressure on them when the business has been in financial difficulties.
Clients have told me they wake up sweating and have had unwanted thoughts about these conversations. Some wake up with nightmares, while others can’t get to sleep because they’re so stressed.
Think about how you might feel if you can’t pay your bills and you don’t seem to have a way out of your tough business situation.
Avoiding reminders, when people have behaviours designed to avoid people, places or situations that are reminders of the event.
If I had $1 for every time I had a client tell me that they’re done and have no interest or energy to go back into their business, I could buy a $100 gift certificate for my editor.
When we’re dealing with shoplifters, crooks, irrational staff members, compounded with demanding customers and the everyday problems of a business, we’re going to have similar symptoms.
Business leaders start avoiding the people, places and things that remind them of their overwhelming business difficulties.
The problem is magnified in small communities, where business owners are recognized and approached by well-meaning friends and acquaintances asking how business is.
While it might seem like it’s the most important thing in their life, often it’s the last thing they want is to talk about with someone who has little understanding of the magnitude of the problems they face.
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.
This symptom is common with business owners who are struggling with their business. There’s often a deep sense of shame because they feel they should be successful but they aren’t.
There’s 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.
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 30 years, my staff and family can attest that there have been times when I’ve been irritable, had angry outbursts, couldn’t concentrate and had trouble sleeping. These reactions are common in owners who have businesses that are challenging or dysfunctional for any period.
Business traumatic stress disorder is real and the symptoms can be found in our business leaders. BTSD deserves to be studied so our leaders can talk about the legitimate symptoms they face without being stigmatized.
Until we acknowledge the ongoing stress faced by our leaders, and that it has consequences, society will fail to do anything about it.
Recognizing that businesses don’t always work out, that it’s not shameful to get business support, and that there are often unrealistic demands placed on organizational leaders and business owners, is paramount to starting the real conversation around BTSD.
While it’s unlikely that a medical professional will understand clearly the root causes of BTSD, it’s important that if you have a family member or business leader friend who’s exhibiting symptoms, you try to encourage them to get help.
Without intervention to solve the problems of the business and to support the leader, the BTSD conditions will continue to spiral out of control.
Troy Media columnist David Fuller, MBA, is a certified professional business coach and author who helps business leaders ensure that their companies are successful. David is author of the book Profit Yourself Healthy. Know someone who’s suffering from BTSD? Email firstname.lastname@example.org