Post-Traumatic Growth: How to Recover After a Business Crisis

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As a small business leader, you are bound to experience big ups and downs over the course of your career. Being in leadership when a major crisis comes through can feel lonely and downright traumatic at times. While you cannot always control the hand you are dealt as you lead your small business, you can control what you do with it and how you grow from it. Post-traumatic growth happens when the hard things in business make you better or stronger than you were before everything hit the fan.

What Is Trauma?

In the world of business, trauma occurs when something happens in your business life that overwhelms your ability to cope. Perhaps your biggest client pulls out and you lose 30% of your overall income. Maybe your direct sales team crumbles as product quality has declined, and as a result, your paycheck has dwindled to nearly nothing. It could be that a fire or natural disaster destroyed your inventory or office.

Whatever the business crisis, it left you feeling helpless, like there was no real path forward and without the tools you needed to cope.

More than an event, trauma is a response that the body and brain have to something that overwhelms our ability to cope. While war veterans and victims of violence often experience trauma, it is not limited to them alone. Ask yourself if you have experienced any of the following symptoms of trauma:

  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Overwhelming sadness, fear, anger, denial and/or shame
  • Relational turmoil
  • Emotional outbursts that are out of character
  • Nightmares
  • Flashbacks
  • Dissociation
  • Headache, nausea and/or dizziness
  • Changes in appetite or gastrointestinal disturbances
  • Diagnosis of depression, anxiety, PTSD, addictions and/or dissociative disorders 

Finding Outside Help

If you notice that symptoms of trauma are interfering with your daily life, it is important to seek appropriate outside help. Therapists and psychiatrists can help you determine if you are experiencing acute stress disorder, which typically lasts no longer than three weeks. They can also help you determine if post-traumatic stress disorder could be at play as well as prescribe treatment to help you. Neurofeedback, HRV biofeedback and trauma recovery coaching are other modalities that might help you on your healing journey.

Just because your business crisis has resulted in a trauma response that requires outside help, it does not mean that you cannot experience post-traumatic growth. Seeking outside help can equip you with the missing coping skills you need in order to make sense of something that seems senseless and move forward in a positive way. It is even possible to continually experience some symptoms of a trauma response and yet grow in ways that allow you to make a positive impact on the world through your business life.

Post-Traumatic Growth: Definition

Post-traumatic growth is defined as the positive changes that happen for people as they move through a traumatic event, including a profound business crisis. This does not mean that the business crisis was a good thing, only that you managed to take something horrible and create something good out of it. The resilience inherent in post-traumatic growth keeps you from getting stuck in the suffering of your traumas.

Post-Traumatic Growth: Symptoms

Just like trauma response symptoms can be clear and profound, post-traumatic growth symptoms and signs are often inspiring and easy for people on the outside to see. Think about the bankrupt professional who went on to educate other people about creating financial security. You or others might notice the following post-traumatic growth symptoms and signs in you following your business crisis:

  • Changed priorities
  • Greater sense of appreciation and gratitude
  • Sense of increased agency and capability 
  • Spiritual growth and insight
  • New path and sense of purpose
  • Increased feeling of belonging
  • Improved relationship with self and others
  • Sense of empowerment in effecting change
  • Desire to help and serve others 

Remember that post-traumatic growth is sometimes evident quickly after a traumatic business crisis but that it can also become apparent over time. Seeking appropriate help in trauma processing can help you experience post-traumatic growth months or years after the initial trauma.

Post-Traumatic Growth Inventory

If you seek outside help from a therapist, psychiatrist or other helping professional, he might use the post-traumatic growth inventory to assess your growth and healing. This tool assesses your growth using 21 specially formulated questions addressing the following five areas:

  1. Relating to others
  2. New possibilities
  3. Personal strength
  4. Spiritual change
  5. Appreciation of life 

As you learn the tools needed to process your business crisis in a healthy way, your scores on the post-traumatic growth inventory should increase over time so that you can see tangible proof of your post-traumatic growth. These changes will also impact your personal life and how you do business in your professional life.

Post-Traumatic Growth: Example

If dealing with your business crisis has you feeling stuck and wondering if you will ever experience post-traumatic growth, start looking at the success stories of famous people who overcame the odds.

For instance, Bill Gates dropped out of Harvard and experienced great failure when he was co-owner of Traf-O-Data. His passion and determination led him to keep trying, and so he founded Microsoft, a company that has revolutionized the tech world. Bill Gates's post-traumatic growth example shows that the most successful business pioneers aren't those who have never failed but those who grew from their failures instead of becoming bitter.

Nurturing a Growth Mindset (Why Me? vs. What Can I Learn From This?)

One of the most powerful ways to get started on a journey of post-traumatic growth is to intentionally nurture a growth mindset. This means shifting from "Why did this happen to me?" to "How or what can I learn from this?" Nurturing a growth mindset means recognizing that none of us are born knowing everything we need to know to cope in life and in business. Instead, we grow in our skills and characteristics over time.

Vision and celebration boards can help you learn to dream again, imagine a positive future and truthfully acknowledge things you've done well or learned from the past. Meditation, spiritual practices, journaling, reading inspiring books and working with a mentor can also help you develop powerful coping skills and experience post-traumatic growth. Physical exercise like hiking, swimming, yoga, tai chi, qigong and running can help calm the fear networks in your brain and make it possible to make business decisions with greater clarity.

Try incorporating some of the above into morning and evening routines to make a habit out of growth and experience incremental relief over time. A trauma recovery coach or therapist can even help you experiment with practices that are best to include so you get the best results. Remember to reach out to others and that nobody is meant to walk the road of trauma recovery alone.