Sure, we all likely experience the “Sunday Scaries” from time to time, but being able to tell the difference between mild work stress and a toxic work environment is crucial to our overall well-being.
How can you tell the difference? Well, work-related stress typically stems from a particular situation or event that can be resolved over time. When you’re in a toxic work environment, you’ll likely find yourself bumping up against persistent difficulties, along with the inability to make progress in your career due to a negative environment. This toxic culture may stem from leadership, co-workers, or the company culture itself. And you know what? I’ve been there in the past and it just plain sucks.
Part of my job as a mental health coach is to help my clients find ways to take care of themselves when they are struggling at work, so I want to do the same for you. First, it’s helpful to determine if you’re currently in a toxic work environment.
Signs that your work environment is toxic:
- When you seek out support or express concerns to leadership or human resources, you’re met with responses like, “If you can’t handle it, we can give the job to someone else” or “This is just the way it is.”
- When you seek out growth opportunities, both personally and professionally, your requests are ignored or dismissed.
- Mundane events turn into gossip and drama.
- Members of the leadership team speak to their employees in a demeaning or condescending way.
- Your boundaries aren’t respected and you find yourself lacking a work-life balance.
- You experience bullying or harassment, leading you to feel undervalued or unsafe at work.
Ways your negative work environment may be affecting you:
- You may experience higher cortisol levels that manifest in physical ailments and illnesses such as weight gain around the middle, poor immune system, headaches, and stomach aches.
- You have ruminating thoughts and chronic worry about negative work experiences and interactions.
- Experiencing decreased work productivity and a higher rate of absenteeism.
- Your stress response (fight, flight, or freeze) is activated even when thinking about work and is heightened when commuting to work.
- You notice you’re using substances, like alcohol, more often to help you cope.
It’s important to keep in mind that a toxic work environment exists because of people and established systems within the workplace. Strengthening your innate skills, creating actionable steps, and even coming to the decision to leave all indicate your understanding of the fact that changing other people, or an entire infrastructure, is out of your control.
What you are in control of is your experience, so try to reframe how you react and begin to make decisions that prioritize your well-being. Here are some steps you can take to help you feel better.
Ways to take your power back in a toxic work environment:
- I like to advise my clients to take an inventory of what you can do. Ask yourself questions like: Are my actions contributing to a positive work culture?
- Actively disengage from negative interactions. For example, if your coworkers leave a meeting and form a side group to criticize another member of the team, try your best to step away.
- Create strategies to turn a bad situation into an opportunity to learn and grow, while not sacrificing your integrity.
- Help create a culture of positivity. This could mean celebrating one another, showing appreciation, lending support, and providing encouragement.
- Seek support from family, close friends, or a trusted professional to help you get through and heal from this experience.
- Engage in hobbies and healthy activities that make you feel good outside of work.
- Develop a mindfulness practice. I know you’ve heard it before, but it really works! Mindfulness is a great exercise that can help you to become more intentional about how you engage in the world. A step in this direction can include starting the Becoming Mindful Guided Journey or trying out one of the meditations in the app such as “Work Stress.”
- Determine your personal and professional boundaries and stick to them, while practicing assertive communication skills. This includes knowing when work ends and your personal life begins, especially if you are working from home.
- Create a personal mantra or positive affirmation to focus on throughout the day.
- Journal about your experience so that you have that information to validate what you are going through and to also reflect upon when the inner critic develops into self-doubt.
- And, when the time is right, PLAN YOUR EXIT STRATEGY!
It’s important to take time to reflect on what’s important to you, what you bring to the table, and how you can be supported within your career to achieve the work-life balance you desire. While the decision to leave isn’t always an easy one, being stuck in a toxic work environment isn’t easy either.
At the end of the day, remember to prioritize your mental health while considering what’s the best choice for your professional future. It isn’t easy, but you deserve to work in an environment where you feel valued. We’re here for you as you take next steps and don’t hesitate to share your journey, and seek support, in our Work Stress Community with others who get it.
By Natalie Septer, Mental Health Coach
As a Sanvello Coach, Natalie is passionate about supporting people as they navigate life — in the good times and the bad. Her role is to help enhance self-awareness and equip clients with the tools necessary to live their best life. When she’s not seeing clients, Natalie is a yoga instructor, a podcast aficionado, and a mom to three boys. For self-care, she loves to read, journal, and exercise.