Your work environment shouldn’t feel like a mental battleground. Working in an energy-sapping work environment can take a huge toll on your well-being and mental health. Since work is where we spend as much as 2/3 of our waking hours (or even more!), dealing with energy-draining colleagues or situations can lead to emotional exhaustion and even risk burnout.
If you tend to be a people-pleaser, you might find yourself trying even harder to gain the approval of those around you, which only exacerbates the burnout cycle. So, what steps can you take to survive and thrive when you feel stuck in an energy-sapping work environment? Let’s explore how you can start to reclaim your vitality…
1. Safeguard Your Time Like a Tiger Momma (or Poppa!)
The number 1 adjustment you need to make right now, is to guard your time. Protecting your energy means minimising the time you spend in situations where toxic people or cultures have the chance to drain you. Do not spend a second longer than you need to in that environment.
She calls it ‘tiger time’ as a reminder to guard that time with the same level of intensity as tiger guarding her cubs!
But instead of protecting working hours, I want you to protect your personal hours. If you are not contractually required to work, you need the time back to decompress and relax.
And I’m not only talking about the end of your work day – guard your breaks too. Whatever time you are entitled to, take it. Lunch break? Step away from your desk and sit down to eat.
Establishing these boundaries serves two purposes: it allows you to reduce stress levels by giving you time to unwind and signals to your colleagues that you have fixed no-go zones.
By demonstrating that you won’t sacrifice your personal time to meet unrealistic expectations, you set an important boundary, which is especially important in toxic environments.
2. Prioritize Daily Decompression and Stress Release
According to Emily and Amelia Nagoski in their book “Burnout”, many people mistakenly assume that once a stressor disappears, so does the stress.
In reality, even when you have resolved the problem causing your stress (your stressor), you need to also process your emotions (your stress). When you do this, you are completing the stress cycle.
You can complete the stress in a variety of ways, but two that are recommended are physical exercise and deep breathing exercises. Fortunately, yoga combines both! So, it’s no surprise that so many people credit yoga for decreasing their stress levels.
(Plus, if you want some tips on how to incorporate yoga into your routine, you can read more on my blog post here!)
You need to take action to complete the stress cycle daily to prevent your stress from accumulating over time.
3. Decide on your next best step
Working in a toxic environment may tempt you to daydream about making a dramatic exit or pursuing grand escape fantasies. However, this may be a sign you are heading toward burnout. Have you ever visualised dramatically telling your co-worker what you really think about them, shouting ‘I QUIT!’ and storming out of an office? Or booking a flight to the Maldives and texting ‘see you!’ to your boss?
These might sound fun and exciting ways to escape your day-to-day pressure, but when you have a mortgage to pay and mouths to feed, this is not often a practical solution.
Instead of focusing on drastic actions, consider your next best step. This might involve applying for a job that isn’t your dream position but can serve as a stepping stone to financial stability. If your mental health is suffering, consulting your GP and taking a week off work could be the right choice.
In some cases, your next best step might be to plan your exit methodically, with the support of your family.
Remember that your next best step doesn’t have to be dramatic; gradual, steady progress can lead to transformative change in your life. One of my favourite mantras is consistency creates change – because with each step you take, you feel more confident and empowered to change your life.
Survive, then thrive
Surviving an energy-draining work environment requires a combination of setting boundaries, managing stress effectively, and taking strategic steps toward change. By safeguarding your time, prioritizing stress management, and deciding on your next best step, you can navigate challenging work environments with resilience and eventually find a path to a more fulfilling and energizing career.
Remember, survival is the first step towards thriving, and with each boundary you set, each stress cycle you complete, and each small step you take, you’re not just surviving – you’re building the foundation for a future where you’ll truly thrive.