The world of work isn’t exactly known for being stress-free. Looming deadlines, demanding bosses, and difficult coworkers can make anyone’s job a challenge. Sometimes it’s all we can do to power through until 5pm, let alone feel mentally and emotionally fabulous at the end of the day. The last thing any of us wants is to add to our own workplace stress with behaviors that negatively affect our mental health. Yet — often unwittingly — we engage in practices that do more harm than good in the workplace. Without a mindful approach, we can unintentionally sabotage our own productivity, become embittered against others around us, and forfeit our happiness at what (ideally) should bring us joy: our life’s work.
While it’s tough to admit we may be the cause of some of our own work woes, a little self-examination never hurt. Recognizing toxic behaviors is the first step toward personal change: the kind that could mean increased job satisfaction and a surprising boost to your mental health. Here are five ways you might be bringing yourself down at work — and how to fix the situation if you are.
1. Perfectionism: Feel the need to read an email eight times before you can send it off? Can’t leave a project until every detail is locked in just right? You might be falling prey to harmful workplace perfectionism. While it’s not wrong to want to give your best at work, a perfectionistic attitude has serious mental health consequences in the long term. Research has associated an inability to show imperfection to others (and even, sometimes, an inability to admit fault) with depression and anxiety. Holding yourself to unattainable standards at work puts you on the emotional hamster wheel of keeping up perfect appearances — an impossible task that only makes you miserable.
Strategies to break free from perfectionism include adopting a big-picture perspective (as in, “Will this matter in five years?”), practicing radical self-acceptance and, of course, counseling.
2. Comparison: Someone less qualified gets the promotion. The pretty young thing in the cubicle next to you arrives to work Instagram-perfect, while you barely got yourself dressed after a hectic morning with the kids. The age of social media already has us tethered to unhealthy (and often unrealistic) comparison to others, leaving us wondering why everyone else’s lives seem better than ours. We don’t have to bring this negative mindset to work too.
Studies show that comparing our status, recognition, or physical appearance to that of others (in this case, coworkers) sets us up for depression. “The activity of comparing one’s self with others is a major trigger for a plummet in self esteem,” explains Dr. Jane Bolton, PsyD of Psychology Today. Instead of worrying about coworkers’ behavior, accolades, or looks, try to focus on doing your own work to the best of your ability. You’ll likely experience a twofold benefit: better performance and a mental un-burdening from the feeling you don’t measure up.
3. Not Taking Breaks: Powering through the day without breaks may appear selfless (“Look how hard I’m working!”), but in reality, doing so actually depletes productivity and can lead to burnout. After all, you’re a human being, not a robot. Your body and mind need time and space to recharge.
Many experts believe the optimal duration of concentrated work is 90 minutes, with brief mind-clearing breaks in between. Find out your company’s official policy on breaks to take full advantage. Then, for your mental health, make sure you use them wisely by walking, stretching, chatting with a friend, or snacking on something healthy, rather than sitting in a corner on your phone.
4. Gossip: In the moment, a bit of juicy gossip — especially about a boss or coworker you’re not fond of — can feel like a sweet relief. Despite the temporary endorphin release, however, gossip won’t boost your happiness in the long term, on the job or anywhere else. Rather, it fosters a negative workplace environment that lowers morale and introduces unnecessary drama. Plus, the ugly truth about gossip is that indulging in it with coworkers likely means you’ll become a target yourself.
When tongues are wagging, you have several options. Avoid the gossiper altogether (if possible), change the subject, or respond with a positive statement about the person in question. Or if you don’t mind confrontation, call your coworkers out on their gossip. Whatever you do, taking the high road keeps your mental health safe from this damaging habit.
5. Not Advocating for Yourself: Ask and ye shall receive, the saying goes — “ask” being the operative word. In most workplaces, it’s up to you to be your own advocate. No one else is apt to pipe up when you’ve been treated unfairly or aren’t getting the raise you deserve. Keeping mum about your own best interests day after day can subtly drain your well-being. Feelings of anger, resentment, and hopelessness eventually build to a breaking point.
Rather than get steamrolled by injustice, be your own mental health hero: Advocate for yourself! If your current schedule isn’t working with your childcare situation, for example, try asking for different hours. Set that meeting with your boss to discuss salary, and aim high when you do. (One study showed not asking for a specific amount in a salary negotiation resulted in receiving an average of 32 percent less.) And don’t be afraid to speak up for others too. Your solidarity will help create a culture of mental health for everyone in your workplace.
How do you handle workplace stress? Tweet us at @BritandCo!
(Photos via Getty)