Two years into my first real job, I woke up feeling incredibly ill. I thought maybe I had the flu, but my mind was still sharp. I thought maybe I had a cold, but my nose was clear. I thought maybe I had indigestion, but I ate healthy the night before. I wasn't sure what it was, but I knew I felt incredibly sick. I thought about calling into work, but my supervisor had been mistreating me for months and I didn't want to give her the ammo.
I get to work. I open my email, and there it was: the daily list of things I did wrong, none of which I actually did. Not "oh, it's not my fault" but "no, I literally didn't do that. It's not even in my department." Anything that went wrong in the company she blamed on me, including problems with the server, dropped calls, and dirty bathrooms. None of which had anything to do with my job, which was to create spreadsheets with potential business leads.
(On my quarterly review, she gave me a "B," citing that I was "defensive" – No Kidding)
Yet, there it was, again – the daily reminder that this supervisor decided to blame all of the problems with the company on me. Suddenly I realized what was making me so ill – I wasn't sick. I was overwhelmed with stress, and that stress was causing me serious physical health issues.
Overcoming the Toxic Workplace
More and more people are now stuck in these toxic workplaces, because the economy makes it nearly impossible to leave bad jobs. Yet the stress that you experience at these workplaces is not something to take lightly. This stress can damage your DNA, cause memory loss – possibly even cause cancer. Stress is no laughing matter, and unless you learn to cope with this stress, your long term health is being put at risk.
Luckily, it is possible to learn to live with the stress of a toxic workplace. You simply need to change your mindset about how to treat this workplace, and find ways to make work a place of fun, not a place of fear. Let's go through some examples:
- Challenge Yourself – Give yourself something to strive for every day. If you have a task that is repetitive or tedious, turn it into a game and challenge yourself. Friendly competition is incredibly healthy. Friendly competition with yourself can actually be somewhat fun. Give yourself daily or weekly challenges and see if you can't meet or beat your goals.
- BINGO – Speaking of games, another solution is to quite literally turn your stress into a game. Come up with a list of 24 stress triggers at work. Place them randomly on a Bingo board. Every time one of the events is triggered, mark it off. If you get a Bingo, treat yourself to something fun and enjoyable.
- Hide Notes – There are ample ways to turn your work into an inside joke with yourself, no matter how stressful it may be. One of my personal favorites was to hide very small notes with inspirational or humorous phrases on them all over the office (all appropriate, of course – I didn't want to get fired), but without telling anyone I did it. Then I knew over the course of the next several weeks, months, possibly even years, these notes would be discovered. Knowing that made going to work more humorous, because on any given day someone could be surprised with a very strange note hiding in a very strange place.
- Wear Funny Clothing – Chances are you have a dress code at work. But what they can't see won't hurt them. I started coming to work every day wearing Hello Kitty boxer briefs and a Superman T-Shirt underneath my button shirt, and having that little joke to myself made work much more fun.
- Write Stories – No matter how stressful your work may be, there is always humor hidden somewhere. Looking back, the supervisor that mistreated me did so in what now make great stories. Turning them into fodder for stories now is a great outlet. You have an opportunity to show your creativity and turn these stressful work experiences into interesting short stories and essays that may be worth a read.
These are just a few examples of how to turn your workplace into something you look forward to, no matter how stressful it may be. There is no perfect solution, but the reality is that when you find that you can no longer handle working for your company because it has become a toxic workplace, there are two things you can do:
- Let it frustrate you, be stressed, and be miserable every day at work.
- Do something to make work more fun despite the stress.
Most people choose the former, but the latter is how you can regain your happiness and take control of your anxiety and stress again.
About the Author: Ryan Rivera's experience in a damaging work environment gave him a great deal of perspective on living with stress and anxiety. Now he writes tips for others at www.calmclinic.com.