How Can A Toxic Work Environment Impact Your Mental Health?

Updated December 28, 2022by BetterHelp Editorial Team

A toxic work environment is typically characterized by dysfunction and drama. In a toxic work environment, employees find it challenging to both work and progress in their careers, thanks to the hostile atmosphere created by a combination of company culture, supervisors, and coworkers.

There are many signs that your work environment is toxic. These include, but are not limited to:

It Can Be Tough To Cope In A Toxic Work Environment

  • A feeling of chronic stress that leads you to dread going to work every day

  • Being overworked

  • Being bullied

  • Being a victim of, or a contributor to, office gossip

  • Supervisors that are easily frustrated or take out their stress on their subordinates

  • Unclear workplace goals and vague company values

  • A lack of transparency in the workplace

  • Unclear roles within the company and job insecurity

  • One-way communication and passive listening

  • Top-down decision making

  • Conflict that is negative and unproductive

  • A lack of feedback

  • Too much focus on output

  • Any harassment, discrimination, or abuse

  • Micromanagement

  • A lack of appreciation and acknowledgment

  • An inability to move upward

In short, a toxic work environment is one in which communication is unclear or negative, relationships between coworkers and supervisors are unhealthy, and it isn’t easy to get your work done, be productive, and grow in your career.

How Can A Toxic Work Environment Impact Mental Health?

A toxic work environment leads to a constant fight or flight response in which your brain produces large amounts of cortisol (also known as the stress hormone), testosterone, and norepinephrine. This fight or flight response causes high stress levels, which can substantially affect mental and physical health.

Studies show that internal and external workplace factors can contribute to depression, impede productivity, judgment, and career prospects. Other effects of a toxic work environment on mental health are rumination, insomnia, physical pain and discomfort, a change in appetite (eating too much or too little), a sense of dread, feeling drained or exhausted, and problems with memory, intolerance, and agitation. A toxic work environment is no minor contributor to mental and physical health issues.

As with many mental health problems, counseling can be extremely beneficial. Counseling that addresses coping with a toxic work environment often focuses on healthy ways to manage stress. A counselor is also likely to help you evaluate whether it’s worth it to stay at your current place of work or whether it may be time to move on to something better.

How Can You Cope With A Toxic Work Environment?

One method of coping with a toxic work environment is to participate in counseling sessions. Still, plenty of methods for coping with a toxic work environment don’t involve speaking with a mental health professional. If you’re not ready to speak to a therapist, that’s completely okay. There are still steps you can take to defend yourself, some of which are discussed below.

  • Seek Support Within The Company. Most workplaces have a dedicated Human Resources department where you can speak about any negative experiences or aspects of the toxic work environment. HR is there to help you, so take advantage of it. This method of coping gets to the root of the issue. If you’re nervous about confronting someone in your workplace, ask your supervisors for assistance. It’s wise to document instances of harassment, abuse, discrimination, or other inappropriate conduct so that you can back up your statements if needed. Don’t feel pressured to confront the toxic person yourself.

  • Separate Work And Home Life. When you leave work for the day, learn to leave your work stress behind. Enjoy your life at home rather than bringing your workplace's toxicity and negativity. This can be challenging, but it’s worth it because it helps maintain good mental health and allows you to enjoy life, even if your work environment isn’t ideal.

  • Establish Boundaries And Stick To Them. You are a person who is worthy of respect. Avoid letting others walk all over you or mistreat you. However, this doesn’t mean that you need to stoop to the level of the people who are making the environment toxic. Instead, conduct yourself with integrity at all times. A mental health professional can help you learn to create and honor boundaries if you struggle to do so. Otherwise, there are resources that can help you too. 

  • Confide In Trusted Individuals. If you’re not sure whether your workplace is toxic, speak with trusted friends and family and ask them for their objective opinions. Not only will this give you a better idea of whether the things you’re experiencing at work are acceptable, but speaking about your thoughts, feelings, and experiences is cathartic and a great way to reduce stress.

  • Shift Your Mindset. Of course, a change in mindset does not change other people’s actions. But if you can look at a bad situation and consider it a good learning experience, you’ll glean more value from it. You can also do little things like decorating your work area with inspiring quotes and photos that make you happy. These small, uplifting items in your workplace can take the edge off the toxicity and remind you what’s important to you. In addition, practicing mindfulness (a focus on the present moment) can help you get through the workday, even in a toxic work environment.

  • Regularly Engage In Self-Care. Balance the bad with the good by scheduling enjoyable activities that decrease your stress levels. Perhaps you could take a 10-minute walk during your lunch break to clear your mind, or maybe you could make a fruit smoothie and enjoy a chapter of a book after coming home from work. Self-care looks different for everyone but try to integrate healthy coping methods into your routine to maintain good mental health.

  • Plan Your Exit. If you’ve tried everything you can think of, but it’s clear that nothing is going to change in your workplace, the best plan of action is to figure out how to leave. Know your worth and know that the toxic environment does not reflect who you are. If things continue to be toxic, it may be time to seek out other job opportunities.

How Can Counseling Help You Cope With A Toxic Work Environment? 

It Can Be Tough To Cope In A Toxic Work Environment

Speaking with a mental health professional may be a good idea if you feel that you’ve reached a breaking point with your toxic work environment. A certified counselor or therapist can help you work through your issues. They can teach you effective communication and conflict resolution methods that you can use in the workplace. Plus, a counselor can introduce you to various healthy ways of managing stress and anxiety related to your toxic workplace. Best of all, you don’t even need to leave your home to speak to a mental health professional. BetterHelp is an affordable and online counseling platform where you can easily get the help you need, from the comfort and safety of your own home.

Online therapy can be helpful with many issues an individual is dealing with, including a toxic work environment and the very real effects on a person. Meeting with a counselor on line can be as beneficial to mental health, if not more so, as meeting with an in-person counselor.

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