First the Body Whispers. Then it Screams.
Surviving a toxic work environment
Monday one of my co-workers had a stroke. Today, just two days later, I was relieved to hear she’s doing well but gobsmacked to learn that since it was just a “little” stroke and she’ll be back next week.
How did we get here? When did working in environments so toxic that our bodies launch formal protests every Monday morning become normal?
I’ve worked in a lot of different places. In my late teens and early 20s, I’d quit a job at the drop of a dime. Much like now, entry-level jobs were available aplenty in the early aughts. As a young’un my primary concern was living my life. Work was just something I did to have money to live said life.
If work had the audacity to attempt to interfere with my plans I’d drop them like a hot potato. Skipping out of the door while other suckers were stuck doing busy work and dealing with office politics felt incredible. My memories, of resigning via fax at an internet cafe on an extended trip to Russia and pushing an ‘it was nice knowing you’ note under the front door because I urgently needed to see Lord of the Rings or go to the beach with friends, still make me smile. By 24 I had left over 31 jobs. I felt free as a bird and had no desire to change.
Most Mondays my inner child still wants to bolt; but, middle-aged me wants to continue paying bills on time. The experience of feeling trapped at work is new and gnarly. My body is continually coming up with new ways to stop me from sitting in the toxic microaggression stew that is my office, anxiety attacks at the front door, elevated blood pressure, headaches, eczema meltdowns, stomach aches, and heartburn just to name a few.
The physical symptoms of intense chronic stress have rippled through the office over the last few years. Some co-workers have had similar symptoms while others have had more intense heart attack scares. As I’ve watch the collective decline of the team’s health it’s been obvious to me that the office atmosphere is to blame.
The best solution would be to exit the situation causing us so much distress. Countless employees have flown the coup but that isn’t feasible for all of us. I am actively working on moving on to greener pastures but in the meantime, I’ve had to pull out all the stops to cope.
What do you do when your body says it’s time to GTFO but your bank account says to stay put?
There are no perfect solutions but here is what’s been helping me.
Meditation and breathwork before work and on breaks
Reviewing my options monthly - weighing the pros and cons and actively deciding to stay makes me feel more autonomous and reminds me that I won’t be here forever
Taking a walk outside daily
Filling my office with plants to nurture and admire
Leaning into opportunities to bolster skills that will be useful when I exit
Resting and avoiding emotionally taxing activities off the clock
Searching for and documenting positive experiences during the day - intentionally looking for positive experiences helps shift my focus
Keeping a digital paper trail - writing down negative experiences that are particularly disturbing, and then filing them away is a form of journaling that helps me honor my feelings, process the emotions, and move on
Refusing to do things I don’t want to do in my personal life and my business - in the words of Megan Thee Stallion “I do what the fuck I want, when the fuck I want” when I’m on my own time that is.
I sincerely hope you aren’t navigating an inhospitable work environment but realistically working class folks with marginalized identities typically are. The good news is literally nothing lasts forever. This too shall pass. In the meantime, you can make some tweaks and squeeze as much joy out of your work day as possible.
If you want to commiserate over office woes or share something that has worked for you in a rough work situation pop over to the forum.
The supporting member goodie for next month will be a peace at work guided meditation.
This month I’m excited to share the brand new affirmation deck I created to start your mornings off on the right foot.
Download the deck below
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