Staying in a job you don’t like is terrible for your mental health. A bad employer can be a legitimate cause of anxiety, and no amount of money can make up for a workplace that causes undue stress or depression.
But you may not even realize that your job is hurting your mental health. This is particularly true if you had to work hard to land your job and see your career as a fundamental part of who you are — it’s far easier to blame other things like poor weather than it is to admit you no longer enjoy a job that used to fulfill you.
So, here are a few signs that your job may be hurting your mental health, and how to handle it.
Your Job Negatively Impacts Your Physical Health
Understanding the negative impact your work has on your mental health can be tricky, but it is impossible to hide the negative impact that a stressful workplace has on your physical health.
That’s because excessive workplace stress and poor mental health manifest themselves in physical ailments that are hard to ignore.
This is particularly true if you work in a high-stress field like healthcare, where burnout and overworking are frequent. Over-stressed doctors and nurses are adept at “getting through” difficult days and may ignore more subtle signs that their work is hurting their mental health. But, even the toughest healthcare professionals cannot ignore the frequent disturbances to their physical health like headaches, difficulty sleeping, and high blood pressure.
If you notice that you’re sick all the time, or suffer from chronic illnesses related to stress, then it may be time to take a harder look at the demands placed upon you by work and consider making a change.
You Make Excuses to Get Through the Day
What do you say to people when they ask you about your work? Do you use phrases like “it pays the bills” or, “it’s just a job”? Worse still, do you have to give yourself a pep talk before going into the office every day, filled with elaborate excuses and justification for doing work that you hate?
Constantly diminishing the value of your work is sure to harm your mental health. If, like the average American, you work more than 34 hours a week, then you probably form much of your self-image based on your work identity. If that workplace persona isn’t one you’re proud of, your overall mental health will invariably suffer.
You Accept Burnout as the Norm
Corporate culture has hoodwinked us into believing that it's normal to collapse on the couch every evening and live in a perpetual cycle of overwork and burnout. However, your work is supposed to provide a service to society and grant you the financial freedom to do the things you love. It should not rob you of all your energy and time.
An easy way to assess whether or not you have accepted burnout as the norm is to engage in some introspection. Ask yourself when you last felt happy and relaxed in the evening after work. When was the last time you played a sport you enjoy? When did you last have the energy to do something spontaneous with your evening?
If you notice that your life is just a pattern of work and recovery, then it's quite likely that you’ve normalized burnout. This is an issue, as burnout is a chronic health hazard that reduces your workplace efficiency, depletes your overall energy, and leads you to feel cynical about your career.
Adapting Your Responsibilities
Before you send in your resignation letter, ask yourself whether or not a shift in responsibilities would change the way you feel about your work. Oftentimes, it’s not the workplace itself that is the issue, but, rather, that you are stuck in a rut or overburdened with too many tasks.
This is particularly true if you’re the kind of employee who feels guilty about asking for accommodations, yet is considered a top performer in your workplace. Managers may unwittingly give you more than you can handle and are completely unaware that your job is hurting your mental health.
If this sounds familiar, you need to pluck up the courage to speak to your manager honestly and openly. Tell them how you feel at work, and do your best to clearly explain which responsibilities or expectations are harming your mental health. A good manager will be open to suggestions, and will happily make reasonable accommodations to support your mental health and development.
Sometimes the only way to improve your mental health is to move on from your job and seek new employment. You shouldn’t feel any guilt when coming to this realization, as you do not owe corporations and for-profit businesses anything beyond your contracted obligations.
But, moving on can often be a major source of stress in itself. Compiling references, writing a CV, and interviewing is enough to raise anyone’s pulse and can easily become overwhelming. The key is to picture the result, and chip away at essential documents over time — the last thing you need is more burnout from the job-search process.
When looking for new job opportunities, prioritize roles that offer you a greater work-life balance. When searching for prospective employers, look out for roles that offer perks like flexi-time, remote work, and employee wellness programs. Even if you take a slight step down in salary, working for an employer that nourishes their worker’s well-being will help you see the bright side again, and you can always work towards promotions within a company that you love.
You will spend nearly a third of your life at work. While the work you do can be deeply rewarding, you shouldn't be afraid to admit when your job is overwhelming or simply unfulfilling. Instead of ignoring the problem, try to improve your work-life balance by asking for accommodations from managers or moving to a new role with a better work-life balance.