Surviving in a Toxic Workplace…

18 May 2017
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… or school… or club… or even home!

Most people can empathise with this, we’ve all worked in (or are still working in) an environment which drags us down. It could be the company ethics, physical conditions, work colleagues, hours – the list goes on. In most cases we feel stuck, disempowered and unable to change the now. This could be due to financial pressures, location, age, lack of other options, etc. Whatever the reason we feel unable to move on, even though we know this is not a healthy place to be.

And it’s subjective: one person’s toxic environment is another person’s ideal… In the media recently (May 2017) was news of a PPI call centre that used forfeit games to boost competition between its sales teams, in this case it was Squid Forfeit (Radio2 link: click on the link below, go forward to time 1:09 for the item). The losing team had a dead squid lowered onto their faces – imagine that!
Now, for some of the staff this is all fun and high jinx, it makes the office a livelier place to be, but for others this might be perceived as a bullying culture. If they refuse to take part they might look like a killjoy or even singled out by management as a problem, not a team player, so the pressure is there to fit in, not make a fuss…
And partly this desire to fit in drives many of our decisions. As we developed from cavemen to our modern incarnation we learned that living in groups ensured our better survival, we were more vulnerable to predators on our own in the wild. So we developed social hierarchies and behaviours, and at the root was the desire to belong. As well as safety we also seek love, companionship, respect, shared experiences, a sense of belonging… and this still exists today. We might not be dodging wild animals but we still need to live within social groups for our well-being.
When we spend a large proportion of our time in a toxic environment that has a great impact on all areas of our lives, it’s bound to affect our character and leak into home, work, etc. It is very difficult to completely shut the door on it at the end of the day.
So how can we cope, how can we learn to live with this? Assuming there are reasons not to leave we can have some coping strategies up our sleeve:
7/11 Breathing
This is a simple technique designed to calm the fight/flight mechanism we all have. It can be used as a preventative to centre yourself (before leaving the car and entering the workplace) or as a way to calm yourself when already in an emotionally aroused state (after an argument)
Take a deep slow breath in through the nose all the way down to your belly, counting to 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7
Pause a moment
Breathe out slowly through the mouth, counting to 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11 – this letting go through the mouth is similar to a long sigh, it might even give a greater sense of release to make a noise when breathing out
Repeat this cycle 6 or 7 times, counting each cycle and the 7/11 through the breaths
This technique has physical impacts:
the act of counting calms the mind
the deep slow breathing calms the nervous system, slowing the heart rate and encouraging breathing back into a normal pattern
it breaks the tension, takes you out of the situation, allows a heightened emotional situation to defuse
Find a Friend
Being able to talk about the issues with someone also in the same situation can be a huge stress reliever. It means you can ‘dump’ on each other, with someone who understands the people, work involved, environment without needing to explain characters or nuances. It also means you are more able to leave the problem at work and not feel the need to off-load at home – to a partner who may also have had a trying day or who doesn’t understand the dynamics of your workplace. You are not looking for solutions here, simply being able to get it off your chest and perhaps have a laugh at the situation, not wallow in it.
Build a Buffer
We often move straight from work into home life without allowing ourselves time to adjust, to switch gears from the work ‘you’ to family/father/mother ‘you’.
It is a very common scenario for a working parent to come through the door to be faced with a tired/stressed out partner who just wants to throw an over-tired child at them – the desire to turn around and run is not as uncommon as you might think! And this doesn’t make the working parent (or home parent) a bad one, they just need to put a little space between work and home – a buffer zone to prepare mentally for the shift in pace.
This could be created by going to the gym on the way home, or sitting for 10 minutes in the car listening to music or a relaxation audio, a stop on the way home for a coffee or walking home from the station… whatever works in your life. This could make the difference between a tired, stressed mum or dad walking through the door, and one ready to wade straight into family life to take the overtired child and calm them, allowing the partner a little space, a buffer zone of their own.
Try Some Therapy
Imagine in your brain you have an area where all your stresses, problems, worries go. In Solution Focused Hypnotherapy we call it a stress bucket. If you’re under a lot of stress or worry, the bucket fills and eventually overflows which is when we see symptoms such as depression, panic attacks, under- and over-eating, turning to alcohol, smoking, poor sleep, etc.
There are two ways to control your stress bucket:
limit the amount you put in your bucket
empty it
Talking therapies such as CBP, NLP counselling and Hypnotherapy are all useful ways of dealing with your stress bucket. In SF Hypnotherapy we use psychotherapy techniques underlined with hypnosis to help you through the process to changing your life. This doesn’t necessarily mean huge changes like moving jobs or leaving home (although it might give you the confidence to leave that toxic place), it could simply give you the tools to cope with your situation better.
By ensuring your stress bucket is not full you allow yourself ‘spare capacity’ to deal with problems or situations arising that would overwhelm you otherwise. In SFH we don’t focus on the past, we don’t delve into problems and re-live traumas but rather we look to the future – where you want to be. And we can guide you towards that preferred future, the ‘real you’.
Working with a therapist also allows you to talk things through in a non-judgemental way, without any repercussions from closer friends or family knowing, effectively you ‘borrow a brain’ to talk your way to a more positive future with guidance from your therapist.
Live your Life
Invest in your life outside the workplace (or outside home if that is where the issue lies). Enjoy your friends, family, hobbies, pets, etc all those reasons why we get up to go to work in the first place:
By ensuring we enjoy times outside work we can give ourselves a reason for enduring the time in work and try to bring the home ‘you’ to work, not the other way around – don’t let a negative workplace influence the person you are.
Being mindful, or present, is an important part of enjoying that time – that is living your life in real time, not through a mobile video upload, or Facebook posting. Look at the people surrounding you, talk to them, laugh with them and create memories that you can re-play in your mind – just the act of remembering a happy time floods the body with Serotonin, the happy hormone, which can lift your mood.
And if you are stuck in a toxic workplace, home life, school or other, bear in mind that reality is often less painful than our imagination would have us believe: we think we won’t find a new job so it’s better to stick with the devil you know, etc. In reality we can deal with the situation, whatever it is, as it happens. Fear of the unknown is far scarier than actually facing those demons – they usually turn out to be whimps!
If you would like to know more about how Solution Focused Hypnotherapy can help you, contact me for a chat or email:
01798 344879

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