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This is how you can safeguard your mental health in a toxic work environment

A toxic environment can be detrimental to your mental health, this is why self-preservation is key when walking away is not yet possible. Here, Registered Counsellor, Melissa Smith offers tips and advice to help you cope.

Conversations around mental health continue to take centre stage but that doesn’t always translate in real time as we navigate life’s challenges. Noting that mental health has gained substantial recognition in the dynamic and professional landscape, Melissa says amidst the progression, “many workplaces still perpetuate toxic environments, posing a severe threat to the well-being of employees.” Cautioning that the consequences of neglecting mental health in such settings are profound, impacting not only individuals but also the productivity and culture of organizations.

“Toxic work environments breed stress, anxiety, and a sense of constant unease. These atmospheres often involve high levels of competition, lack of support, micromanagement, or even instances of harassment.” Further noting that employees in such settings commonly experience a range of detrimental effects on their mental health, including burnout, depression, and decreased self-worth. “This, in turn, affects personal relationships, sleep patterns, and physical health, resulting in a downward spiral of overall functionality,” she says.

Melissa asserts that contrary to common misconceptions, neglecting mental health doesn't only affect individuals. “It substantially impacts an organization's productivity and culture. Employees grappling with mental health issues are likely to experience reduced efficiency, absenteeism, and high turnover rates. Moreover, a toxic work environment fosters distrust, hinders collaboration, and stifles innovation, ultimately tarnishing the organization's reputation.” Affirming that there are steps you can take to preserve your mental well-being, she says “this includes setting boundaries, seeking support from colleagues or professionals, practicing self-care, and knowing when to seek help.”

There is power in numbers when tackling a toxic environment as it requires a collective effort from both employers and employees. “It involves a cultural shift within organizations, where mental health isn't just acknowledged but actively supported and integrated into everyday practices.” And she asserts that as we move forward, fostering environments that prioritize mental health becomes not just a necessity but a moral imperative. “Only by acknowledging, addressing, and combating toxicity can we create workplaces that not only thrive but also nurture the mental well-being of those within them,” she adds.

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Below, she offers practical tools to help you preserve your mental health in a toxic environment:

Establish Boundaries:

Define clear boundaries between work and personal life. Avoid bringing work-related stress home and set specific times for work-related activities to prevent constant immersion.

Practice Mindfulness:

Incorporate mindfulness techniques into daily routines. This might involve meditation, deep breathing exercises, or even short breaks during the workday to center yourself and alleviate stress.

Seek Support:

Connect with colleagues or friends outside of work who can provide emotional support. Having a support system helps in venting frustrations and gaining perspective on the situation.

Utilize Resource:

Take advantage of any mental health resources offered by the company, such as counselling services or employee assistance programs. These resources can provide professional guidance and support.

Focus on Self-care:

Prioritize self-care activities that promote relaxation and rejuvenation. Engage in hobbies, exercise regularly, maintain a healthy diet, and ensure sufficient sleep to bolster mental resilience.

Communication Skills:

Develop assertive communication skills to address issues or conflicts in a professional manner. Express concerns or discomfort with toxic situations to appropriate authorities or HR, if necessary.

Identify triggers:

Recognize specific triggers within the work environment that exacerbate stress or anxiety. Understanding these triggers allows for better preparation and coping strategies.

Take Breaks:

Regularly step away from the work environment, even if just for a few minutes, to recharge and refocus. Short breaks can significantly reduce stress levels and increase productivity.

Seek Outside Help:

Consider seeking guidance from a mental health professional outside of the workplace if the toxicity begins to significantly impact mental well-being. Therapists or counsellors can provide coping strategies and support tailored to the situation.

Remember, each individual copes differently, so it's essential to explore and find what works best for personal mental health preservation. Regularly reassess strategies and adjust as needed to navigate through challenging work environments while prioritizing mental well-being.

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