Is your job making you crazy? Spending 40+ hours per week in a stressful work environment can take a serious toll on both your mental and physical health. Job stress has been linked to conditions including anxiety, depression, ulcers, obesity, chronic back pain, high blood pressure, and heart disease. That "I hate my job" feeling could literally be making you sick.
But it’s not always easy to walk away from a bad job. I speak from experience. I learned about all of the sanity savers on this list the hard way – I stayed in a job I didn’t like for years before I worked up the courage to quit.
1. Make a Plan to Get Out
The most important first step is to get serious about changing your situation. You will be amazed at how much less aggravating your job can become once you have a solid plan to get out. Even the worst days are easier to bear if you know the end is in sight.
So think about what you can do to stop the madness – get off of that hellish project, transfer to a different department, replace that incompetent employee, or figure out how to quit your job and move on to something more fulfilling. What would it take to make things better? And then, what do you need to do to get there?
If your job is running you ragged, the idea of making time for planning can be daunting. That’s why so many people stay stuck in bad situations. But you have to prioritize your long-term health and happiness and find the time, even if that means your days become a little more hectic in the short term. The reward of a better job situation is well worth the temporary strain. We can’t depend on our employers to guide our career paths anymore. It is up to us to take charge. And if we don’t proactively plan, we run the risk of getting caught up in momentum toward goals we don’t even really want.
2. Take a Mental Health Day
One way to make time for hatching your escape plan is to take a mental health day. That’s right. Play hooky. Some of you Type A personalities may have trouble with this idea. However, if you’re on the verge of burnout and your employer refuses to let up the pace, you may have to take matters into your own hands.
A day away from the madness can be a great way to get some perspective. It’s easy to start taking work way too personally when you never have a chance to step back and view things objectively. At the same time, countless studies have found that people perform better when they have time away to refresh.
So you owe it to yourself and your company to take a day off if you’ve reached your limit. You can call in sick and you don’t even have to lie. You’re “not feeling well enough to come in.” After all, burnout can be just as debilitating as a bad cold.
3. Take a Walk
You don’t have to take a whole day off to benefit from a little mental health break. Even a ten-minute break to step away from your desk and take a few deep breaths can be beneficial when you’re feeling stressed out.
Even better, getting out of the office environment for a little bit longer can give you the space you need to figure out a better solution to the problem at hand or defuse a negative situation. When you’re feeling out of control or on the verge of saying or doing something you might regret, just walk away. Take a walk around the block or duck out to the gym and work out your negative energy.
Just stop what you’re doing, get away from the people who are getting on your last nerve, and focus your mind on something besides the cause of your stress. If you can, go outside for a breath of fresh air. Psychological studies have shown that gazing at views of nature can provide relief from mental fatigue and enhance competence.
4. Make Time for Activities that Energize You
All work and no play make Jack not only a dull boy, but also a very cranky one. If you’re not getting the fulfillment you need at work, you have to make time for your passions after hours. Without a regular dose of joy in your life, burnout is inevitable.
Think about what’s missing. Do you need a creative outlet? Do you long to be able to make a bigger difference in the world? Do you hunger for greater intellectual challenge? Look into hobbies, classes, or volunteer work that can help you fill the void. You may think you don’t have time for fun or fulfillment, but I can guarantee you that a little bit of inspiration will give you more energy and make your days much more pleasant.
5. Make Friends In and Out of the Office
Recent research studies show job satisfaction increases by nearly 50 percent when you have a close friend at work. It’s a lot more fun to come to the office when you have colleagues that you like and respect. Having friends at the office is even more important when you’re stuck in a miserable job. You need at least one trusted confidante that you can vent to. You can also benefit from the informed advice and support of colleagues who know all of the players and issues that you’re dealing with.
At the same time, make sure that you continue to cultivate a circle of interesting friends outside the office. The very act of getting away from work and work people to enjoy totally unrelated activities and discussions can be very rejuvenating. Spending time with “normal” people can also provide you with new and healthier perspectives on your work. You may even meet someone who can hire you or recommend you for a better job. You certainly won’t find job leads if you spend all of your evenings crying into your beer with the gang from the office.
6. Sleep On It
If you’re dealing with a stressful job, chances are good that you haven’t been getting enough sleep. When schedules get hectic, people tend to start cutting back on their sleep hours in order to fit everything in. We’ve all pulled an occasional all-nighter when an important project called for it. However, consistent neglect of your body’s natural need for sleep can make you more irritable and lead to significantly lower job satisfaction.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed, you may very well be better off going home to bed than working late. You’ll think more clearly in the morning and be more productive. Likewise, if you have a big decision to make or are feeling tempted to respond emotionally to a work conflict, try sleeping on the situation in order to get enough distance (and rest) to make an informed choice.
7. Book Your Vacation Now
Research has shown that workers who take regular vacations have lower stress levels and are less likely to experience burnout. Unfortunately, half of U.S. workers don’t take the vacation days they’re given. In fact, U.S. workers forfeited approximately 421 million vacation days in 2005.
If you’ve got vacation days coming, don’t put them off any longer. A vacation lets you recharge your batteries so that you can do a better job at work when you return. It can also give you time and distance to think about your job situation and how you’d like it to change.
Even if you can’t get away right now, you can schedule your trip and start planning your vacation activities. Scheduling your getaway now will give you something specific to look forward to and think about on those days when work feels like it will never get better.
8. Laugh It Off
Did you know that humor can reduce job stress, boost morale, strengthen workplace bonds, and even help ward off burnout? And here you thought all those stupid forwarded joke emails were complete wastes of time.
A little comedy can help you release tension and lighten up a bit. So keep your funniest friend’s phone number handy and call when you’re having a bad day. Upload sets by your favorite stand-up comics to your iPod and take a quick comedy break when you need one. After all, it’s physically impossible to feel totally miserable when you’re laughing.
9. Just Breathe
You may have heard this advice before, but it bears repeating. When things get tough, deep breathing can take you from crazed to calm in just a few minutes.
When we get stressed, we tend to start breathing more shallowly. As a result, our cells don’t get as much oxygen and when your brain cells don’t get enough oxygen, it’s hard to think clearly or calmly.
The best quick relief for feeling overwhelmed is to just breathe. Find a secluded or semi-secluded spot, close your eyes, and focus on taking deep slow breaths from your belly. Keep your mind on your breathing and refuse to be distracted by other thoughts or outside noises, if only for a minute or two. This process will help you get that oxygen to your brain while also clearing out unproductive thoughts. It can be a great temporary fix when you’re feeling frazzled.
10. Get Some Help
If you’ve tried everything that you can think of to make your bad job tolerable and you’re still suffering, it may be time to call in some outside help. Working with a career counselor or coach could help you more clearly identify the root causes of your job misery and explore solutions that you haven’t thought about. If your work situation is having a serious emotional impact, you may prefer to speak with a counselor or therapist.
There’s no need to suffer in silence and no shame in asking for help. They don’t give out medals for bravely enduring terrible jobs.
If your job is affecting your mental or your physical health, you owe it to yourself to do whatever you can to make the situation better. While your ultimate goal may be a better job, these ten tips can help you keep your sanity until you’re ready to give your notice.
Do you have additional ideas for minimizing stress in a horrible job? Share your stories and advice and add to the list.