Here’s a stat that’ll surprise exactly no one who’s toiling away at work all day: About 61% of us say we’re highly stressed on the job and extremely fatigued because of it, according to a 2019 StressPulseSM survey.

And all of that stress doesn’t exactly stop once you leave the workplace. It affects almost every facet of your life. “When work environments are stressful it can be harmful to your health, impacting things like blood pressure, headaches, muscle aches, sleep, and physical activity,” says Mayra Mendez, Ph.D., a psychotherapist in Santa Monica, California. “But it also affects your self-esteem and emotional stability.” For instance, the excess cortisol (aka “the stress hormone”) released in times of stress can up rates of agitation, anger, irritability, distractibility and poor concentration. “It even increases your likelihood of experiencing symptoms of depression and anxiety,” says Mendez.

The upshot? You have more control over how your 9-to-5 stress influences your mind, body and spirit than you think. Here, 4 common stress-inducing workplace scenarios and how to turn them around.

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#1: The Toxic Boss

The Toll: Seventy-six percent of workers have (or have recently dealt with) a toxic boss, according to a 2018 survey from the job search site Monster. “These types of bosses cut you down, finger point, engage in power play, and lead from a place of fear,” says Betty Kempa, an executive career change coach in San Francisco. “It all can feel quite isolating.” Moreover, folks working under a toxic boss score higher on a clinical measure of depression and they’re more likely to engage in workplace bullying themselves, according to research out of the University of Manchester in the U.K.

The Turnaround: Not all bad bosses are toxic, some are just poor managers. (The latter is more fixable.) To find out which you’re dealing with, have a conversation about what’s bothering you. “Your boss can’t fix what she doesn’t realize she’s doing,” says Kempa. But before you get into the convo, get into her head. “Try to understand the motivation. For instance, is your boss receiving a lot of pressure from her boss?” says Kempa. Next, approach your boss with compassion and understanding. “She’s more apt to let her guard down that way,” says Kempa. In the end, if you determine that the poison runs too deep, pivot your focus away from your boss and onto your job performances—something you have control over. Another thing you have control over? Planning your what’s-next.

#2: Impostor Syndrome

The Toll: If you feel like a fraud at work, but you’re really actually a pretty capable and well-qualified person, you’ve been struck with Imposter Syndrome. “You likely discount your achievements and constantly feel like you’re not good enough,” says Lauren Appio, Ph.D., a psychologist and career coach in New York City. “This can lead to a pervasive fear about being ‘found out,’ worrying that any one mistake is going to bring your unworthiness to light.” The thing is, it’s likely not you, but your work culture. “Micromanagement or being in a highly competitive environment where colleagues are pitted against each other, are big triggers,” says Appio, adding that Imposter Syndrome is rampant amongst women of all races; folks of color; disabled people, and those with additional marginalized identities.

The Turnaround: The most effective way to conquer Impostor Syndrome is to reach out to people outside of your career space for support, notes a 2019 study in the Journal of Vocational Behavior. Researchers found that these folks are better able to help you see the big picture of your overall abilities. On the flip, seeking support from those on the same track can actually make your syndrome worse. The best news? The study also found that experiencing Impostor Syndrome has close to zero relationship to your actual performance.

#3: The Always-On Mentality

The Toll: In the age of remote work, constantly refreshing emails on your phone, IM, Slack, and everything in between, it’s almost impossible to escape from the 9-to-supposed 5. “If you can’t unplug from work, you end up neglecting your self-care and relationships, which can tank your mood and lead to chronic, unmanaged stress,” says Appio. To wit: A 2018 report in the journal Academy of Management found that the expectation that you’ll be available via email during non work hours is detrimental to your health and well-being and the health and well-being of your family. And, how’s this for a kick in the teeth: You don’t even have to jump on a work email to experience the harmful effects. The mere expectation of availability is enough to do you in.

The Turnaround: “Many fear they’ll lose their job if they leave work at a reasonable hour or have limits on availability,” says Appio. “And in some cases those are reasonable concerns.” However, too many people have never actually tried to set limits in the first place. “The truth is, you may find that you’re more respected when you clearly communicate your boundaries at work,” says Appio. Start small by delegating a task to someone else and/or practicing assertive delay, which means instead of saying ‘yes’ right away, say you need some time to think about it. Take your full lunch break away from your desk. See how people respond, and gradually build your boundary setting from there.”

#4: The Autopilot Mode 

The Toll: Punch in, punch out, and a whole lot of the same ol same ol in between. Sound familiar? It turns out, about 47% of the time, we’re on autopilot, meaning we’re simply not focused on the task at hand, according to a study in the journal Science. Worse, researchers found that simply going-through-the-motions makes a lot of us unhappy—and a 2017 report noted that a mere 38% of those operating on autopilot felt that they were “living life to the full.”

The Turnaround: If you’re knee-deep in this zone-out routine and looking to change, ask yourself how you got there. Are you afraid of change? Have you given up on gaining fulfillment from work? Has your job been exactly the same for eons? (Research shows that lack of continuous learning at work may be sapping your spirit, leaving working disengaged and unfulfilled.) “Write down all that you want out of your job, plus when and why you stopped pushing yourself,” says Tami West, Ph.D., author of The Stress Club. “This will help you figure out how to right the ship.” At the same time, know that, for some, choosing to show up, leave on time, and cut back on your workload is healthy. “For those who’ve decided to take their power and not live in a culture of constant pressure and stress—autopilot could be great!”

Three Things That Make Workers Happy

Tapping your strengths “The opportunity to make use of your skills at work fosters a sense of self-efficacy, which is a boon for happiness” says Appio. “Feeling like you’re not good at your job is a huge source of burn out.”

Feeling appreciated “For some, this could be in the form of a promotion or a raise, but for others it’s as simple as your boss stopping by your desk with a ‘thank you for working on that project’ or an email reading ‘job well done,’” says Kempa. “This allows people to be heard, seen, and most importantly feel valued.”

Fostering connections Women who have a best friend at work are more than twice as likely to be engaged and happy in the workplace than those who don’t, according to a Gallup Poll. In fact, two-thirds of women note that the social aspect of the job is a major reason why they work. “Having a relationship with your boss is important, too,” says Kempa. “You want to feel like your boss is in your corner. After all, people leave bosses, not jobs.”

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Last Updated: Jul 15, 2021