Mental hygiene - work edition
May 22, 2018 3:41 AM   Subscribe

I have a lot of mean coworkers, and I can't afford to get upset because I have too many commitments this year. Please share your mental hygiene / survival tips!

It's temporary (so not interested in 'quit your job!' comments). I also do on some level appreciate I'm learning things about being resilient and assertiveness so my attitude is fairly even-handed I think. But I would be very grateful for tips and tricks for mentally rinsing off resentment /disgust /negativity after a long day from being around low-empathy people with fragile egos (I think from comparing notes with my friends from college that this is objectively a bad situation). There's just a lot of close-mindedness and unecessary cruelty that I see and can't help but absorb all the time. I have commitments after work and I can't afford to waste time blerging the negativity every day.

I will try to speed up the leaving process, but in the meantime, I would love some tips on how to stay defiantly happy around mean / rude / judgmental people for 50+ hrs a week.

Things that do help me
  • exercise
  • meditating occasionaly
  • earplugs at work
  • made 1 work ally / friend
  • I have an 'encouragement' pinterest board

  • Anything else? Any apparent blind spots? Thank you for your help!
    posted by Crookshanks_Meow to Work & Money (23 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
    This is not meant to encourage you to be a better person, it’s a purely cynical way of protecting your own mental health. But if you can manage to be sympathetically concerned for and analytical about what must be wrong in the lives/psyches of the jerks making your life difficult, I find it’s a good way of distancing myself from the actual discomfort they’re causing me.
    posted by LizardBreath at 4:09 AM on May 22, 2018 [21 favorites]

    Yeah, practising detachment, and detached pity as a subset of detachment works well for me.

    1) Stop caring at all about what these people think, about you or anyone; they've shown you enough of themselves to let you make a good decision about how much weight their opinions deserve and how much of your brain space the stuff they say should take up (in both cases, sounds like basically none).

    2) Start feeling sorry for them in a way that's more like "wow, it's a real shame (for you and for everyone else) that your life experiences and internal makeup have made you such an asshole" rather than "oh no another human is suffering"-type pity. I do this with my abusive mother a lot - like, yeah she's being really cruel to me right now for reasons that aren't really about me, but isn't it so sad that she got to the age of 60 without being able to learn the level of emotional awareness and self-soothing than the average child is able to tap into? Pity them like the sad, stunted emotional children that they are and see if that takes some of the sting out of it.
    posted by terretu at 4:16 AM on May 22, 2018 [11 favorites]

    Can you wear noise-cancelling headphones or listen to music? That will help tune out some of the ambient noise (and I do mean noise).

    Edit: I see that you already do that - wise choice.

    and good for you for having made a work ally in that environment! I hope something better comes your way soon.
    posted by Sheydem-tants at 4:31 AM on May 22, 2018 [1 favorite]

    I've often found that if I make myself go around with a big, serene smile long enough, eventually it starts to "soak in" and make me actually feel like smiling. Also, lots of deep breathing from the diaphragm because oxygen makes you feel good.
    posted by The Underpants Monster at 5:14 AM on May 22, 2018 [2 favorites]

    It might be trite, but I always remember that everyone is going through something that we have no idea about. That, and I occasionally listen to R.E.M. sing "Everybody Hurts" because it helps remind me, and because I freakin' love R.E.M. :)
    posted by Major Matt Mason Dixon at 5:22 AM on May 22, 2018 [2 favorites]

    I’ve found that remembering the phrase “This job is what I DO, it is not who I AM” helps me keep work negativity in perspective.
    posted by bookmammal at 5:23 AM on May 22, 2018 [6 favorites]

    A helpful breathing technique that can be done anytime, anywhere is a variation on belly breathing called pause breath. It's basically gently breathing fully into the belly, simply noticing that fraction of a second pause that occurs before the exhale, then fully exhaling. You don't have to hold the breath, just noticing the pause is sufficient. Repeat that sequence of inhaling from the belly, noticing the pause, and exhaling at least a few more times. This activates the parasympathetic nervous system and helps diffuse the harmful effects of the negativity you are experiencing.
    posted by jazzbaby at 5:27 AM on May 22, 2018 [5 favorites]

    Oh hi you're me. Or almost, since my job is not necessarily" temporary" in the sense that it's a permanent contract, but still.

    That being said, one of the thoughts I've found most helpful over the past...3.5 years in a deeply toxic office (where as a bonus I am the designated buttmonkey/ostracised exchange student) is how VERY temporary these people are in your life. It's almost impossible to keep in mind when you're in the thick of it, physically at the office, but at home and away from it I'm able to realise that I may as well drag around anger at the bitchy behaviour of, I don't know, my nextdoor neighbours. It's deeply unpleasant to be in such close proximity, but it's 1) highly common, 2) so, so, SO much more to do with their own headspace than with you. It is literally BENEATH you to care about these people beyond defending your immediate interests (standing up against actual bullying, etc.).

    I also compare shitty people who upset me to the coolest people I've known. Not just friends and others who have liked me personally, but people I've admired (including other, decent colleagues). Does anyone great/happy/truly cool act this way? No. Fuck no. They're too busy being amazing to crap on other people. Whoever these people are and whatever is driving their behaviour, it ain't the kind of talent, creativity, or goodness that would make their opinions matter or their actions worth interpreting as anything other than evidence that they suck. I am serious.

    Meditating does help, both to realise how much unnecessary space you might be giving this in your head, and how many OTHER things there are to think about than these jerks. It also helps to pay attention to your reactions.

    Finally, just because they're all operating on the same abysmal level, doesn't mean they also aren't noticing and being angry about everyone ELSE'S crap behaviour. I agonised for, oh, two years? about the snotty shitty cool-girl clique at work being mean to me, before discovering that no really, they were all also doing it to each other, and bitching about it to anyone who would listen. They all secretly (or not so secretly) hate each other and are miserable.

    In all I'd say extreme detachment, within the limits of what will allow you to effectively do your job, is the way to go here until you can peace out. Don't burn any bridges (since modern corporate life is an unrelieved hellscape of fakery and tit-for-tat and you don't want anything concrete to be able to come back to bite you), but just show up, hit your deadlines, make the minimum of small talk and GTFO as soon as possible.
    posted by peakes at 5:46 AM on May 22, 2018 [4 favorites]

    I would love some tips on how to stay defiantly happy around mean / rude / judgmental people for 50+ hrs a week.

    I have this thing I do during meetings with very rude/hard people where I remind myself that they are this way with everyone, not just me. Their anger and judgment is not a reflection on the worthiness of my ideas or contributions but the prism with which they see the world. It helps me dismiss tone, snarky comments, and ask focused questions like "specifically what about this idea could be better" and see if there is substance behind the attitude.
    posted by notorious medium at 5:51 AM on May 22, 2018 [4 favorites]

    Nth-ing the practice of detachment and analyzing what must be so wrong in their lives. I have also found it incredibly helpful to actually write it down in a small pocket notebook (use code names and keep your notebook safe, of course). For some reason writing it down is a lot more effective for me, and helps me to stop ruminating.
    posted by redwaterman at 5:53 AM on May 22, 2018 [4 favorites]

    I worked in an office with people like this and had an office next to one of the more toxic people. I asked to have my office moved (for an unrelated reason, but really it was to get away from this person.) It helped enormously, more than I thought it would.
    posted by eleslie at 6:07 AM on May 22, 2018 [1 favorite]

    Pick some of these mean people and try to connect with them on a personal level. Do they have kids? Like to garden? Follow sports? Did they just come back from a fun vacation? Take the time to ask them genuinely about something that matters to them. Almost everyone has something to talk about that will put a smile on their face. Having a good interaction here and there may help make your experience at work more positive.
    posted by beyond_pink at 6:25 AM on May 22, 2018 [1 favorite]

    Build a routine for detaching as you go home/when you first get home.

    Change your clothes, have a shower, wash your hands, put on music you love for five minutes, give yourself something nice to do (cup of tea, small pleasant snack, whatever). That's so you don't stew on the awful bits once you're out of them. You may want to layer steps, depending on your commute and schedule (i.e. music you love while commuting, changing when you get home).

    In similar situations, I found changing clothes made a big difference - it got me very quickly out of the work mindset, especially if what you change into is not something you'd wear to work for whatever reason.
    posted by modernhypatia at 6:29 AM on May 22, 2018 [6 favorites]

    I second changing clothes and even taking a shower or bath when you get home.
    posted by desuetude at 6:54 AM on May 22, 2018 [1 favorite]

    I find it helpful to remember how toxic working environments often are, and how the structural poison of living under “workplace efficiency” models has embittered people before their time. It helps me view it as tragic rather than personal.
    posted by corb at 7:34 AM on May 22, 2018 [6 favorites]

    Work from home as much as you can.
    posted by crazycanuck at 8:15 AM on May 22, 2018 [1 favorite]

    Take your vaca days, your sick days, your personal days, your 15-minute breaks, your remote work days-- don't wait til you're fed up, take them as mental health maintenance.

    Eat lunch outdoors or at a cute spot.

    Get a new compelling outside of work activity (even a gripping book) to look forward to.

    Venting is only helpful up to a point. Do it if you need to unpack a specific situation, but daily bitching can sometimes lock you into a negative headspace-- you're not being paid to worry and rage so they shouldn't get your energy off the clock.

    Physically leave hostile or unproductive situations-- don't make a big thing of it, just go refill your water, make a cup of tea, walk to the farthest restroom, etc.

    If someone is being really mean, it's okay to say something like "that's pretty harsh" or "I don't know if it's necessary to criticize X when it might be more helpful to focus on Y" if you can keep yourself from engaging in further back and forth. Sometimes all it takes for a culture to start to change is for others who might feel the way you do to see they're not alone. And you might take less stress home if you know you've done what you can to move to a more positive environment.

    I picture a particularly rude demanding coworker as a red-faced baby shaking a rattle.
    posted by kapers at 9:33 AM on May 22, 2018 [10 favorites]

    I've dealt with similar things at paid and volunteer jobs before, and I admit that one reason why I wound up on disability is that at the time, I just couldn't handle these people. I've been working on this in therapy. "Their bad behavior is a reflection of their crappy skills, not you," she said. "Ignore them. It'll starve the behavior."

    Is there anyone on Team You who you can make plans with or at least talk to for a distraction and dose of kindness? You might like planning fun activities after work so that you have something to look forward to while you're trying to get through the day. For example, if you like to cook, maybe you could go to a cooking class.

    I'm grateful that I came across this post because it makes me feel less like "The world is out to get Social Science Nerd" and more like "The world can be a difficult place, but it's possible to cope."
    posted by Social Science Nerd at 10:05 AM on May 22, 2018 [2 favorites]

    Along with meditation, I joined a Bhuddist philosophy study group when I was working in a stressful environment, and it actually helped quite a bit.

    But it's funny because I ended up coming away with the opposite of what was explicitly preached. Bhuddism teaches detachment, but meditation brought suppressed anger to the surface. I eventually realized that this anger was from avoiding conflict by ignoring verbal abuse constantly thrown at me. I didn't change into a different person, but I did start to not put up with crap, and to call out verbal abuse more often, and that actually helped in my case. Of course, the real cure is leaving in the end.
    posted by ovvl at 10:39 AM on May 22, 2018 [2 favorites]

    A bit of a twist on the trying to empathize with the meanies: the Car Talk guys once told a story about an uncle of theirs who would watch an aggressive driver, shrug and say "They must have really bad diarrhea." Something about the combination of humanizing the other person, but doing so with a lovely helping of the absurd has totally helped me out in these situations. So empathize, but do so with a twist of the ridiculous. What is the most silly reason a person could be acting like that? Observe the behavior, sadly shake your head to yourself and empathize with their diarrhea.
    posted by goggie at 11:57 AM on May 22, 2018 [1 favorite]

    Ramp up your magnesium. It's helped my mood. Also, it has a laxative effect so you'll get to spend quality time away from them while you're in the restroom. Good luck!
    posted by rubberduh at 12:22 PM on May 22, 2018 [1 favorite]

    Something about the combination of humanizing the other person, but doing so with a lovely helping of the absurd has totally helped me out in these situations.

    Sort of a variation on being less intimidated by imagining your intimidators in their underwear.
    posted by The Underpants Monster at 12:51 PM on May 22, 2018 [1 favorite]

    As a customer service tech support rep my jerky work people issue is primarily mean customers than coworkers. After particularly challenging calls I need to shake off the bad juju or it follows me the rest of the day with all the other calls I take. After I'm done with a bad-bad call I sometimes go for a brief, medium-paced walk around our parking lot, just enough to get my heart moving and so I'm v. slightly out of breath when I walk back into the office. It doesn't fix, but it does help.
    posted by mcbeth at 7:48 AM on May 24, 2018 [1 favorite]

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