How to Deal With a Toxic Work Environment

April 21, 2015

How to Deal with a Toxic Work Environment

Many people are fortunate enough to never have to encounter a job where a boss is toxic, the work environment is soul-sucking, or the colleagues and people around you drain you of all energy (or sadly all of the above). Unfortunately, many do have the absolute pleasure of sticking with a job that is completely draining on mind, body, and soul.

Recently, I left a position that was the definition of a toxic work environment and completely the opposite of one that would nurture and make me grow as both a professional and a human. I dreaded Mondays more than any normal human being should, and eventually I broke down and quit.

I was, at the time, very grateful to even have a job as a fresh graduate, but the stress on my being wasn’t worth it in long run. While it did take me far too long to pack up and leave the position- hey, a girl’s gotta pay bills- I was able to turn to many trusted friends and mentors to gather many coping strategies and ways to bring more joy to the environment that I did have to face daily.

Make Time for Yourself & Take Care of Your Body

Early in my position, I didn’t set very clear work/life balance boundaries and found myself on-call 24/7, coming in early in the mornings and leaving long after the sun set. Establishing a personal care routine helped me alleviate some of the stressors and toxicity of my position and ultimately helped me deal with my environment a bit better. I made sure to get enough sleep, drink water, and eat healthfully, but I also started to make time for the activities that I truly enjoyed. Stopping by at the Farmer’s Market on a Saturday morning to pick out fresh vegetables became a light at the end of my work week, and I also made sure to continue going for my outdoor runs that made me so happy- even in the dead of winter. Making time to do the activities that you enjoy and taking care of your physical being, will allow you to enjoy your week a bit more, removing some of the toxic energy.


My favorite part of taking care of myself- fresh vegetables!


There were some days that were much more difficult to deal with than others, and many times, I would get so overwhelmed by emotions that I would break down in the bathroom. After re-evaluating what I could be doing differently to avoid having a breakdown, I realized that sometimes I just needed to sit for a moment and take a few deep breaths. These short moments helped me regain clarity, stabilize my mood, and ultimately take control of any overbearing emotions I may have felt.

Bring Joy to Your Workspace & Avoid Negativity When Possible

I absolutely dreaded going to my work place until a friend suggested I stash a few things I really love there and decorate my desk with things that brought me joy every day. Since I worked in a basement office with no windows, I brought a few plants to put on my desk during the week (including the little guy in the photo below) and started keeping candy and loose leaf tea that I really loved in my desk drawer. Knowing I had a few things that brought me joy on my workspace made my days a bit more enjoyable 🙂

I also stopped going out for drinks with coworkers and avoided workplace gossip. It simply fueled the negativity in the office and started to take a toll on both my mental health as well as my view of my self-worth. I, instead, started running with an old coworker of mine after work, who not only filled me with uplifting thought, but also reminded me that I was a valued friend and person, regardless of any toxic situation I may be in.


This little guy helped me bring a little joy to my workplace 🙂

Focus on Learning & Growth

While it was easy for me to only focus on the negatives of my job, I realized (a little bit too late) that every task that I was assigned had some point for growth. Whether it was long nights of Excel spreadsheets, or better proactive management skills, I did always have something to learn and could use the opportunity to hone office skills a bit more. Focus on learning significant skills in your position and use the time for growth- both mentally and professionally!

Do Your Best & Try, Try, Try Not to Take Anything Personally 

In every situation, do the best job you can. Not only is self-validation generally more rewarding than coming from those who make the work day a bit less enjoyable, but you’ll also continue to solidify your reputation as a reliable worker. Do not give into the temptations of giving up on your work, and always conduct yourself with integrity- word gets out fast about hard workers!

As difficult it may be, also try to not take anything that someone negatively says or does personally. You cannot control what other people say or do but you can control how you feel and how you handle a situation afterwards. One of my favorite sayings that I used to have pinned to my wall was “water off of a duck’s back.” Instead of being the usual “sponge” with emotions that I was, I tried very hard to let actions and words simply roll off of my back, instead of bringing down my entire mood. This allowed me to save my energy to find a new job with both a positive work environment and people.

What about you, dumplings? How do you deal with toxic environments? 

Related: How to Deal with Toxic People

 How to Stay Motivated When You Feel Like Shutting Down

Also by Karina: How to Take Feedback Graciously

4 Mini Vacations for Mental Health


Photo: Helga Weber via Flickr; Karina Alexander

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Peaceful Dumpling is used for articles written by staff writers and freelance contributors who wish to remain unidentified.


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