What to do when your job is slowly killing you

Don't let this become your life.
Don’t let this become your life.

I’ve always worked. I started babysitting at age 10, then held down 4 different jobs (all at once, what was I thinking?!) during college.  I like knowing I have an income, I do not want to feel like I am financially dependent on someone else (it doesn’t take a psychologist to know this is the outcome of being raised by a single mother).

I have a lot of experience in customer service, the food industry, academia, the for profit and not-for-profit world.  I have found a niche in all these areas and have learned a lot about what a good work environment can do and what a toxic work environment feels like.  The common denominator, in my experience, is management.  I am not a manager, but I’ve had plenty of bosses!

It took me some time, but I realize my job happiness is 99% dependent on management style. I could have the most mundane and mind-numbing job, but if I have a wonderfully inspiring boss – I LOVE work.  Likewise, if I love the work I do, but I feel like I am unappreciated or treated poorly… my job slowly starts to kill my spirit.

I am someone who thrives on validation and social support. If my work environment does not provide these innate qualities I so badly need, it fosters ill-will and I can feel my soul getting crushed.  Am I being dramatic?  Perhaps, but I also work 40 hours a week, so this is A LOT of time spent in an unhappy situation.

4 easy ways to tell if your job is slowly crushing your spirit
  1. You look at your days off as your lifeline to keep going. You would not survive without your time off from work and/or vacation days.
  2. You dread Mondays (or whichever day your work week starts) because you feel like the weight momentarily lifted is being placed squarely back on your shoulders, and it’s heavier now.
  3. You have a physical reaction to working – this could come in the form of heartburn, migraine headaches, or trouble sleeping. These can be associated with work stress (and should be addressed).
  4. You need to medicate yourself to keep working (this could be in the form of an anti-anxiety or anti-depressant). This sounds extreme, but I have known many people who have turned to pills to manage their work-induced stress and physical symptoms. Take a step back and ask yourself if this is what your professional life should look like. No one starts a job thinking they will eventually need to take a pill to handle going to work.
2 Things you can do if your job is slowly killing your soul
  1. Communicate with your boss and try to make a change. Like any good relationship, communication is key. Still, there may not be much within your control to address the issues bringing you down at work. For example, how do you tell a boss to stop being horrible to you? How do you tell them their management style and skills are seriously lacking? You can try to find ways to bring light and happiness to a dark situation. Perhaps you could discuss work goals during a yearly review (or request a meeting to discuss this specifically) and talk about different objectives you would like to accomplish which would bring you joy – like taking a course or training to learn a new skill, or take on a new project you are personally passionate about but your manager had no idea you are interested in. If you have an overwhelming workload, talk about ways to prioritize your tasks together. You may have options you’re not aware of, but you will not know until you communicate with your boss. Like most things in life, you need to be your own advocate and no one (especially your manager) is going to step up and say, “Hey, you look unhappy, what can I do to help you?” If your manager DOES say this, then WOW. That’s awesome.
  2. Give yourself the freedom to make a big change. If you are not getting the support you need at work, it may not be the best place for you to work. This is a bold statement, but if you’re not happy, it’s time to find a job where you will be happy. Change is hard and scary, people worry about losing benefits and health insurance, but comparing health insurance coverage to a lifetime of unhappiness… it’s no contest. For health insurance, there are other options, but I know they are less convenient and much more expensive, but still juxtaposed against working in misery… my choice is clear. I am all for getting thrifty and finding ways to cut costs to justify a change. Your happiness is worth it.
My personal work hell

It wasn’t until I switched jobs I realized I was probably depressed while working at the job I left. I did not feel valued, I felt like I was owned and needed to account for every move I made in and out of the office (even on days off!).  I often felt dumb and like I was only 2 inches tall.  I would come home and cry to my husband out of frustration and sadness.  I was being uber micro-managed by two bosses, but I tried to rise to the occasion.  I took on any projects handed to me and gave it my all.  After a few years, I inquired about promotion (which I felt I deserved after an outstanding performance review and performing my job duties and more for a number of years).  The response was I should only be so lucky to have a job in the first place.  My self-worth could have plummeted, but instead I thought: NO THANK YOU.  Hearing this started my job search and while I was incredibly nervous, my husband reminded me, “It can’t get any worse.”


I stepped into the unknown and it was worth the risk of leaving my comfort zone. I knew I wasn’t happy, but I did not appreciate just how miserable I was until I entered a happy and healthy work environment.  I was welcomed with open arms, my personality was no longer stifled and I could let myself and my skills truly shine in a professional setting!

My lesson learned: Be brave. Stand up for yourself and do something to bring you happiness.  What do you really have to lose?



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