The most insidious part of a bad job is how it follows you beyond the office and infects other parts of your life. You might try to get away from the mess at work by spending time with your family, for example—only your tone is sharper than it needs to be. You might be easily offended or constantly feel on edge. You stop learning and exploring new subjects because the energy’s just not there (and another rough week awaits once the weekend’s over). Over time, even your dreams and perceptions alter. You catch yourself becoming cagier and more defensive.
Then you make the brave decision to finally leave the toxic workplace. What’s next?
The biggest mistake you can make is looking at a new job as the magical cure-all for these deeper changes. It’ll just carry over into the next opportunity and poison the well. When you’re looking for new opportunities, recruiters and hiring managers will pick up on the negativity. They’ll pass you over as a candidate if they feel like you haven’t yet recovered from your previous role.
This scenario is all too common, but you can avoid the pitfall and focus on the future. Take the power back! Anyone can apply the following principles to start their recovery process.
3 Tips for Getting Over a Toxic Work Situation
1. Be ridiculously kind to yourself.
Think of yourself as someone you love who needs help. How would you take care of this person?
For starters, you might give them breathing room to help process their situation and adjust their mindset. You’d let them scale back their responsibilities and spend more time relaxing. For example, you could encourage them to practice mindfulness exercises. I like using apps like Calm or Headspace—it’s easy to fit in a quick daily session in the mornings while I’m brushing my teeth. It’s private moments like these when self-care really needs to shine. Small steps can help you recalibrate your mental and emotional awareness and develop a positive outlook.
Acceptance is another important step. Forgive yourself for the decisions you made that could have been handled better. Don’t berate yourself for not standing up to your boss sooner. You probably wouldn’t be as critical of the situation as an outside observer, so afford yourself the same level of consideration and compassion.
Be kind to yourself and you’ll radiate optimistic energy that will naturally draw people to you.
2. Become a beginner again.
It’s amazing how much ego gets wrapped up in a career. A job title is way of defining yourself. When you leave a job, even a terrible one, your confidence can take a hit. You might feel uncertain about how you fit into the world.
Rather than immediately searching for a new role, I encourage you to pursue a passion or interest. It can be as simple as picking up a lacrosse stick or finally using the camera that’s been collecting dust on your shelf. When you become a beginner again, your perspective will change. You’ll remember how to be flexible and have a little fun.
Slowly, your self-worth will start to recover. You’ll unlearn the nervous behaviors you picked up at work when every decision felt loaded with pressure. Getting a new job won’t magically change your mindset. This transformation has to originate within you.
3. Stop negative self-talk.
Can you take a compliment, or do you deflect credit for your accomplishments? Evaluate your speaking patterns. Do you project confidence and self-knowledge—or undermine your abilities? Think about your internal narrative and keep tabs on how you describe yourself.
Here’s a tip: Print out a sample set of interview questions and record the answers you give. Do it off the cuff without any preparation.
Your answers represent your baseline. Once you outline these patterns on paper, you can set clear and actionable goals for improving. For example, you might resolve not to make any self-deprecating comments for a week. You might even want to practice saying one positive thing about your work to another person. Then reward yourself for your progress. Treating this development like a game will motivate you to keep improving and embrace the next chapter.
It takes time to recover after you’ve been in a toxic work environment. But with deliberate action, you can move the needle in positive ways and prepare for bigger and better professional opportunities.
Give yourself the credit you deserve! Here’s how to master the art of “humble bragging.”