Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Toxic Workplaces



The theme this past week has been people who are miserable in their jobs. It could be the winter talking, but it could be so much more.
People tend to minimize how much damage working in a toxic work environment can cause. I have met with clients with anxiety and/or depression severe enough to need to apply for a leave of absence (which can be traumatic, in and of itself). I have heard stories of narcissistic bosses that have torn people down and led to a loss of confidence. Ultimately, people end up feeling helpless and stuck.

Here are some ways to identify that you may work in a "toxic" workplace:

  • NO appreciation... your boss, makes no effort to give positive feedback to employees. There are no incentives to do a good job. You feel like another faceless pawn, and you either receive no feedback at all, or you only hear the negative. You may ask your boss how you're doing, and get very little back. You may assume "no news is good news" until your annual review (if you get one), where you are unpleasantly surprised to see that your boss thinks are you underperforming. This may be the first you have heard of this. No encouragement, no coaching, no validation. 
  • NO boundaries... your boss or co-workers have no qualms about asking inappropriate questions about your personal life. They overshare their own personal information. You may decide to share something personal, only to hear that everyone else has heard about it. You have no personal space, and your possessions are not respected. They may be overly touchy-feely. And despite your requests for space, privacy, and ownership, these requests are not respected, or, worse yet, you are made to feel like you are being "sensitive". 
  • NO support... You may be struggling with work or something personal, and the boss doesn't have time to help you. You may go to your Human Resources department to seek out help or file a complaint that falls on deaf ears. You may be turned down for short-term disability. This is the biggest difficulty I have heard from clients-- when they finally get the courage to go to HR, only to be told there is nothing that can be done, or the complaint is never addressed. This is often the last straw for employees who have felt discouraged for a long time. 

So what can you do?
As mentioned above, it is an option to contact HR, if you have a decent HR department, and inquire about short-term disability or FMLA benefits. While this may not work for everyone, it can help you feel like you have options. You can also ask your doctor or therapist, if warranted, to write a letter to your employer that you change your schedule temporarily, be allowed time for appointments, or be allowed to work from home.
If that doesn't work, or it isn't an option, start getting your ducks in a row. Finding a new job is NOT easy, but you can take steps towards doing that. Go to the library and check out some books that will help you update your resume and cover letter. Take some career assessments. Look for classes (many libraries have free ones!) about job searching and updating your resume. Many also have classes that can help you brush up on your computer skills.
Meetup.com is a free networking site to look for local groups, including networking groups. This could lead to potential job leads. I have also seen churches and work centers in our area with networking groups. Many of these are free.
Check out LinkedIn, which is a social media outlet for people looking for jobs (also free). Putting your resume on this website and joining some networking groups may lead to companies contacting you.
A (usually) non-free option is to meet with a career counselor. Community colleges often have some, but there are also independent ones that you can hire to help you determine what your next steps are.


Have you ever worked in a toxic work environment? How did you get through it?


Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The Best Self-help Books of 2013

I admit it: I'm a bit of a nerd.  If I have some free time, you can usually find me with my nose in a book. And because people who know me know that I'm a bookworm, I often get requests for recommended books.

This post is dedicated to the best self help books read in the last year. (Note: this is just my own opinion!)

"The Gifts of Imperfection" by Brene Brown... This writer has done a ton of research, writing and talks about shame, writes about accepting ourselves and our imperfections without feeling like you are being told to "just stop thinking about it and love yourself". This book was very real, and the tools very doable. If you want a taste, look Brown up on YouTube.

"Dropping the Baby and Other Scary Thoughts" by Karen Kleiman... Dives into postpartum OCD, and gives readers wonderful insight into this disorder, and ways to navigate it. I have found myself recommending this book often, and hear great feedback about how validating it is for the mom, and a great way to help her partner understand what is going on without fear. Intrusive thoughts are very real. Anyone who works with moms regularly could benefit from reading this book.

"Women, Food and God" by Geneen Roth... Recommended reading for anyone with a negative relationship with food/eating and self worth. It was really great to get some useful advice for how to let go of all that without just being told "let go of all that!" It was also about faith and spirituality, without being overly preachy. Which I like.

"I Love You But I Don't Trust You" by Mira Kirshenbaum... One of my favorite books of all time was "After the Affair" by Janis Abrams Spring. This book was equally good, and it covered working through trust issues in a more general sense. This would be a good read for anyone who struggles to trust their partner, but really really wants to.

And saving my fave for last.... "The Worry Trap" by Chad Lejeune. Why do I love this book? For two reasons... There seem to be a bajillion books on the shelf about depression, but had yet to find one that I loved and felt confident recommending to patients. This is it. The second reason was that it introduced me to Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), which has been showing promise in my practice.

What's the best self-help book that you read in 2013?

Friday, January 3, 2014

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy... Say what???

"When we are in the midst of chaos, let go of the need to control it. Be awash in it, experience it in that moment, try not to control the outcome but deal with the flow as it comes" ~ Leo Babauta


Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (or "ACT", spoken as the word, not A-C-T) has been around for a while. However, it has been getting more press recently as a therapeutic modality, and I have fallen in love with it! I have found that it can work really well for anxiety and depression, because it helps with emotion regulation. The main tenet of ACT is "acceptance". Acceptance of your emotions and thoughts- rather than avoiding them- which is our naturally tendency when we are feeling anxious or scared. Fight or flight, right?

Watch this YouTube Video called "Demons on the Boat"... (yes, I am aware of how incredibly cheesy this is- I just love how well it gets the point across, and causes a little giggle at the same time!):


Acceptance is MUCH easier said than done. But here are some ACT tools that you can read about to get a flavor...

B.O.L.D. skills- 
B- breathe deeply/slowing down   When you notice the anxiety, pause and do some belly breathing (see below). Physically focusing on your breathing, while seeming like it can't do much, can physically slow down panic attacks. It takes you out of your head for a moment, and puts you back in touch with your body.
O- observe Once you have slowed down and lessened the emotion, you can take a look at what is going on. Observe the sounds you hear, the things you see, the smells you smell. Or create some of those things- if there is a smell you like, put on some lotion that smells good or light a candle. Put on some soft music.
L- listen to your values  What matters to you? What do you stand for? When we are in our emotional mind, we lose sight of our values and let our emotions rule our brain. But ask yourself these questions. Maybe you value being a good mother, or kindness, or your faith. Hold on to these values.
D- decide on your actions, then do them Use your values to help you decide what you would like to be doing. How you can use your values to help you accept how you are feeling right now.

Belly breathing:
When people feel anxious, they tend to take short, shallow breathes through their chest. Slowing it down means making a conscious effort to push the air into your stomach (not really, but you know what I mean) like you are blowing up a balloon in your stomach. This is something that can even be taught to kids who struggle with anxiety or tantrums. Have them lie down on their backs, and put a stuffed animal on their tummy. They are belly breathing correctly if the animal is going up and down.

Acceptance does not mean that "like" how you are feeling, or that you are OK with it. It means that you are willing to let yourself feel the feelings rather than frantically avoiding or trying to change them. Willingness is saying to yourself, "I am willing to feel __________________ in order to have/get/gain ________________". (Ex: "I am willing to feel anxious in this moment in order to gain this time with my baby." "I am willing to feel/tolerate this anxiety in order to have better sleep/be healthier".)

It is hard to do, but it is possible. And the more you practice acceptance, the easier it gets.

If you would like to learn more about ACT, I recommend the following books:


"Notice that the stiffest tree is most easily cracked, while the bamboo or willow survives by bending with the wind". Bruce Lee