5 proven methods to recover from workplace toxicity

Ever felt drained by a toxic workplace? It's time to heal and move forward.

5 proven methods to recover from workplace toxicity

Saturday November 04, 2023,

7 min Read

A survey conducted by the Workforce Institute at UKG unveils that managers have a significant impact on employees' mental health (69%) which places them on par with that of a partner or spouse (69%). This underscores the profound influence a toxic workplace can have on your physical and mental health, job satisfaction, and overall quality of life.

So, if you’ve already overcome the toughest step of bidding farewell to a toxic workplace, we are proud of you!

However, completely deleting the emotional baggage of a toxic workplace from your system can be challenging. Such an environment can erode your self-confidence, leaving a lasting impact that extends to your next job.

“The effects tend to show up as hypervigilance and reactivity, … many times this can make it hard to have the impact that you were hired to do,” explains Melody Wilding, an executive coach and author of the book Trust Yourself: Stop Overthinking and Start Channeling Your Emotions for Success at Work. This may manifest as hesitancy to share ideas with your new boss, reluctance to speak up in meetings, a lack of trust in new colleagues, or a feeling of overcompensation.

So, how can you regain your footing, shed the past negativity, and be your best self in your next endeavour? Here are 5 strategies to help you heal, move forward, and thrive in the new chapter of life.


Seek closure

“First and foremost, try to find closure with the past experience,” Wilding said. 

Given how emotionally damaging a toxic job can be, resentment towards those who mistreated you or the constant replay of past circumstances and conversations is a natural response. The human mind despises ambiguity and strives to find answers, even when ruminating on the past serves us no purpose. 

The need for cognitive closure is important, as it can pave the way for acceptance, facilitating a transition from the past to something new. Wilding suggests a powerful exercise in self-healing– composing a "goodbye" letter (which you don't need to send) to your previous workplace or your past self.

This letter acknowledges that you did your best with the tools, knowledge, and experience you had at the time.

Wilding further added– “You can also express compassion for what you have gone through because you likely didn’t receive that from other people.”

According to psychologist Louise Morrow’s suggestion, you can also do this through “journaling” or with the guidance of a “trusted friend or therapist.”

Take a moment to contemplate the following journal prompts:

  • What emotions do you harbour towards your former employer?
  • What steps could assist in relinquishing these emotions at this very moment?
  • Where in your body do you sense these emotions reside?
  • What are your current needs?
  • In what ways can you exhibit self-compassion and self-love in this present moment?

If writing isn't your preferred method, that's perfectly fine. You can address these questions aloud. The objective is to seek closure.

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Be alert of possible triggers

While you adjust to a new job, it may take some time to discern that what you once considered ‘normal’ in your previous job does not necessarily define the standard in your current one. 

Consequently, there may be particular triggers that unexpectedly evoke memories of your prior job. These triggers could manifest during one-on-one meetings with your boss, client presentations or social gatherings with colleagues. Essentially, anything reminding you of your previous job’s sources of anxiety and unhappiness has the potential to cause disillusionment in your new role.

To effectively navigate this, Wilding advises cultivating an awareness of these potential triggers and devising strategies to manage them proactively. This could entail taking a brief ten-minute break to relax before a meeting with your new boss, dedicating extra time to rehearsing a presentation or exploring varied avenues to connect with your new co-workers. 

Identifying specific circumstances that can trigger your trauma can empower you to strategically address them. Common triggers include feelings of exclusion, powerlessness, or perceptions of rejection.

Take a break

If you have the opportunity to take a break before commencing your new job, that's wonderful! However, if this isn't possible, allocate some peaceful time after work or on the weekend for self-reflection and healing. 

Psychologist Louise Morrow emphasises that  “Any toxic relationship takes its toll on our health and our self-esteem.” Therefore, it is crucial to replenish what has been depleted. Morrow recommends incorporating self-nurturing practices into your daily life, such as meditation, yoga, reading books, or gardening.

You can also take a digital detox from social media, indulge in TV shows and movies (refrain from crime-thrillers, please!), take soothing baths, eat healthy food, immerse yourself in nature, and prioritise sound sleep.

However, the healing process need not be limited to calm and relaxation. You may still harbour suppressed anger or frustration. In this regard, Morrow suggests engaging in physical activities like exercise, dancing (even if it's just in the privacy of your room), or performing a live concert in your room with all the world’s gusto. Some individuals find satisfaction in the act of popping bubble wrap.

Voice your concerns

Nobody ever deserves to be treated unfairly, bullied, or abused, yet it's a common response to trauma to blame oneself. You might be consumed by ‘what if’ scenarios (what if I had spoken up earlier?) or grapple with shame over the mistreatment you endured. 

Rebuilding your self-confidence is a crucial step, and it begins with self-compassion. Additionally, it involves reclaiming your power through constructive actions that reinforce your self-identity.

Consider a scenario where you were expected to be constantly available in your previous role. Your former employer bears responsibility for flagging ‘hustle culture’ and assigning an overwhelming workload. Redirect your energy toward enhancing your assertive skills so that you can effectively voice concerns when a project seems overwhelming in your new position. Utilise the lessons you learned in your previous role to communicate your boundaries and expectations.

Engage in activities you excel at

Rebuilding your self-esteem involves immersing yourself in activities that foster a sense of competence and delight. 

Louise Morrow suggests, “Reconnect with your core strengths, and use them as a guide to future choices you make about your work environment”. These strengths need not be connected to your previous job. They might be more beneficial if they're not. Claire Hunt, an expert in Human Resources, advises, “Get creative. By exploring different creative activities (such as painting, drawing or making music) you may discover talents or passions that influence your next career choice.”

Do away with negative thinking patterns

Negative thought patterns can be a significant obstacle to rebuilding your self-esteem. Counteract these patterns through the practice of ‘savouring’– a psychological technique that transforms temporary positive moments into enduring positive experiences and beliefs. Savouring has been proven to enhance feelings of happiness, contentment, and self-efficacy.

Here are a few savouring practices to consider:

  • Positive Reminiscence: Dedicate 10 minutes daily to reflecting on your thoughts and emotions related to a pleasant moment.
  • Sharing with Others: Establish a daily habit of sharing your ‘daily highs’ with a colleague or loved one.
  • Three Good Things: Document three positive events each day and contemplate why they occurred.
  • Positive Imagination: Visualise the upcoming day in detail, focusing on all the positive possibilities it holds.
  • Self-Appreciation: Relish moments of strength and instances throughout the day when you exercise your strengths.

How you navigate your healing journey is completely up to you. Trust your instincts and, if you find that it's still too emotionally charged to address, believe in the power of time. In Claire Hunt's words, “It’s important to remember that you are so much more than your job.”