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How to Stay Healthy in a Toxic Work Environment

How to Stay Healthy in a Toxic Work Environment

So it’s not so much your job you dislike, it’s the vampire-like vixens, I mean coworkers, who seem to suck energy from you faster than a jacked up JP Drain?

I am talking about the kind of work environment polluted with:




one-up-manship to upper management

and constant high school-like games.

Unfortunately, this type of behavior is all too common. But what happens when you feel it’s so bad that you are struggling to endure it?

When you find yourself talking to friends and family members for hours about particular coworkers who really get under your skin- you just may be in a toxic workplace.

When you get to work and the first thing you check is who is on shift with you – while praying in the back of your mind that negative Nellys aren’t on today – you just may be in a toxic workplace.

Now here’s the thing, working with a few toxic people, may not actually make the whole workplace toxic…It just FEELS that way to you.

You’re smart (you are on my website, so you must be :) ). So you already know that working in an emotionally toxic environment can literally make you sick. Energetically, emotionally, and physically. You’re a nurse. You know the correlation between your emotions and your body. That’s why it’s super important to get a handle on this. Telling yourself cliche’s like:

  • “It is what it is”
  • or

  • “I just have to deal with it”
doesn’t help the visceral agony of working with these Toxinas day in and day out. (yes, I called them Toxinas. Just made that up).

So what’re you to do? Here’s my 4 step plan

Step 1: Step away from the gossip.

Gossip contributes to a negative environment. Think about it, most gossip is negative. It’s sensational by nature, so most gossip is about negative aspects/behavior of another person’s life. The more you entangle yourself in the “he-said-she-said”, the more wrapped up you are in the web of negativity. If you are a chief gossiper, you really have little room to criticize other toxic behavior. Gossiping is toxic also. But don’t feel bad.

If you want to change that habit, try going on a gossip free diet for 21 days. I once read the book The 4 Spiritual Laws of Prosperity by Edwene Gaines. The Author explains how she went on a “negativity”/”gossiping” diet for 21 days which changed her life. Give it a whirl and see how it goes. You know when you are starting to gossip, step away. Don’t be a part of that mix. When the conversation starts, excuse yourself. Quickly.

Step 2: Respond. Don’t react

We are reactive by nature. Something happens, we react. For every action there is an equal or opposite reaction right? Wrong. When it comes to interpersonal relations at the workplace, you are better of responding. Here’s the difference in responding and reacting:

You reacting:

Your in the hallway getting ready to go in to do an assessment, Toxina walks by and says something rude under her breath so nobody hears, but you heard it loud and clear. You stop what you are doing, look her dead in the face, and loudly ask her “what did you just say?” Or worse yet, you give her something back just as nasty as she gave you.

You responding:

Same scenario as above, but instead of reacting, you just quietly say “excuse me?” . To clarify what she said. Typically, Toxinas don’t have the courage to repeat their negativity. Or better yet, you ignore her. Then, if you feel it is serious enough that you do need to talk to her about the situation, choose to ask her about it later in a private situation. The advantage to that is you have had time. Time allows us to cool down. We have all done and said things in a split second that we regret later. Time is the key to responding over reacting.

Step 3: Have a cleansing routine

Just like you would for any other toxic substances. Even though you are staying away from the madness and not reacting, this doesn’t mean you are bottling up how you are feeling. Learning some healthy ways to ‘release’ are in order.

For example: Exercising, crafting, learning something new. Or my favorite release exercise of all  (no..it’s not what you are thinking): have a venting session. This is not a pity party…this is where you and a buddy will literally get it out. All of it. Give yourself permission to vent about the people, the situation, all of it. But put a time limit on it.

So say for example 10 minutes. For 10 minutes your friend is going to listen while you get it all out. I mean REALLY get it all out. Explain just how horrid the Toxina was today. How ridiculous she is. How she effects your mood & on & on.Your friend can just listen and maybe egg you on if desired. But when you’re done…you’re done. That’s it. Time to focus on something else.

Step 4: Transition

Since this entire site is for nurses who have decided they want a change, in my infinite wisdom, I am going to take a guess that you are not planning to stick around in this job.

So if you are planning to leave…make your plan and…. well…leave. Genius right?

As always, I am not saying to walk out of your job today. Only you can make a decision that sudden. But I am saying to start making a plan, and start taking action towards your goal….a different position.

A final note, when your knee deep in toxicity, remind yourself of a little statement I created to help you make it through:

PCAP – Positive Change is Absolutely Possible.


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4 Responses to How to Stay Healthy in a Toxic Work Environment

  1. Vesper says:

    This is a great article, Alicia!

  2. Carla says:

    So what would you advise for a young graduate who is being bullied relentlessly by a small clique of senior nurses? Senior management have been involved and they still persist. This person cannot leave the ward he works on as it is part of his graduate programme (Major public hospital on the east coast of Australia).

    As this Nurse’ mentor, even I am unable to do much to help him except advise him to make official complaints to the relevant licensing authority and reporting them for unprofessional conduct, as well as consulting the Union and think about taking legal action against the hospital for failing to provide a safe workplace. If the latter course of action was taken, this nurse who has the potential to be outstanding may never have a career.

    The above advice is wonderful if a nurse is in a position that they can walk away, change jobs etc etc. Unfortunately, most workplace bullying and many toxic workplaces single out a victim who is in a position where they have very little control over a situation.

    My student is under a tremendous amount of stress and I am greatly concerned for his mental health. I have referred him to counselling, but all of us involved are at a loss about to do next.

    • Alicia-Joy says:

      Hi Carla,

      That is a very unfortunate situation. I know you mentioned that one person is being singled out, but I have to wonder if there is anyone else there who is feeling pressured. This ‘clique’ of senior nurses fits that sad stereotype of nurses eating their young. And there must be others who have encountered their bullying.

      The main problem is an administration that allows this and by allowing it, they are condoning this behavior. That is where change must happen.

      Maybe counseling will help him. And confidence boosting, etc. I am all for that. But it is pointless if this clique is going to continue with this behavior over and over with young graduates. After this student, who’s next?

      Have you ever heard of Renee Thompson? She is a fantastic nurse leader with a body of work and expertise all around bullying. I contacted her when you commented about this situation, and she expressed that she would welcome an email from you to see what further insight she can give you on dealing with this situation. Her email: renee@rtconnections.com.

      Renee Thompson’s website for you and anyone else interested: http://rtconnections.com/

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