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Coping with A Toxic Work Environment: The How-To Whether it is having a narcissistic boss, being around unsupportive or discouraging colleagues, or being in a workplace that is full of cliques, gossip, or rumors, having to deal with a toxic place requires a strategy, simply because "taking the high road" and "positive thinking" will not be a long-term solution.

By Dr. Saliha Afridi

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

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Toxic work environments can take a toll on a person's mental and physical health. Whether it is having a narcissistic boss, being around unsupportive or discouraging colleagues, or being in a workplace that is full of cliques, gossip, or rumors, having to deal with a toxic place requires a strategy, simply because "taking the high road" and "positive thinking" will not be a long-term solution. Removing yourself from a toxic workplace will definitely need to be part of a your long-term strategy; however, when leaving right away is not an option, some of these tips might be helpful:

1. Make your space yours As much as possible, create a soothing work desk space for yourself. This could mean having pictures, aromas, or music that can evoke a sense of peace and calm. Noise cancellation headsets, desktop natural oil diffusers, pictures of nature or loved ones, and other sensory reminders will help to ground you and soothe you.

2. Find your work tribe, and learn together Chances are if you are feeling weighed down, then others are feeling that way too. Look for people that you can talk to about your day and who will understand you and your plight. Sharing your concerns and learning coping skills from each other is helpful, but be beware that it doesn't become a venting session day in and day out. You could add to your own negativity and the negativity of others around you if you stay in the complaint-space and don't move into the solution-space.

3. Destress daily Plan to do something stress-relieving every day before, during, or after work. This could be working out before work, sitting outdoors during lunch, or going out for dinner with your favorite person. The goal is to counteract the negative effects of a toxic work environment with positive feelings.

4. Zip up your energy This will require you to visualize yourself wearing and energy armor, and protecting yourself from the negative forces around you. Repeat mantras like "observe, don't absorb" and "return to sender," when you are experiencing toxic energy.

5. Reframe and learn Shifting your thinking from "why is this happening to me, make it go away?!" "to "this is happening for me, what can I learn from this?" will move from a victim of toxicity to a learner from adversity. This mindset looks at everything happening to you as a way to grow and evolve you psychologically, emotionally, and spiritually. If you look at any great man or woman in history, they have endured great hardships and adversity, and they transmuted those difficult experiences into self-mastery and wisdom.

6. Prepare an exit strategy You may not be leaving right away, but you should start thinking about what that could look like. If you are in a profession you love, but just a workplace that you don't like, then start working on your CV, applying to other companies, and preparing for interviews. If you are in a profession and a workplace that you don't like, then figure out what you want to change your career too, and start building the skillsets to make the move. Don't be afraid to start all over again- life is too short to be doing things you don't enjoy, and too long when you are doing things you don't enjoy!

Related: Staying Focused In Overwhelming Times: The How-To

Dr. Saliha Afridi

Co-founder and Managing Director, The Lighthouse Arabia

As a clinical psychologist for the past 13 years, Dr. Saliha Afridi has spent 12 years working in the UAE and founded The Lighthouse Arabia in 2011, a community mental health and wellness clinic providing quality psychological and psychiatric care to children, adults, couples, and families.

Dr Afridi has worked with prominent companies and ministries such as The Executive Council, The National Program for Happiness and Well-being from the UAE Happiness Ministry, many professional service firms and fortune 100 companies in her bid to dissolve mental health stigma and be at the forefront of the mental health movement within the UAE and the region.

Dr Afridi’s vision is to make mental health practices more accessible through licensing and insurance reforms, changes within the education system to teach about mental health and emotional and mental wellbeing from a young age, taking a preventative approach to mental health rather than treatment- based approach.

Seeing the need for increased mental health literacy, she took the initiative to bring the internationally acclaimed Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) to the UAE  in 2017, with The LightHouse Arabia becoming the only licensed provider for the evidence-based course which enables adults and teens to become accredited mental health first aiders. 

Dr. Afridi is committed to leading and being at the centre of the continued positive mental health changes to be seen in the region.


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