Therapists. They’ve heard it all. But besides being a sounding board for all the darkest secrets and worries from your personal life, they also hear a fair amount of work-related grievances.
“Which one would you like?” said Laurie L. Smith, LMSW, author of “Life Hacks: Tips and Tricks for Accessing Your Inner Resilience” (independently published), who continued: “Compassion fatigue, moral injury, institutional betrayal, burnout, imposter syndrome, exhaustion, complex trauma, the breakdown of self as we exhaust ourselves to the edge of our lives.”
Meanwhile, these maladies are only compounded by the current state of things.
“Individuals have been forced to adapt to remote work while exacerbating or creating other challenges such as at-home relationships with significant others and parenting stress,” said Aaron Sternlicht, LMHC, a co-founder of New York City practice Family Addiction Specialist.
How do we resolve these issues? Below, therapists chime in on how to address the most common complaints
Bored and overworked
Can’t stand another shift tending the bar? Delivering packages? SAT tutoring? Shawnessa Devonish, LCPC, who is based in the Washington, DC, area, sees this specifically in people who rely on hourly wages. “Due to the lack of job stability, this population also experiences anxiety that may also trigger physiological responses,” like headaches and sickness, said Devonish.
The fix: Know yourself better to help you determine the best next move.
“It’s important to work on identifying a job position that provides more fulfillment,” said Devonish. “Take a job assessment, such as the Holland Code RIASEC Test, to discover their career interests,” she added.
Books like “Career Solutions for Creative People: How to Balance Artistic Goals With Career Security” (Allworth Press), “What Color Is Your Parachute?” (Ten Speed Press) and “I Don’t Know What I Want, But I Know It’s Not This” (Penguin Books) may also be helpful.
If you think your current gig is salvageable with some tweaks, consider this advice from Avigail Lev, PsyD, an author and the director of Bay Area CBT Center: “Be transparent and honest about what you need and ask for it directly. Make very specific requests that are clear and direct,” she said, adding that you shouldn’t be afraid to share your values and needs with your boss or manager. “If you want to take more of a leadership role, learn the steps of how to get a promotion. Express yourself, assert yourself, and negotiate until you get what you want. Take an active role in shaping your job position.”
This is the most common refrain heard in Smith’s practice, and similar to the ennui discussed above with a fun existential twist thrown into the mix. “Clients often feel that they just need to do more, or that they aren’t being productive enough,” she said. “This can turn into self-blame and boundaries slipping to get the job done. This often results in internalizing guilt and shame over not being able to ‘do it all.’ ”
The fix: Smith recommends running down some probing questions to get to the crux of things.
These include: What do I like about my job? Is there a way I can excel at those things in this job? If not, what steps can I take to improve my own sense of well-being? Is there a way I can do what I love in other jobs? Do I want to consider that? Why or why not? What is my return on investment emotionally at this job? Is that enough for me? Where would I like to be in three months?
These questions, Smith explains, will help you clarify what is and isn’t important to you and what steps you may want to take to recalibrate. She added, “We only have one [life]. We have a birthright to our own joy.”
Work spilling over
Remember when you had to be on a work computer to check your company e-mail? Sigh.
“A common complaint is that work doesn’t stop for many individuals at the end of the workday, but extended into the evening hours as individuals respond to e-mails, calls or other work-related tasks,” said Sternlicht. “This has only been exacerbated by the pandemic, as many work virtually and have challenges separating their work from their personal life.”
This can also cause sleep issues, which then can cause more stress or contribute to mental health issues such as depression or anxiety.
The fix: “Set healthy boundaries around work and your personal life that are tailored to meet your particular occupation and personal goals,” said Sternlicht. Some may find it helpful to have a daily “power down” ritual that formalizes stepping away from your home office setup, such as a quick meditation or taking a walk around your block.
A brutal commute
Therapists hear patients gripe about straphanging more than you would think. “They say people don’t hate their jobs, they hate their commute,” said Sternlicht. “Although many are working remotely, for those who commute it can be an added stress and cause them to have less time for themselves or to spend with family.”
The fix: Sternlicht helps his clients with developing ways to utilize a commute so that their time at work or home can be used more productively and efficiently. Multitask by ordering groceries on Instacart or drafting client e-mails on-the-go while simultaneously checking out perspective-shifting podcasts like “Hidden Brain,” “This American Life,” or “Planet Money.”
In this era of endless distraction, hitting the hay isn’t always easy. “I frequently see clients who do not have a healthy sleep routine, prioritizing their work or Netflix over sleep,” said Sternlicht. “Lack of sleep results in less efficiency as well as poor concentration and focus at work, which adds to stress, and can also contribute to mental health issues.”
For remote workers, the transformation of our homes into workspaces hasn’t helped things as we come to associate “home’’ with stress instead of with relaxation, Sternlicht added.
The fix: “I always encourage individuals to work in a separate part of their home than where they spend time to relax or sleep to help reduce the correlation between their home and work-related stress,” said Sternlicht. Beyond that obvious remedy, try sprucing up your workspace — even if it’s just a sliver of the dining room table or a small closet — so it’s more zen, with greenery, nice lighting, an essential oil diffuser and other calming accouterments.