Create Boundaries And Check In With Yourself: Protecting Your Mental Health In The Midst Of ‘Always-On’ Work Culture
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Employee burnout has always been a work issue across industries, but in recent years, specifically the last two, the problem has only intensified amongst working professionals. In a 2021 survey of 1,500 workers in the United States, more than half of respondents reported they were feeling burned out as a result of their job demands. The number of working American people quitting their jobs due to burnout has exponentially grown since last December in a season that has come to be known as the “great resignation.”

I have observed first-hand what it looks like for work life to start interfering with family time, romantic relationships, and self-care. I actually have not encountered a client whose work and job environment didn’t trigger their downward emotional spirals with depression, fatigue, and anxiety. Most of the clients and patients I see are mid and senior-level professionals who report that they have lost all sense of control over their work-life balance, resulting in levels of distress that make coping difficult and trigger emotional dysregulation.

During a recent group therapy session, I opened with a topic that prompted clients to explore situations that trigger distress and leave them feeling activated. I was stunned to hear how many people were struggling with activating events related to work and career. In fact, most of the clients in the group validated and stepped in to support one another as a result of their shared experiences. Many clients reported issues such as trying to co-exist in work environments with unreasonable and demanding bosses; issues regarding boundaries being crossed and violated; and ultimately feeling undervalued and unappreciated at their places of employment. 

Since 2020, mental health professionals have been tasked with promoting fair treatment, emotional and mental wellness, and healthy and sustainable work spaces; however, the effort becomes difficult when we only have access to the individuals who are impacted negatively by these work circumstances. Essentially, the work we’re doing in therapeutic spaces isn’t always as impactful when we’re not able to reach the individuals who are perpetuating toxic work environments and mental health stigma that eventually lead to unpleasurable work experiences.

The thought I’m always considering is what skills could work for people experiencing distress and burnout related to career? So I crafted a number of different strategies that I have observed my clients using outside of therapeutic spaces to improve their mental and emotional health and wellness while trying to meet work expectations and demands. Many of the skills I have included are working strategies created by Marsha M. Linehan, an American psychologist, author and creator of the therapeutic treatment modality, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT).

DBT is a skills coaching treatment modality used to support individuals needing insight and support with how to cope with problems and activating events related to their mental health diagnosis. However, I would go as far as to say DBT skills and strategies could also be helpful for people needing support in remaining emotionally and mentally regulated while coping with everyday stress unrelated to a formal clinical diagnosis.

The goal is not for every strategy or skill to land for everyone. The goal is for individuals to have access and exposure to what they find to be applicable, resourceful, and helpful in their day to day. Think of these skills and strategies as a restaurant menu. When you visit somewhere to eat, you don’t order everything off the menu to get full. Instead, you order what you enjoy eating and what sounds good to you. Therapy is the same way. Your willingness to try different strategies and take inventory of which ones ground and regulate your mood is what makes the process fruitful. 

Here’s the skills I’ve observed that work:

Boundary setting, but make it work related. 

We talk all about what it means to set boundaries in relationships whether they be platonic, romantic or familial, but the thought of setting boundaries at work makes people inquisitive. Those barriers you place up to keep you safe and protected have to expand beyond intimate relationships. Setting boundaries at work could look like challenging those urges to say “yes” to everything. It could also look like being mindful of what you have the mental capacity to do. Allowing someone else to take on a task you’re being asked to do could be helpful. If there’s no one else who can do the job, maybe it’s time to initiate a difficult conversation with a boss about expanding the team and curating space for you to take breaks and take care of your needs. Boundaries do not always have to be this rigid barrier or fence. They don’t have to be reason-giving justifications for being rude or nasty in the work space. If we want to journey through life with autonomy, we have to be willing to set boundaries in all areas of life.

Practicing interpersonal effectiveness and being communicative in the work space

There are plenty of DBT skills related to interpersonal effectiveness that Marsha M. Linehan suggests we practice in order to sustain healthy relationships. The willingness to have difficult discussions with supervisors and employers through self-advocacy can leverage career progress and raise awareness of the problems you’re facing. 

Check in with yourself before you start feeling unwell and burned out. 

Despite how hard some employers work to dismiss the emotions and thoughts we have about work, our behaviors and responses can reflect theirs. We can preserve our mental and emotional health by engaging in regular check-ins with ourselves to prevent burnout and mental fatigue. Asking reflective questions and doing a full feelings assessment can evoke those honest and true feelings. 

Values check. 

Have you considered what’s important to you lately? Have you set aside time to acknowledge how much your values have changed? Do you still value the hustle and grind culture at work or are you in need of more rest in this current season? Drafting up a list of our current values can allow us the opportunity to remain in sync with what is important to us at the core – something we often lose sight of when we’re hustling and bustling.

More information about DBT skills usage and how the treatment modality is broken down can be found here.