In August 2021 alone, a record-breaking 4.3 million Americans quit their jobs, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. They’re part of what’s been dubbed “The Great Resignation” — a mass career exodus experts say is being spurred by the on-going pandemic.
“Many people are experiencing mental health issues like never before, and many more people are experiencing burnout,” says Gail Saltz, MD, clinical associate professor of psychiatry at New York-Presbyterian Hospital and host of the How Can I Help? Podcast, who explains that burnout is a form of depression that is the result of severe stress, exhaustion and depletion at work. Dealing with it often requires making a change.
Lia Avellino, Director of Head & Heart at THE WELL, agrees: “For a subset, this period is about the belief in the possibility for a more humane relationship with work,” she says, adding that “some people are quitting not because they hate the obligations of their job, but because they are forced into eldercare, childcare or are sick themselves.”
"This period is about the belief in the possibility for a more humane relationship with work."
A few more reasons: “There has also been a halt on visa processing over the past two years, which impacts certain industries' ability to retain workers,” says Avellino. “And some people are also leaving jobs due to toxic or exploitative work conditions, especially in the hospitality and healthcare industries.
Clearly, there are myriad situations that can lead to quitting a job. If you’ve ever been faced with this type of decision, you know how confusing and fear-provoking it can be — that’s why it’s important and helpful to understand the tell-tale signs that a job is doing you more harm than good.
Signs Your Job is Affecting Your Well-Being
According to Dr. Saltz and Lia Avellino, these are some of the red flags.
- Anxiety and irritability: You’re always grumpy and feeling negative, as though anything can send you into an emotional spiral.
- Fatigue and difficulty sleeping: Work-related stress keeps you up at night and even when you do get sleep, you never feel fully rested.
- Loss of motivation and focus: Your performance at work is suddenly declining — and you don’t really care. Even the thought of a poor review from your boss doesn’t bother you all that much.
- Headaches and stomach problems: Tension-induced headaches and digestion issues are surprising signs that all is not well.
- Increased substance use: You’re relying on smoking, alcohol or other substances to take the edge off your day. These behaviors may be indicators that your nervous system is feeling overloaded — and you’re in survival mode.
- Relationship neglect: Relationships you once happily invested in — romantic, family or friendships — have faded into the background.
- Inability to feel pleasure: The simple things that used to bring you joy no longer have that effect. In fact, you’ve forgotten what those moments feel like and are prone to hopelessness and defeat more than anything.
Tips for Considering a Job Change
If you’re experiencing most of the above signs, it may be time to consider a role change, start the job hunt or look into the possibility of making your current job more accommodating. Easier said than done, particularly when considering financial constraints, but Dr. Saltz and Avellino have some tips.
- Have hard conversations: It can be intimidating to tell your boss or human resources what you need, but setting healthy boundaries has the potential to drastically improve your quality of life. Dr. Saltz says it’s reasonable to ask for specific hours off or to inquire about lightening your workload.
- Be kind to yourself: “Attempt to look at every self-sabotaging or harmful behavior as the way you tried your best to get through the day,” says Avellino. “Shopping more than you need is your way of coping; drinking more than what’s advisable is your way of coping.” Recognizing and acknowledging these behaviors makes it easier to identify healthy resources that can serve you better.
- Don't do it alone: Self-care can only go so far when you’re in the middle of a work crisis. “Ask yourself, who in your life you can rely on to support you in your transition.” advises Avellino. Beyond turning to loved ones, seek out mental health support from a professional.
- Practice normalizing the struggle: As Avellino puts it: “Transitions typically bring up anxiety, grief and fear. This is normal!” By acknowledging this struggle as a season or phase of life, you normalize it for yourself — and others.
- Feel your feelings: “Sometimes when we’re stressed, we believe if we just plow through the to-do list, stress will dissipate,” says Avellino. “In reality, it actually fuels the stress. Give yourself a moment to identify the sensations in your body, the thoughts in your head, and view them with curiosity and not judgment — they are letting you know of your unmet needs.”
- Reflect before you act: Sometimes it feels right to make an impulsive decision, usually out of a need to escape, but take a beat. “If you do have the privilege, take time to reflect on what didn't work about this job and your key priorities or bottom lines for the next,” says Avellino. “So you act from a place of desire and not fear.”