Maybe it’s an over talkative co-worker who complains about the same thing each day while over sharing the vivid details of her personal life you aren’t sure anyone should hear. Or, the micro-managing boss who peers over your shoulder every five minutes and takes credit for all the hard work you do. It could be the customer who snapped at you and demanded to speak to a manager because they didn’t have the skirt she wanted in her size or the one who’s coffee “just doesn’t taste right” for the fifth time that morning. Whew.
For me, the emotionally exhausting part of my job is the clientele I work with each day: people who have experienced trauma in their past and are currently facing mental and emotional health issues, low income and socioeconomic status, and often times a lack of direction or motivation in their lives. My big empathic heart longs to work with this population because I want to help, but at the same time my empathy can get the best of me. Before I know it, I am emotionally overwhelmed and exhausted as I end my work day, and I often take these heart-breaking stories and situations home with me without realizing it.
Without taking some time for my own mental well-being, this emotional exhaustion has been known to take a toll on my personal relationships. I have found it vital, working in social services, as well as with chatty co-workers and snooty bosses, to take the necessary steps to make sure this doesn’t happen.
Here are 5 ways to keep your personal relationships safe from the toll of your emotionally exhausting job:
Decompress. Make sure you have decompression time to process your work day and get ready for your personal life commitments and relationships before you start interacting with others. This will help make sure you have the mental capacity to be the kind, patient person you truly are deep down. Without this time, the impatient, easily irritated, overwhelmed person who surfaced at work might try to stay and ruin your evenings and weekends. Do what you need to do to decompress – relieve the pressure of your work day – and be ready to fulfill all your other commitments and invest in your important relationships.
Take a walk
Go on a drive
Listen to music
Process your day with someone. A lot of the work I do is confidential, and for the protection of the individuals on my caseload, I do not share personal details about who they are or their lives. However, sharing about the generalities of my day and some of the tough cases I have does help the people close to me better understand the hard situations I’m dealing with. When your friends and family have an idea of the types of conversations and meetings and people you are surrounded with each day, they may extend some grace.
It may also help to process with your co-workers since they are the ones who are in the situations with you each day. Sometimes they are the only ones who really “get it” because they dealt with the same never-satisfied coffee drinker the week prior. And while processing your day can be beneficial, remember, gossiping, making fun of, or talking badly about people won’t make anything better.
Set boundaries with friends. Setting boundaries in your personal life will help you make sure your life outside of work isn’t just as emotionally exhausting as your work itself. If five minutes after you get off work your friend starts blowing up your phone with texts about her relationship problems (again), and you just don’t have the capacity to fully hear and support her, be honest. Tell her you care about her very much and you want to be there for her, but at the moment you know you aren’t going to be able to give her the time and attention she deserve. Let her know you’ll call her in an hour or so when you can really be present in the conversation.
Set work-life boundaries. I have a work phone, and I make it a point to not respond to any calls or texts on the weekend, unless it is an emergency or time-sensitive issue. If you bring work home at nights or on the weekends – either emotionally, by thinking on work issues or physically, by bringing paperwork and projects home – before you know it, your work will take priority over other relationships in your life and keep you from investing well in those relationships. Because of this, it is important to know when to put the work down, even in the midst of unresolved issues and long to-do lists, and get to it on Monday. Allow yourself the weekend to enjoy your life outside of work before your work becomes your life.
Be by yourself. There may be times, even after you’ve decompressed, processed, and set boundaries, you still don’t feel emotionally ready to invest in your important relationships.
Sometimes you need a break from all people all together, and that’s ok.
Relationships take time and energy, and if you don’t have the time and energy to give – even to the people you love and care about – it is ok to take a step back and allow yourself space to recharge. Take some “me-time,” take some “me-nights.” While you’re at it, take some “me-days” if you need to.
Do what you need to do to take care of yourself emotionally, physically, mentally, and spiritually. Doing so will benefit your relationships immensely and help them stay strong even in the midst of an emotionally exhausting work week.
(And if you simply don’t want to be at that job anymore and have the ability to leave, then start taking steps to free yourself from it. Life is too short to embrace an emotionally exhausting job that you don’t enjoy, doesn’t pay you what you deserve, or is simply not where you want to be and not what you want to be doing.)
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