How to Deal With Adversity at Work

Here are 15 ideas for dealing with an ongoing challenge on the job.

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Karen Burns
In a comment on my “How to Survive a Bad Boss” post, one reader asked, “But what if you are so nervous around your boss, and your fear of failure is amplified by her actions….what recommendations might be offered as far as coping skills?”

This reader's bad boss makes going to work a trial, and gives her a stomachache. (It’s no joke—a bad boss can make you physically ill.) Of course, a toxic boss is unhealthy in many other ways, too, and she may need ultimately to get out of this situation. But let’s assume she needs to stick with this job, and this boss, for the time being. What should she do?

[See 9 insider secrets to getting hired.]

To get the ball rolling, here are 15 ideas for dealing with adversity on the job (and feel free to add your own tips):

1. Get up a little earlier every morning and take a few minutes to meditate, pray, contemplate, or just sit quietly in a chair and sip your tea. The idea is to calm, and strengthen, your mind.

2. The stress of working for a bad boss can take a toll on our physical as well as our emotional selves. So, get your body in shape to meet the test—eat right, exercise, and get a good night’s sleep.

3. In your free time, sign up for some rewarding volunteer work. Helping people with bigger problems puts your life in perspective, and is great for your morale.

[See tips for being happier at work.]

4. Identify a challenge in your past that you dealt with successfully, and ask yourself: Can I apply anything from that experience to my current situation?

5. Make a list of 10 things in your life which you have control over. Helplessness is draining. Identifying areas where you do have influence can be tremendously empowering.

6. Make a list of 10 good things in your life that you are grateful for. It’s true: Counting your blessings really does make you feel happier!

7. Consider that this bad boss may have an important life lesson to teach you. Maybe you will learn to do your job more quickly, or become a better record keeper. At the very least, it’s an opportunity to see what you’re made of. 

[See how to stay off the layoff list.]

8. Introduce more laughter into your life. Rent funny movies, read funny books, and spend time with funny people. Oh, and make up your mind to smile more. Studies show that putting a happy expression on your face makes you actually feel happier.

9. Forgive your boss. Whatever she does, try to let it go. Forgiveness may require an outsized effort, but it can be extremely freeing and empowering. While you’re at it, forgive yourself.

10. Who consistently makes you feel better, stronger, and more capable? Identify those people and spend a little time chatting with one of them every day.

11. Pretend you are on the outside looking in. If a friend came to you with this same problem, what advice would you give her?

12. You may be unwittingly locked into a cycle where you are so nervous you’ll make a mistake that you make a mistake. Be willing to analyze and change the way you do things at work.

13. Give yourself permission to screw up. When you do, don’t beat yourself up over it. Remember that successful people fail more often than unsuccessful ones because they try many things.

14. Grouse, whine, and complain. But do it on a schedule. Decide to wallow in your problem for, say, 10 minutes at 8 p.m., every evening. When you feel bad during the day, say, “I’ll put that on my list to grumble about tonight.” Bonus: By the time 8 p.m. arrives, you may be in a much better mood.

15. Set goals. These can be career or personal objectives. What’s essential is to have something to work toward, plan for, and dream about. Goals give you a reason to get up in the morning. Most important, goals remind you that your current situation is not going to last forever.

You don’t have to do all these. Just do the ones that speak to you. Good luck. And remember, nothing lasts forever.

Karen Burns is the author of the illustrated career advice book The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl: Real-Life Career Advice You Can Actually Use, recently released by Running Press. She blogs at