Leadership

5 ways dealing with a toxic boss hurts your well-being—and how to fight back

Research shows that sleep deprivation seems to cause a person to eat more.
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It's fairly easy to spot a toxic boss. They're typically narcissistic, two-faced, egomaniacal and controlling, according to authors of "The Toxic Boss Survival Guide, " Craig Chappelow, Peter Ronayne and Bill Adams.

If you see any of these traits in your boss, your first response may be to hunker down and try to ignore it. But you can only grapple with a toxic situation for so long before it starts to harm your well-being, write the authors in partnership with the Center for Creative Leadership.

Although toxic bosses can impact you negatively, they aren't inherently stressful. Rather, your internal response to your boss is what dictates how you feel. To survive and even thrive in a toxic environment, the authors suggest that you reframe the situation by viewing the elevated stress and pressure as an opportunity for growth.

"You always have agency, autonomy and even responsibility for how you choose to respond to pressure," they write, "including the seemingly overwhelming and debilitating presence of a toxic boss."

Here are five ways coping with a toxic boss can affect your mental and physical health and how to overcome them:

1. Fear and anxiety

A toxic boss introduces dread and worry into your life and the office. They may instill the fear of being singled out or targeted, the fear of being ridiculed by co-workers or the fear that your career will be ruined, write the authors.

Working in a constant state of fear is extremely damaging, according to healthcare experts, and may leave you feeling incapacitated. Studies show that fear can impair your decision-making because it breeds uncertainty and it leaves you vulnerable to making impulsive reactions.

Solution: Luckily, there are many ways to tackle fear, says life coach and motivational speaker Adam Smith. If you fear failure in your career, "identify the things you can control," he says. "This will allow you to stop focusing on the life happenings you have no control over."

2. Mental fatigue

"Chronic exposure to a toxic boss has a profound impact on well-being," the authors write."Your efforts to just get by from day to day are downright exhausting."

This daily pressure can lead to mental fatigue, which neuroscientists say impairs your cognitive performance and reduces your motivation to get things done. Mental fatigue also makes it harder to focus on tasks at hand, resulting in decreased productivity and work efficiency.

Solution: Overcoming mental fatigue requires that you stay calm, says Emma Seppälä, a Stanford psychologist. To get to this state, she advises that you do things that make you feel positive, detach from work when you're not working and remember the big picture.

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3. Boredom

Life in the toxic zone can make you feel stagnant, especially if your boss is passing you over for promotions or piling mundane work on your desk.

"That boredom can quickly sap willpower and motivation [and] diminish self-care and resilience," write the authors. Boredom, in turn, makes you less focused at work and decreases your level of engagement.

It can also lead to career-sabotage, according to researchers at Montclair State University and University of South Florida, who found that bored employees are more susceptible to abusing others and purposely failing at tasks.

Solution: Instead of viewing boredom as a hindrance, use it to spark your next innovative idea, says boredom researcher Sandi Mann. When you're bored your brain goes into a default mode, which allows it to connect ideas, set goals and "figure out what steps we need to take to reach them," she explains.

4. Sleep

Adequate rest is essential to your well-being and plays a critical role in determining your level of success.

But dealing with a toxic boss can "massively" disrupt your ability to enjoy restorative sleep, write the authors. "[Poor sleep] so quickly and ruthlessly saps our ability to be our best self and to respond to the toxicity more effectively."

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The authors point to a Center for Creative Leadership report which found that your clarity, perspective and judgement all suffer when you don't get enough shut-eye. In addition, sleep deprivation can limit your ability to respond to complex challenges within an organization.

Solution: When work is keeping you up late at night, try these sleep expert approved hacks to help you doze off: read a book or color, schedule 10 minutes of "worry time" earlier in the day or practice yoga before bed.

5. Loneliness

Humans are social creatures by nature. "We require some baseline community and contact to live and perform at our peak," write the authors.

But you may quickly find yourself shut out by co-workers who fear that a connection to you will result in the same treatment from your boss. This social isolation can lead to feelings of loneliness, write the authors, which studies have linked to accelerated cognitive decline, poor sleep patterns and higher levels of stress hormones.

Solution: Cultivating workplace relationships is a critical factor in career growth and promotion, according to career coach Jenn DeWall. To form lasting professional bonds with your colleagues, she suggests practicing humility and gratitude, becoming an active listener and observer and planning an informal meet-n-greet.

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Research shows that sleep deprivation seems to cause a person to eat more.
Zero Creatives | Getty Images
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