Work is stressful for most people. Be it because of the hours, the workload, or simply because you set high expectations for yourself, the workplace is one of the things most people associate with stress. But one factor which I think can add to our stress but we don't necessarily talk about is the impact our coworkers can have on our mental health. Now, there's outright rudeness and harassment, which should always be reported (because you seriously do not need to deal with that); however, there are also people who may genuinely have good intentions, but lack social skills, or people who truly don't realize what they're saying may be causing you upset or stress. So how do you deal with these situations?
My personal advice is to set boundaries and take a lot of deep breaths, because if there is one thing you do not want to do, it's lose your temper and look like the bad guy. If someone's comments are really affecting your mental health, though, it might be time to seriously consider talking to someone in Human Resources (not other coworkers, because gossip is not your friend) and/or a mental health professional to get the support you need.
Here are a few examples of comments from coworkers that might be messing with your head:
1. "Are You Really Going To Eat All Of That?"
When I worked in an office environment, this one absolutely killed me. I heard coworkers say this all of the time to other people and it really grated on my nerves. Food policing in general and unnecessary, but when people are basically trapped together for eight hours a day? It can feel especially suffocating to have that much pressure and feel like someone is monitoring your food choices. I think in work environments where people typically eat at their desks, this can become even worse, because you don't get any separation or breathing room to recover from these comments. While these comments can sometimes come from a place of good intentions, they ultimately reek of food policing and can bring up lots of issues in terms of body image and self-esteem.
2. "Why Aren't You Drinking?"
This one comes up the most often, I think, when you're in a work environment where people often go out for happy hour or are expected to attend luncheons or dinners with clients. People choose not to drink for all sorts of reasons: Some people are recovering alcoholics, some have medical conditions which prevent drinking, and some people simply don't like alcohol. Even more so, some people simply don't like drinking with their coworkers. The social pressure to make other people drink is always uncomfortable and unnecessary, but when it's with your coworkers (or worse, your supervisor), I think it becomes even anxiety inducing. Just remember that no matter your reasons may be, you never have to justify why you're not drinking.
3. "I Don't Mean To Stress You Out More, But..."
For most of us, our working lives involve a certain element of stress to begin with. Stress is not inherently a bad thing, either, as it can be a sign you're focused on your goals and want to achieve them. However, if you already have a lot on your plate, it can be a real hinderance on your stress management when coworkers ask you for help on their projects — or worse, shirk their own responsibilities and foist them on you instead.
Especially if you're a perfectionist or known as the office go-getter, your peers may be likely to ask for your "guidance" or "feedback" on their work. And if you have time to help others, go ahead! The good karma will probably reward you later. However, if you're already a busy bee yourself, there is no need to drown yourself in someone else's responsibilities. There is no worse feeling than the one where you realize you're being taken advantage of because people see you as too nice to turn down an opportunity to help them out.
4. "So, Who's Your Boyfriend?"
Some people end up making close friends at work, which is awesome. However, asking questions about personal relationships can be very, very awkward in a work space if you don't already have a bond with one another. When people ask questions about dating, it can be hard to decipher if someone is being flirtatious or not, which is frowned upon in the workplace anyway. If people are in more serious, long-term relationships, it can still be awkward for coworkers to bring up relationship questions, as not everyone feels comfortable sharing updates.
Questions about significant others can also rely on gender norms and be presumptive about people's sexual orientations. This can put people in an uncomfortable position if they aren't out at work or are in a state where there are not employment protections for LGBTQ people.
So, there you have it! I think there are numerous examples of toxic coworker behavior, but these are the ones that stand out to me the most. If they ring a bell for you, it might be time to set up some distance between yourself and certain people for your own mental health. It never hurts, too, to talk to a professional or a trusted friend or loved one about what's going on inside your head.