Quitting Your Job Could Do Wonders For Your Mental Health—Is It Right For You?

man quitting his job carrying the items from his desk

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Key Takeaways

  • People are quitting their jobs across the United States at record levels.
  • Considerations on whether or not to quit your job range from financial issues to social changes.
  • Being forced to work extra hours from home or having safety procedures ignored were among the reasons people gave for leaving their positions.

When Lindsey Lee Wallace’s mom died in late 2019, she wasn’t at her bedside because her boss wanted her to complete a task at work. A recent graduate, her boss regularly emphasized the need to prioritize work. Wallace felt lucky to have a job and convinced herself that her mom would be alright.

The mental fallout was colossal. “Missing my mom’s passing while at work made me feel extremely resentful of my boss, compounding my grieving process as I was forced to see her and relive that experience every day,” says Wallace.

Then the pandemic came, home and office merged, and with it a sense that she should work even later than usual. Safety also became a concern with her having to refuse outright going into crowded public places to complete tasks for customers. “I found myself constantly tired and anxious, and never felt fully able to relax due to concern that something was going to fall through the cracks and onto my shoulders by surprise,” says Wallace. 

Wallace is one of many people across the United States working to find a balance between work and mental health. A 2021 survey from the American Psychological Association found that almost two-thirds of respondents working from home reported feeling isolated or lonely, while 17% said they feel that way all the time. As for work-life boundaries, 22% of participants reported always struggling to stop working at the end of the day, and 45% expressed sometimes having this problem.

 At the same time, there has been an increased understanding of the problems work can cause. Most recently, Prince Harry called people who quit their jobs to take care of their mental health “something to be celebrated” in an interview with Fast Company

On May 19, 2022, Verywell Mind hosted a virtual Mental Health in the Workplace webinar, hosted by Editor-in-Chief Amy Morin, LCSW. If you missed it, check out this recap to learn ways to foster supportive work environments and helpful strategies to improve your well-being on the job.

There is a myriad of trying reasons a person may decide to leave their position. “Individuals may choose to leave a job due to dismissive managers, effort-reward imbalance, workplace politics, workplace gossip, workplace bullying, high job demands, low decision latitude, and limited social support in the workplace,” says Dr. Leela R. Magavi, a Hopkins-trained psychiatrist and the regional medical director for Mindpath Health.

In October, 4.2 million people quit their jobs across the United States, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This follows similarly high numbers in previous months.

Nayanika Guha, who quit her job during the pandemic

The job was slowly killing me, and I needed to leave. I made sure I had savings for at least two months as a buffer till I got better at freelancing, and I took the plunge,

— Nayanika Guha, who quit her job during the pandemic

“I can’t overstate how much leaving that job has improved my mental health,” says Wallace, who found a new position for a few months before moving into her current one—which she calls a “drastic improvement on every single issue I was facing.” She also credits learning boundaries and having them honored at work as critical.

While quitting a job that leaves your mental health in a poor state may sound like a clear-cut decision, it’s far from it. Financial and social considerations are critical to consider, along with the commitment—warranted or not—many people feel towards their employer. This process may take a lot of deliberation and time spent looking for other opportunities. However, the first step is determining your job’s mental health impact.

Is Your Job Negatively Impacting Your Mental Health? 

Signs a job is poorly affecting your mental health include dreading going to work, feeling depleted, irritability, waning motivation, and poor sleep due to work stress, explains Naomi Torres-Mackie, PhD, the head of research at The Mental Health Coalition, a clinical psychologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in NYC, and an adjunct professor at Columbia University. 

Mental health stressors certainly existed in jobs before March 2020. However, the pandemic completely changed employer expectations and added additional work issues. As Wallace found, one key issue has come from the lack of precise hours and boundaries between work and personal life when your home doubles as an office.

Such was the case with Nayanika Guha, whose job switched tremendously four months in when the world went into lockdown. Pre-pandemic, her hours were nine to six, but once she began working from home 14 hour days became the norm. Guha’s employer expected her to be around nights and weekends while doling out a much heavier workload, often outside her role. She became constantly anxious, stressed, and irritable with no time to spend with her family or on herself.

“If you are finding yourself spending a considerable amount of time thinking about work matters while at home, or you are checking emails at home or outside of work hours, this is a huge sign that your job may be negatively impacting your mental health,” says Kally Doyle, a licensed mental health counselor and a member of the Frame Therapy community. 

Leela R. Magavi, MD, a psychiatrist

Individuals may choose to leave a job due to dismissive managers, effort-reward imbalance, workplace politics, workplace gossip, workplace bullying, high job demands, low decision latitude, and limited social support in the workplace.

— Leela R. Magavi, MD, a psychiatrist

The situation worsened when Guha and her coworkers had to return to the office by late summer 2020 despite high rates of infection and no vaccines available. “Despite many pleas for work from home, I was denied that option,” she says. 

Though Guha wanted to leave, she worried about finances and how staying in the position for under a year would look on her resume. “The job was slowly killing me, and I needed to leave. I made sure I had savings for at least two months as a buffer till I got better at freelancing, and I took the plunge,” says Guha, who felt instant relief. “I took some time to relax, did puzzles with my siblings, and made art. I am much calmer now, able to make decisions that are good for me, and both my mental and physical health has been better.” Plus, she credits the flexibility of freelancing with providing a much better work-life balance.

Another obvious issue for workers during the pandemic: safety — something Stann Fransisco lacked while working at a yoga studio. Before the pandemic, Fransisco had taken classes for a few years and, after taking a job there, stated that hey was the only disabled and trans person on staff. Hey faced deadnaming, misgendering, and harassment about his service dog. When the pandemic began and Fransisco’s job extended to mask enforcement, temperature scanning, and more extensive sanitizing, he faced additional issues from colleagues and guests. While hey had the owner’s support, the constant complaining was incredibly taxing. When the owner had to step back, hey claims the new owner cut Fransisco's hours and gave them to a teacher who often broke the rules.

Hey decided to quit. “It was then obvious to me that my time was up, and I didn’t need the ongoing stress of being aggressed upon in the workplace by staff and students alike,” recalls Fransisco. “Despite having a disabled trans person in front of them begging for help and respect, they all managed to rationalize the abuse perpetrated against me as ‘the right thing’ to do.” However, the loss of income and facility access, as well as a shattered trust in teachers he had for years, were all difficult.

“What I saw during that time opened my eyes to the challenges I will face as I attempt to rebuild what community looks like for me in this new reality,” adds Fransisco, who still maintains a personal yoga practice. “I’m disabled, so it never really ‘gets better.’ I just removed myself from a major source of harm, so it's not externally coming from them anymore.”

Deciding Whether Or Not To Quit Your Job

In some cases, quitting may feel inevitable. But, if you’re unsure if it’s right, Torres-Mackie recommends leaning on trusted support systems.

Talking it over helped Steven Langbroek be sure when leaving his job. When he started the new position in April 2020, he was excited. Yet, throughout a little over a year, he began to feel agitated, lose energy, and take sick days to recover from stressful work weeks. He knew the choice to leave a job he cared about and employees he felt responsible for required help. “Building up to the decision to quit took a few weeks and a lot of conversations. With friends, loved ones, coworkers, a therapist, anyone whose opinion I valued really,” explains Langbroek.

For two weeks after quitting in June, Langbroek remembers having no energy to do anything. However, in the months since, he took time to recover and started taking better care of himself, including getting diagnosed with and starting treatment for ADHD.

If quitting seems too drastic a step, another avenue is trying to change the issues bothering you. “I recommend providing feedback and advocating for positive change prior to leaving a job,” says Magavi. “Brainstorming ways in which things can be realistically modified in the workplace to better support one’s needs and openly discussing these options may lead to positive and timely changes.”

Be honest about how you’re feeling without providing more detail than necessary, or you’re comfortable sharing. However, some people may not be comfortable doing so. The American Psychological Association survey found that four in ten participants fear retaliation for taking time off from work for mental health or seeking related care.

Kally Doyle, a licensed mental health counselor

Your mental health deserves to be accounted for — just make sure to have a plan in place for paying bills, prioritizing your self-care, and that you’ve identified how long this break from working will last.

— Kally Doyle, a licensed mental health counselor

Suppose you talk to a supervisor who puts these changes into effect, but you still feel anxiety, depression, or burnt out. In that case, Magavi recommends looking for another job or taking a mental health leave of absence.

Think about the long-term impact on your mental health when you envision quitting your job. If you plan to take time off from work, will that benefit you or be difficult in a different way? “Prolonged periods of idle time may exacerbate feelings of hopelessness and lethargy. Many individuals benefit from the structure and routine of work—they may socialize more and feel more confident and independent,” says Magavi. Of course, this varies from person to person, so be honest about what makes sense for you.

Additionally, look at what your life will realistically look like socially and financially. “Your mental health deserves to be accounted for—just make sure to have a plan in place for paying bills, prioritizing your self-care, and that you’ve identified how long this break from working will last,” says Doyle.

Coping Mechanisms To Use While Still At Your Job

In many cases quitting a job due to mental health is simply not feasible, especially without long-term planning. If you’re currently stuck in a job that is negatively impacting your mental health, the mental health professionals interviewed recommend the following coping techniques: 

  • List positive affirmations about yourself each morning
  • Take deep breaths before your first daily meeting
  • Take breaks throughout the day as possible 
  • Practice gratitude with people in your life 
  • Reflect on the assistance you provide through your work
  • Reach out to your colleagues or supervisor to process difficult situations
  • Take mindful walks
  • List three things you’re proud of from that day before going to bed
  • Strengthen your boundaries with work, whether that means turning your email notifications off or leaving at a specific time each evening
  • Do something that makes you feel good after work, whether it’s a hot shower or walking your dog
  • Seek out connections with coworkers  
  • Think about ways you can find greater meaning in your work
  • Focus on people and activities you enjoy spending time with or exploring outside of work 

What This Means For You

While coping mechanisms may not remove the stressors you experience, they can make your job more manageable as you determine your next steps. Quitting your job is an incredibly personal decision that often requires a great deal of consideration. Talk to trusted people in your life, weigh your options, and explore what else is out there.

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  1. CNBC. The 'great resignation' slowed down in October, while job openings jumped.