A woman dealing with stress and anxiety

How to tell when it’s time to quit your job to protect your mental health

Posted by for Mental Health

Not sure whether or not you should quit your job in order to protect your mental health? Here’s how to tell when it’s time to let go, according to an expert.

From Simone Biles’ decision to withdraw from events at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics to “focus on [her] wellbeing,” to Naomi Osaka’s decision not to compete at the French Open earlier this year due to her experiences with depression and social anxiety, the events of the last couple of months have shone a light on the importance of prioritising mental health over performance in sport.

But it’s not just in the sporting world that quitting for mental health reasons can be beneficial. Protecting your mental health at work is just as important – and knowing when to call it quits in order to do so can be incredibly valuable. 

However, that’s not to suggest that making the decision to quit your job for mental health reasons is at all easy. Not only can quantifying the impact a job or workplace is having on your mental health be difficult, but the idea of leaving your job behind – especially if you don’t yet have another one lined up – can be really scary.

So, how can you tell when quitting your job is the right thing to do to protect your mental health and wellbeing? We asked Chance Marshall, a creative psychotherapist and founding partner of the online therapy platform The Self Space, to share his insight. Here’s what he had to say. 

1. You have communicated your needs clearly, and nothing has changed 

A woman at work looking bored and annoyed
Being ignored or dismissed when you voice valid concerns could be a sign it's time to move on.

If your needs at work aren’t being met – perhaps you’re not receiving adequate feedback, or feel undervalued – then the obvious first step is to voice your concerns. However, if you’ve voiced your concerns and nothing has been done to rectify them, then moving on could be your best option.

“Work has become so much more than making a living; we go there to make friends, make a community, make a lifestyle, make meaning,” Marshall says. 

“But no amount of money, alignment on vision, staff yoga or free lunches can compensate for dysfunctional and poisonous relationships at work.” 

While, Marshall suggests, you should ensure you’ve done your best to communicate well and acknowledge whether there’s anything you can do to improve the situation, if things don’t change for the better, it’s important to protect yourself.

“If you have communicated your needs clearly and taken responsibility for your part in what may be going on, and if you’ve asked for reasonable adjustments to be made and still, nothing changes, it may be time to leave.” 

2. You’re experiencing chronic stress

It’s normal to experience some stress at work, but if you’re feeling stressed out all the time, it could be a sign that things need to change. Indeed, not only can this kind of chronic stress put you at risk of developing burnout and take its toll on your mental health, but it can also affect your physical health, too.

According to Marshall, some signs that you’re experiencing chronic stress include:

  • Lack of focus: things are foggy, and it’s harder to finish an activity
  • Changes in memory: you have a more challenging time remembering things that happened throughout the day
  • Fatigue in mind and body
  • Reacting more emotionally than usual
  • Neglecting basic needs like showering, exercise or eating a well-cooked meal
  • Being impulsive: ie. spending excessively, eating more or not eating or increasing your intake of alcohol or substances

“These are all warning signs from our psyche and body that we need to stop,” he explains. “If your workplace celebrates the kind of grind culture that minimises or ignores these symptoms as a sign to rest, then it may be time to leave.” 

3. You dread going to work every day 

A woman looking stressed in the office at work
Dreading going to work every day is a sign that something isn't right.

Perhaps the most obvious reason to quit your job for your mental health is if the very idea of going to work leaves you feeling anxious, upset or dejected.

“This could be because the company’s values do not align with yours or you feel like you’re not able to make yourself heard within the workplace, especially if you’re from an underrepresented community and your workplace shies away from conversations about race, diversity and inclusion,” Marshall says.

He continues: “What you do, where you do it and how you do it should generally give you a sense of purpose. You may have a few bad days here and there, but the sense of purpose you get from what you do needs to outweigh the bad days.

“If it doesn’t, it can lead you to feel demoralised and demotivated – both of which can undermine your mental health.”  

If adapting to the new world of work is taking its toll on your mental health, you’re not alone. From the isolation of being separated from colleagues while working from home and the stress of relying on technology to struggles with concentration, confidence and setting boundaries, there are a number of reasons why you might find this time particularly challenging.

So, what can we do about it? We’ve got a plan.

Stylist’s Work It Out campaign, supported by Mind, aims to give you the tools and resources you need to take care of your mental health at work. From completing your Work 5 A Day to dealing with issues including anxiety, loneliness and stress, we’ll be exploring all aspects of work-related wellbeing, whether you’re working from home, adopting a hybrid arrangement or planning on going back to the office full-time.

For more information, including how to complete your Work 5 A Day, you can check out our guide to getting started.

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Lauren Geall

As Stylist’s digital writer, Lauren Geall writes on topics including mental health, wellbeing and work. She’s also a big fan of houseplants and likes to dabble in film and TV from time-to-time.