How to take criticism at work while dealing with mental health struggles

criticism mental health strength

Taking criticism at work can be hard when you struggle with mental health. Here are some ways to distance critical feedback from your self-value as a person.

Managing mental health is an activity that encompasses your feelings, emotions, and psychological well-being. Some people have diagnosed mental health disorders which can be hard to maintain. Others have a relationship with their mental health that has its ups and downs, but may not have a mental health diagnosis. Either way, your mental health can be a challenge when it’s in a negative place.

Taking criticism isn’t anyone’s favourite experience. However, when you’re in a bad place with your mental health, taking criticism can be extremely difficult and damaging. Your self-worth can take a toll when your mental health is in a dive, putting you in a fragile state. Taking criticism in your personal life, at your job, or in regards to your art can be triggering when you’re in this place. For that reason, it’s important to be aware of how hard it can be and consider how to cope.

Why Criticism Can Be Especially Hard When You Struggle With Mental Health

Criticism is a part of life — and in many cases it really is intended to be constructive. In order to get better at something, it’s important to be aware of your areas that need improvement. Even in a healthy headspace, it can be hard not to get defensive when you receive criticism. It’s a learned skill that is acquired through experience and a cultivating a strong sense of self. If you’re in a bad headspace, criticism can turn into a virus.

Dealing with depression, anxiety, stress, mental exhaustion, or any other mental illness can take a toll on your sense of self. It’s also tough  tackle due to the stigma of mental illness. You might feel like you don’t trust yourself, like you don’t have worth, or that you’re not enough. Receiving criticism when you’re already criticising yourself feels like validation that you are, in fact, a failure. Of course, this is not true. This is the lie that poor mental health can make us believe. Criticism in that headspace can stoke that fire. In some cases, there are mental health conditions that are especially predisposed to criticism sensitivity.

Creating a Distance Between Your Self-Worth and Criticism

When you’re taking criticism from family, friends, employers, or strangers, it’s vital to create an emotional distance between the criticism you’re receiving and your self-worth.

It’s important to ask yourself if this criticism is supposed to be constructive, if you can learn from it, or if the criticism is toxic.

Decide if it’s appropriate to communicate your mental health struggles with the person who is giving you criticism or if you feel comfortable doing so. It’s not always appropriate or comfortable in all situations, but if it is, it can be really helpful to tell the person you’re in a sensitive headspace.

In situations where criticism is a normal aspect of your life, such as a review at work, it’s helpful to focus on creating distance.

Talk to yourself the way you’d talk to a dear friend.

If a friend told you that some critical feedback on a project they did at work meant they were stupid or worthless, you’d tell them they were brilliant and that this feedback didn’t define them. Apply that positive talk to your self-talk as well.

Knowing When It’s Time to Take a Step Back

Sometimes being sensitive to criticism can come from having a high emotional IQ. This means you’re empathetic and aware of your impact on others. However, if the criticism is becoming too much and it’s affecting your mental health and sense of self-worth, it’s important to understand when to take a step back.

Unplug and recharge so that you can be in a better place. Be kind to yourself. You are allowed to have a break from putting yourself out there if your mental health is in a rocky place.

This might mean taking a short break from writing, taking a step back from a work opportunity, or dropping an activity in order to focus on your mental health. Even something like a social weekday trivia night can lead to feelings of inadequacy. If this applies to you, remember that it’s okay to take some things off your plate in order to focus on your sense of self.

Some Coping Mechanisms When You Start to Spiral

If you’re in a situation where you’re feeling inadequate, it’s important to try to stop those feelings before they get out of control. It’s easy to spiral into feelings of failure and worthlessness if you let yourself go there.

Instead, practice some coping mechanisms that can help stop these feelings, cope with them, or bring you back to reality.

  • Embrace distraction: A distraction doesn’t have to be a big task. It can be cleaning, reading, spending time with your pet, or just watching a movie. If you are able to, spend time exercising outside to help with burnout. This can mean hiking or just going for a walk. If you are spiraling into feelings of failure, distract yourself with a task that feels good.
  • Schedule downtime: Take a step back and let yourself breathe. Cancel plans, take a bath, take a trip, read a book, or relax in pajamas. Take time to cry if you need it, then remind yourself that criticism is hard, but it doesn’t define your self-worth.
  • Write down the positives: When you’re feeling bad about yourself, it’s hard to think in positives — let alone write something down. However, even a simple gratitude journal where you write something you are grateful each day may help you to cope and keep you healthy.
  • Talk to a loved one: Call a parent, partner, friend, or other family member and tell them how you feel. Ask for help. Ask for positivity. Text a friend and schedule time together. Be with people who love you can help you feel better about yourself.
  • Finding help: Finally, don’t let yourself go too long without help if you’re struggling with self-worth. Find resources near you, talk to your therapist if you already have one, or contact a helpline that can help you find resources and receive help.

It’s hard to hear when your efforts are not up to par. This can be in regards to doing the laundry, completing a project at work, or being present with people in your life. Criticism in any of these areas may be helpful, but that doesn’t make it any easier to hear — especially in the midst of mental health struggles.

Understand the connection between your mental health struggles and why you may be feeling a sensitive connection to your self-worth at this time. Try to create a distance between who you are and what you do in order to make taking criticism easier. Know that it’s okay to take a step back and that there are ways to cope when you start to spiral into feelings of self-loathing. Be kind to yourself and understand that the criticism you hear isn’t validation that you’re not good enough. You are.

This article by C Ranard was first published in Mookychick and reprinted with permission.

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