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workplace stressors that can affect recovery outcomes.
August 18, 2017

Common Workplace Stressors and How to Navigate Them When You’re in Recovery

workplace stressors that can affect recovery outcomes.When you’re stressed out at work, you’re more prone to relapse. That’s why effective stress management is critical to recovery. Develop some new coping tools for on-the job stress here:

Stress is everywhere, it seems. You know from rehab that stress and addiction often go together. Besides the problems you may experience at home that add stress that may complicate or jeopardize your recovery routine, you also must learn to cope with stress at work. Some workplace stress is unavoidable, while other stressful situations are things you can learn to steer clear of.

Here is a list of common workplace stressors and tips on how to navigate them when you’re in recovery:


When your boss and co-workers take notice that you arrive later than starting time on a regular basis, this is not only a bad habit you’ve fallen into, it’s also one that portends poorly for your performance review. No employer will long tolerate chronic lateness. Indeed, you could be demoted or even fired if the behavior continues.

If you’re late because you went to an early morning Alcoholics Anonymous or other 12-step group meeting, if you haven’t cleared it first with your supervisor, you’re playing a no-win game. Granted, you want to keep your recovery private, yet employers are much more willing to give permission for coming in a bit later to attend to this important recovery practice – if they’re asked ahead of time. Make it plain that you’ll tend to your responsibilities and this won’t interfere with them. You might work an hour later or alternate days or times you go to meetings (such as a lunchtime meeting).

Tip: Dealing with chronic lateness also means taking a hard look at your schedule. If you wait until the last minute to get up and out the door, constantly forgetting things, it’s only going to get worse. Traffic is unpredictable and it only takes 10 minutes later than your normal departure time to put you behind schedule. The solution? Leave 30 minutes earlier. Research shows that the less pressure you feel to rush, the less stressed you’ll be later.


If stress at work has progressed to the point where you’re constantly hyper-alert, you’re not only endangering your recovery, you’re also at risk of developing other medical and psychological conditions caused by chronic stress. First, you must figure out what’s causing you to stress out at work. Too many projects, not enough time? No resources to help? Whatever it is, identify it, analyze why it causes you worry, and jot down the worst-case scenario that can happen. You’ll find that confronting the worst-imaginable outcome will allow you to recognize it probably won’t happen, and you can get back to the job or task at hand. Not only will you feel relief that a burden is lifted, you’ll be doing yourself and your recovery a favor.

Tip: As for making sense of all the work you must do and figuring out a way to manage it so you can reduce stress, experts say the best solution is to create a to-do list and prioritize every item on it. That way, you’ll have a handy visual reminder of what’s important, you won’t stress out over forgetting something, and you’ll feel better ticking off each item when you’ve completed it. Be sure to include meetings, exercise and me-time on your to-do list, as these are essential parts of the coping strategies in your recovery plan.


Some 5.5 trillion emails go out each year. You may feel intense pressure to open each one that floods your inbox and immediately respond to it. After drowning in the first dozen or so, you give up, yet the emails keep coming. This adds to your stress level and makes you feel guilty.

Tip: The solution here is to learn more effective ways to deal with email overload.

  • Reduce the time you spend reading emails.
  • Choose specific times to deal with emails, such as 9 a.m., 2 p.m. and just before the end of the day.
  • Don’t waste time acknowledging each email. Just respond with an answer and have it done with, if possible.
  • If you find emails go back and forth with no resolution, pick up the phone and talk with the other party live to hammer out an answer.


A common stressor among all employees is frustration over being passed by for a promotion or never getting recognized for their accomplishments. Recovery is something that’s always on your mind, and you often worry that tending to what you must do for your sobriety may get in the way of your advancement at work. This kind of thinking is self-destructive and feeds on itself. The more you worry, the less likely you’ll produce the kind of work results worthy of promotion or recognition.

Tip: Quite simply, you must focus on your work when you’re at work, doing the best you can always. When you’re done for the day, leave work behind. Don’t take it home with you or stress out over what’s left undone. You need down-time, to rest and recharge, to tend to your recovery needs.


Buried in work and seeing no way out is a dead-end street. Here’s where it’s imperative to remind yourself of perspective. What is important to you? Will whatever stresses you today be that critical over time? Your recovery must be high on your list of priorities, as are your loved ones, family members, treasured friends.

Tip: A photo or two can help you remember what’s uppermost in your life and allow you to put things into perspective. This will make your worries seem smaller than they are and more manageable.


You’re keenly aware that you’re late on a project and the boss is aware you’re behind deadline. To get back on track, you feel like you must skip lunch to make some headway. The problem with this solution is that it starts a cascade effect, none of which is good. The body and mind require nourishment to function optimally, as well as to ward off stress.

When you’re in recovery, you can’t jeopardize your nutrition regimen by skipping meals. That’s going to set the stage for cravings and urges and you’re more likely to give in to the temptation you otherwise can effectively cope with. Depriving yourself of lunch or going for more than a few hours without a nutritious snack can increase work stress.

Tip: If you feel there’s no other way than not leaving your desk or workstation, bring dried fruit and nuts, juice boxes, protein bars or pretzels to snack on until you can get away. Also, ensure this is a rare occurrence. Don’t make it a habit to skip lunch. You owe it to yourself and your recovery to pace yourself, adhere to regular meals and other necessary aspects of your recovery.


Not every leader is empowering, emotionally intelligent or empathetic. A Harvard University researcher identified seven major types of a toxic boss: incompetent, rigid, intemperate, callous, corrupt, evil and insular. Each trait creates stress in others, especially employees. This is akin to suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Knowing your boss is toxic, it’s necessary for you to figure out his or her psyche and traits so you can effectively deal with him or her. For example, if your boss prizes diligence, pay meticulous attention to detail, maintain high standards and avoid mistakes.

Tip: In addition, make sure you’re not a source of stress to your boss. If you consistently turn in sloppy work or are late with assignments, the toxic boss will take it out on you. This, in turn, will ratchet up your stress level.

Strive to make your boss look good, yet don’t take credit for your actions. That might make you a threat to your boss. Do excellent work so he/she will regard you as irreplaceable. When you’re not stressing out over what your supervisor thinks about you and your work, you’re better able to balance your work, home and recovery needs.


Maybe the fact that you spent time in rehab worries you, so you find yourself saying “yes” to all sorts of projects and taking on too much, too quickly. This is jumping in to a cauldron of stress, not the best way to embrace recovery.

Tip: Pacing, balance, and making smart choices is the best way to protect your recovery, so ease back into responsibilities. After you’ve gained a firmer footing in recovery, you’ll be able to successfully add more to your work duties. Even then, though, make sure you maintain a good work-home-recovery balance so stress doesn’t creep back to wreak havoc on your sobriety.


All work and no socialization can make workplace stress even more problematic. Don’t just remain at your desk, isolated from others.

Tip: Come out periodically to talk with co-workers about work issues and come up with workable solutions. Create alliances or work groups to accomplish key tasks. Exchange pleasantries over a coffee break or go to lunch with them. This will help smooth some of the stress of isolation and instill a sense of comradery, cooperation and friendship with your peers.

Also, make sure to tend to the networking that takes place in 12-step and self-help groups as this recovery support benefits your recovery and gives you the opportunity to discuss common workplace stressors and how others successfully navigate them in recovery.

Our article, How to Find Work-Life Balance When You’re in Recovery, also has some helpful tips for transitioning back into work after treatment.