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Friend's work stress taking a toll

  • 25-06-2020 10:41pm
    Registered Users Posts: 939 ✭✭✭

    Hi all. Was curious to hear some thoughts here.

    My best friend works in a high-stress work environment. It's a Big 4 with a lot of ego-maniac partners floating round and from the sounds of it, a lot of posturing, back-stabbing and paranoia around promotions, and in general just toxic work behaviour.

    I've been trying to support her recently in dealing with a particular situation where one of her colleagues is giving her a hard time, trying to get involved
    with one of her clients, escalating the situation with management etc.

    Here's the thing. My friend worries, stresses and talks about this night and day. We talk about three times a week and invariably it's a 2-hour call going round and round in circles with the same story, me trying to give advice, then me trying to change the subject and encourage her to disconnect during after hours, go for a walk, forget about it, which is never successful.

    Now I'm worried about my friend, there's a history of childhood bullying there so she tends to suffer from low self-esteem and has a general distrust of other women which isn't helping the situation. But honestly, I'm just knackered and a bit frustrated with having the same conversation, same advice and guidance multiple times a week and am beginning to dread her phone calls. She's a very loyal, supportive person and has always, always been there for me when the chips are down so I absolutely don't want to step back from her. But in all honesty, I have a fair degree of work stress myself, lockdown hasn't been easy and this is just something else that adds anxiety to me at this point.

    The good news is, I've managed to convince her to start therapy, so she's at the beginning of that process which should help matters. But I'm curious about what the best way to support my friend whilst simultaneously setting boundaries would be here. Anyone any ideas?


  • Closed Accounts Posts: 4,676 ✭✭✭strandroad

    You're a good friend. Keep listening but stop giving advice, at all, just let her speak.

    Your practical advice won't help because the situation is toxic, and advice might even feel agitating to her; she simply needs to unload and have her emotions validated. If you focus on listening and acknowledging only she might actually feel more supported, and she will empty out faster too.

  • Registered Users Posts: 1,918 ✭✭✭bilbot79

    I feel your pain. My wife used to work in a terrible high stress job, as do I, but the minute I was home from work I would get it all unloaded on me. It's nice to be nice but when it's daily and never ending it's a serious drain. I mean we're all stressed and all tired, if she can't cope with her highly paid job she should get a less well paid job or alternatively pay someone for counseling instead of getting it for free from you

  • Registered Users Posts: 1,328 ✭✭✭Upforthematch

    bilbot79 wrote: »
    I feel your pain. My wife used to work in a terrible high stress job, as do I, but the minute I was home from work I would get it all unloaded on me. It's nice to be nice but when it's daily and never ending it's a serious drain. I mean we're all stressed and all tired, if she can't cope with her highly paid job she should get a less well paid job or alternatively pay someone for counseling instead of getting it for free from you

    Ah that's a bit harsh I think!

    As the other poster said, the situation is toxic. All you can do is listen and in time the situation will solve itself for good or ill.

    Op, is there any hobby you have in common? E.g. doubles tennis, dance class whatever, so that you dont feel your whole relationship at the moment isnt chatting about work?

  • Registered Users Posts: 4,695 ✭✭✭December2012

    bilbot79 wrote: »
    I feel your pain. My wife used to work in a terrible high stress job, as do I, but the minute I was home from work I would get it all unloaded on me. It's nice to be nice but when it's daily and never ending it's a serious drain. I mean we're all stressed and all tired, if she can't cope with her highly paid job she should get a less well paid job or alternatively pay someone for counseling instead of getting it for free from you

    I agree this sounds very draining. I appreciate that the OP wants to support their friend, but really if it is a long conversation every time they talk? What else has their friendship got going on? It is not healthy, for either of them. Definitely not for the OP, and probably not for the OPs friend, as all the OP can do is listen and offer advice, but the friend may be in a spiral.

    I am glad that the OPs friend has decided to speak to a therapist about it (maybe a lawyer, or a careers coach too?)

    To the OP, be there for your friend, listen (a bit) but make sure you get to talk about your own stuff too, and also just to have fun, so that the problems dont consume everything.

  • Registered Users Posts: 3,358 ✭✭✭Airyfairy12

    Sounds like she is ruminating about this and using you as her sounding board. By trying to be the supportive friend with good intentions, youre causing more harm than good as youre actually just enabling her negativity, depression.
    Your friend knows that she can vent to you all evening when she gets home from work, it is likely that throughout the day she making mental notes of things that happen so as to vent to you about them later on. This is causing her to further ruminate and focus on the negative things that are happening in her day. She's not looking for any solutions to her situation, by the sounds of things she is more focused on moaning and complaining about her negativity than actually doing anything to change the situation.
    Secondly, its unfair of her to unload on you this way. Its important that we all be there for people we care about and to show support and for us to know our friends are there for us when we need it but there's a line. You need to create some boundaries and stop allowing this to continue as it's not helping you or her. You can be supportive without having your boundaries crossed.

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  • Closed Accounts Posts: 1,807 ✭✭✭Jurgen Klopp

    If you and her are that close like it sounds like me and a couple my friends. Then lay it out, tell her how it's effected her, you can see it taking her over and you want her to try and get a job somewhere else as your terrified for her

    My friend and I have been like that to each other. What we told each other after is you get sucked into a job and don't even realize how cracked it is and forget what normal is like and you need shaking

  • Registered Users Posts: 939 ✭✭✭bitofabind

    Thanks for the advice guys. I definitely go into Agony Aunt mode with her as there's such a cyclical nature to the conversations that offering solutions seems like the practical thing to do. She does seek out my advice though, she'll ask what do you think I should do? Should I talk to X? Does this email look ok to you? So yeah, I guess I can work on listening more, but when someone is explicitly seeking answers to these types of questions, it's hard to not go into advice mode.

    She's already seeing a therapist and has told me that she talks about work almost exclusively there too, though it's early days. Her therapist wanted to sign her off on stress leave, so that'll give you an idea of how bad it is. Her husband can't hear it anymore, he begs her to leave, it's definitely negatively affecting their marriage.

    I take the point about enabling her. I'm just finding it a bit challenging to understand how to set boundaries. It feels like a conversation is needed rather than just not answering her calls, but I'm wary of not causing more upset as she's very sensitive, self-esteem is rock bottom, blames herself for everything. When I change the subject, she changes it back to work. We talk about my stuff too, I have a similarly stressful job though not quite as bad so it's a two-way conversation about that too, though I'm trying to limit the work talk in general. About a year ago she was really helpful with a work issue I was having, as we both work in high stress corporate jobs it tends to be a big area of discussion. We're childhood friends so there's lots in common beyond that, people, hometown, backgrounds, hobbies all of that. It just has taken quite a back seat lately with all that's going on with her.

  • Moderators, Social & Fun Moderators, Society & Culture Moderators Posts: 5,370 Mod ✭✭✭✭HildaOgdenx

    Does she take your advice, when you offer solutions?

    What would happen, do you think, if you suggested one call was to be non work topics only? I know you have said she changes the subject back to work, but if you said upfront, we both need to take a break from work talk.

    She sounds deeply stressed, no doubt about that. Hopefully the therapy will help. It is quite draining though, and you need to be aware (as you obviously are) of the effect this is having on your own health.

  • Moderators, Society & Culture Moderators Posts: 30,642 Mod ✭✭✭✭Faith

    I agree that active listening and validation could be a good approach. You probably know best if this will work.

    That being said, particularly in anxiety, some people become so fixated on their worries that you could end up listening forever and they still wouldn't wear themselves out. If this sounds like it could be the case, you could try gently and supportively sharing your dilemma with her - something like, "I really want to support you, but I have noticed that it feels like the discussion often goes around in circles, and I'm not sure I'm doing the best for you. What would you like to get out of our conversations?". You can then use this to guide the conversation more. Other questions could be "How would you know when I'm being helpful? How would I know? What would change/be the result?"

    If she says something like "I just want you to listen", then do that. Stop offering advice and guidance. At most, you can ask questions like "I notice you were talking about the same issue last week. Is there a way you can change things?". The point in this scenario is to stop offering advice and to start getting her to think of solutions herself.

    The other option is just to limit your conversations. Start out by saying something like "I've only got half an hour tonight. What would be the most important things for us to talk about?" and stick to it. If she gets sidetracked, you can say something like "I'm conscious I don't have much time - is this important to discuss tonight?"

    The problem with all of the above is it needs to be delivered in the right way, or it can seem rude or patronising!

    Honestly, it sounds like therapy will be the best thing for her. In the meantime, you need to be boundaried yourself. I'm sure you don't have a spare 6 hours a week to listen to the same problems ad nauseam! That doesn't mean trying to distract and redirect her, but not allowing yourself to be pulled in. You can only control you, at the end of the day.

  • Registered Users Posts: 189 ✭✭Dog day

    Hi Bitofabind, you’re always so generous with your time in giving advice here so I’m really pleased to see you’ve already received some good responses so far.

    I’d second the advice to listen more than actively provide solutions, I know this can be challenging when asked direct questions but try it, firstly it will be less draining for you, secondly these are your friends issues to sort through & thirdly it will silently communicate a message to her that you’ve provided all the advice you can give without going around in circles.

    If this doesn’t work & given that you’re such close childhood friends could you tactfully explain to her that you have your own stuff going on too. I know you mentioned you talk about your life aswell but that it always invariably gets back to her work problems. I’ve noticed with some of my own friends that when they’re in a spiral like this (particularly in relation to work stress) they sometimes need to be gently reminded of other people’s needs, more often than not it gives them the ‘jolt’ that they need to recognise that they’re obsessing over a particular problem & it normally results in a positive outcome for both them & the listener (I’m also the resident ‘Agony Aunt’ in my friendship groups!)

    I’d also echo Faiths‘ point above regarding limiting the length of time you spend on these calls, equally you don’t have to pick up the phone every time she calls, you can text her when you’re simply unable to pick up, you have to mind yourself too!

    It’s so important to be kind in life, you sound like a good friend but remember to look after yourself also.

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  • Registered Users Posts: 939 ✭✭✭bitofabind

    Thanks guys, this is really helpful advice and suggestions. I like the idea of active listening (I think we can all get better at this) and I'm definitely guilty of trying to solve all her problems and being impatient when she doesn't take stuff onboard.

    But there's definitely an element of bleating on like a broken record at this point and while I do think she's spiralling in a way that's impacting her mental health, it's gonna start taking a toll on mine at this rate too. I'll probably talk to her this evening so think I'll say something like, "right, let's not spend two hours b1tching about work, let's get that out of the way in 10 minutes and then talk about more exciting stuff" and see how it goes.

    I know she's probably leaning on me because her husband won't hear it at this stage and if she's already using her therapy sessions to vent, I think allowing her to continue to do it with me is just enabling her at this point.