Ask Merly: Staying Professional in a Toxic Environment

Welcome to ASK MERLY: The Countertalk Problem Page, where our resident mental health expert Merly Kammerling answers YOUR questions.


“I have handed my notice in, but I am contractually obliged to stay for 3 months. It’s not a great situation – I decided to leave because I was being mistreated by management in a really toxic environment. Do you have any advice to stay productive and professional in this sticky situation?”



Firstly, my thoughts go out to you as I can appreciate how uncomfortable it is to stay in any toxic environment, especially when you have already actively made the decision to leave. In order to cope, I wouldn’t be too surprised if you have already checked-out in your head, yet as you have said, you need to be productive and professional. This is challenging and can be soul destroying.


One thing to remember is that when we are in an environment which we don’t want to exist in, this triggers our survival mode. When we are in survival mode, understandably, we are often not operating from a rational or calm state of mind and instead it’s just all about getting through the day. We can either feel overwhelmed with emotion or detached from our feelings and other people around us. The S.O.S approach could help you to engage the brain’s memory and rational thinking centres so you stay productive and present at difficult moments in your day:





Re-enter the present moment. Observe what’s happening in your mind and body. Close your eyes (optional) and take three deep breaths.



Next, focus your mind entirely on one thought: focus on whatever is most important to you at that moment in time.Focusing on our values and what’s important turns down our brain’s alarm system and a reminder that this is short term pain for long term gain. If you already have something in the pipeline after you finish your notice then stick close to that: talking about, researching it, thinking about it, visualising it.


Take a moment to assess the level of stress you’re feeling on a scale of 1 to 10 and think about what could help you to increase or decrease the score. This could be about focussing on the elements of your job that you do enjoy or establishing some boundaries: taking your breaks, leaving on time, readdressing your communication with certain colleagues, and so on… Doing a self-check can help activate our self-awareness and learning brain, therefore we gain more clarity and control over what’s happening for us currently.

What you do outside of work is just as important as what you do in work. This is valuable YOU time to recharge the energy that work is draining from you. It’s important to have some  time and space to just be your genuine self, especially when you’re trying hard to keep up the professional poker-face at work. You may not feel like it, but doing things for sheer enjoyment increases our resilience towards distressing situations, gives you a distraction and gets you out of constant survival mode.


I would like to suggest (if you haven’t already) that you find people (personally or professionally) you can trust to talk to about what you’re going through on a regular basis. Having the opportunity to unload and allow your stream of consciousness to just say how it is, how you feel is going to help you to emotionally regulate through this tricky time. Especially if there is any additional gaslighting or mistreatment which you are experiencing, talking to people you trust could be a life line. Our world can get quite warped through toxicity and some people fear that talking to others about this would be just adding to the drama, but there is real value in getting an outsider’s point of view, guidance and support into how to respond to difficult people and another perspective.


Lastly, you haven’t confirmed this but if any mistreatment continues then I would just like to touch on the possibility that, should it become too much, then your welfare is paramount and always should be. You mention gaslighting in your original letter to me – gaslighting has implications on how we think and feel about ourselves, even long after it’s happened. I would like to see you recovering from this experience and moving on to better horizons. Keeping a note of what (if) mistreatment is happening and knowing what your rights are legally may give you power and alternative options in what might feel like a powerless position. Should you need, here are the links to Citizens Advice where you can find out more about your employee rights and ACAS who give free employment law advice 0300 123 1100.

Hi Counteralk community,


You know that we’ve got you right? When you’re dealing with those big issues, you want someone who really gets it. Merly is an ex-chef, therapist, stress reduction coach and founder of @me_myself_inmind, which provides workshops, one-to-one therapy and group therapy for you incredible, hard-working, hard-caring people in the hospitality industry. Their mission is built around educating others on stress reduction techniques, mental health awareness and the importance of learning coping skills, emotional resilience and self awareness.


Merly is on hand to answer some of our community’s problems. If you would like to submit a problem, please email askmerly@countertalk.co.uk. All questions are completely confidential and kept 100% anonymous, now and always.

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