Skip to header Skip to main navigation Skip to main content Skip to footer

VCU HR Well-Being blog

Giving VCU employees the wellness resources they need to be healthy both on and off campus

Whether at work or in your personal life, these tips will help you reboot your connections. [View Image]

Do you ever feel like shipping your loved ones off to relatives or disappearing into a federal witness protection program to get space from co-workers so you have time for yourself? You’re not alone. After the pandemic squeezed us physically and psychologically closer, too much togetherness can plunge us into relationship fatigue—mental and physical exhaustion and depletion of emotional energy brought on by the stress of interacting with and helping others at the expense of taking care of ourselves.

When we interact with colleagues and family members through email and Zoom 24/7 days on end, chances are the things we say and our decisions are different from the ones we make after our brain has a rest period. Why? Relationship fatigue wears out the brain and depletes our mental energy. And it’s more difficult for our strained mind to make even ordinary decisions such as what to wear, where to eat, how much to spend or how to prioritize work projects. Professional and personal responsibilities start to feel like additional demands and obligations that we resent. Relationship fatigue can cause us to shift important interactions to the back burner, bark at others, take shortcuts or opt out of decision making at home and work altogether—possibly jeopardizing job performance and the company’s bottom line.

Signs Of Relationship Fatigue

Studies show healthy collegial relationships produce greater job satisfaction, morale and job performance. Co-workers share work-related information more quickly and more accurately when relationships are collegial, whether with peers, supervisors or subordinates. The better the professional relationships, the better informed people are about workplace issues and the more satisfied they are with their jobs. But relationship fatigue can devolve into bitterness and conflict. Here are the signs:

Foggy Thinking. Trouble concentrating and the ability to think clearly are hallmarks of relationship fatigue. Exhaustion and loss of meaning in your career or in maintaining relationships is common.

Impatience. You lose patience for ordinary mistakes and the ability to work as a team member. You’re moody with a short fuse, and you snap at colleagues and family members. Co-worker job requests start to feel like unreasonable demands.

Self-Centeredness. Stuck in your own perspective, it’s difficult to muster empathy for a co-worker’s point of view. You communicate your feelings as facts, refuse to entertain another perspective and turn a deaf ear to other ideas because you’ve already make up your mind. You force your point of view by commanding, finger pointing or criticizing.

Isolation. Your depleted emotional reserves make it difficult to enjoy the company of others, so you withdraw from colleagues and social situations. Studies show co-workers are happier and their relationships endure when they have fun together, but fun and lightheartedness are out of reach.

Fear. You lose the motivation to stretch outside your comfort zone, resistant to novel experiences, afraid to venture outside predictability. Relationships can be stressful because they require a degree of vulnerability, humility and uncertainty.

10 Steps To Reboot Healthy Collegial Relationships

Chances are you’re not aware you’re having relationship fatigue when you’re working. Perhaps you get swept up in commitments and don’t realize the toll—both mental and physical—an overabundance of job interactions take on you. You can’t fire your boss or take over the company and restructure it, but you can be a better manager of your interpersonal relationships. Here are 10 tips to reboot your mental health when job pressures are crashing down on you:

  1. Set boundaries. Establishing respectful boundaries is an essential skill that protects your work health, reduces interpersonal conflict and improves professional communication. If you work from home, set water-tight physical boundaries around your designated work space that’s off limits for housemates. Treat it as if it’s five miles across town, and ask house members to consider it as such (e.g. no interruptions from another room when you’re engrossed in a project unless an emergency). Unplug at the end of the day to protect your personal time.
  2. Cushion your workday. Make sure you realize you’ve hit your breaking point long before signs of relationship fatigue set in. Instead of pushing past them, cushion your workday to soften stress blows. Avoid putting yourself under unrealistic deadlines. Take “health days” in addition to “sick days.” Spread job tasks over reasonable time frames. Ease into your workday instead of catapulting into it.
  3. Breathe from your abdomen. Right under your nose is a valuable antidote to relationship fatigue. When stress steals your breath, take a few deep abdominal breaths through your nose. Hold it while you count to six. Then purse your lips and exhale slowly through them. Your body can’t maintain the same level of stress with the extra oxygen you get in your bloodstream when you breathe from your abdomen.
  4. Remember H-A-L-T. When signs of relationship fatigue take hold, stop and ask yourself if you are Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired. This alert signal can bring you back into balance. If one or a combination of the four states is present, slow down, take a few breaths and chill. If you’re hungry, take the time to eat. If you’re angry, address it in a healthy manner. If you’re lonely, reach out to someone you trust. And if you’re tired, rest.
  5. Come up for air. Pay attention to what’s around you and bring your attention into the present moment to generate more performance energy in a demanding job. If you have an opened window, focus your senses on nature: sounds of chirping birds, fragrance of blooming flowers, or sight of squirrels in the trees. Take 60 seconds to identify the sounds around you (traffic in the background, voices off in the distance, the gurgling of your stomach) then notice your heart rate slow, your muscles loosen and your mind clear.
  6. Change your scenery. Get away from any close quarters in which you work. Schedule alone time where you can get elbow room and unwind. Getting outside even if it’s only for 10 or 15 minutes, not only gives your fatigued mind a break, it also boosts your mood. Dine away from your desk or take a walk around the block or in a park before returning to work.
  7. Meditate. Carve out a place where you can have short bursts of solitude and clear your mind—even if it’s only for five minutes. Taking Microbreaks in a quiet place where you can meditate or contemplate is restorative. It helps you unwind and reset your mind, body and spirit.
  8. Be proactive. Instead of waiting for a coworker to connect with you, reach out first to keep your interactions vital. Send an email or text with a smiling emoji if you’re remote working. Consider contacting a colleague you don’t know well—perhaps with a Zoom chat. Find out their special skills or career goals. Opening up in a professionally appropriate way and involving co-workers in small aspects of your daily life builds cohesive networks.
  9. Amp up self-care. Always putting yourself at the end of the line is a grave disservice that actually works against you. Self-care makes your use of time more sustainable. Healthy eating, rest and regular exercise give you the stamina to withstand any challenge and you have more to give to collegial relationships and career goals.
  10. Speak your truth. Use “I” messages instead of “You” messages: “At first I wasn’t sure we would work well together, but now I recognize how much I’ve learned from you” or “I really enjoyed collaborating on that project even though we had our ups and downs along the way.” When you’re honest, you make it clear where you stand and build cohesive work bonds. Collegial relationships built on pretense deplete your energy and eventually crumble like a house of cards, but honest, transparent interactions provides energy to build professional relationships.

A Final Word

It’s good economics to think of your professional connections as a bank account and ask yourself, Am I managing these professional investments? Compare your recent deposits with the withdrawals. As with a bank account, relationships require periodic deposits—time, attention, support, understanding, heart-to-heart talks, encouragement even forgiveness—to stay solvent. These deposits offset withdrawals—deadlines, emotional demands, job pressure, criticism, misunderstandings and disagreements—that naturally occur in workplace interactions and can mitigate relationship fatigue.

Leave a Reply Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Follow this blog

Get every new post delivered right to your inbox.


View graphic versionView graphic version