13 People Get Real About Quitting Their Jobs For Their Mental HealthOne woman left an office job after her boss made her clean the toilets. #NoThanks.
It’s one thing to get laid off, but to actually declare your own Great Resignation after asking yourself and everyone in your group chat “Should I quit my job?” is a whole other ball game. You’re taking the initiative—which can be equal parts scary and liberating—though you’re also making a huge decision and potentially taking an even bigger risk. Still, when your mental health is suffering as a result of your job, quitting might feel like the only viable option.
Get this: 44% of Gen Zers and 43% of millennials surveyed said people at their companies are quitting their jobs because of burnout, according to a global survey published in 2022. When you’re truly dealing with burnout, you’re not just mentally and physically exhausted, says leading researcher on job burnout Christina Maslach, PhD, professor of psychology (emerita) at the University of California, Berkeley. You’re thinking super negatively about your work and yourself—which can, in turn, lead to depression and anxiety, she explains.
Burnout can happen for many reasons, whether there’s high demand and not enough resources (classic!), the work doesn’t match your values, or you're in a toxic environment where there’s unfair politics going on and zero support, says Dr. Maslach, coauthor of The Burnout Challenge: Managing People’s Relationships with Their Jobs. Your well-being really does rely on having good relationships with others, including in the workplace, she explains. So when you don’t feel valued or connected, you might understandably want to get the heck out of there, she notes.
That said, quitting your job sans backup plan is a big leap of faith—professionally and financially. While it might be a no-brainer to someone who has savings to fall back on, the idea of forgoing a paycheck for the foreseeable future could be even more harmful for some people’s mental health. Since there truly is no one right answer here, we talked to a bunch of people who quit their jobs for mental health reasons—without another one lined up—to find out how they made that decision and navigated the aftermath. Maybe their stories will help shed light on your own situation.
1. Check in with your support system as early as possible.
“I worked in healthcare PR. At my old job, I felt like a doctor on call, needing to answer my boss and manager at any time. And instead of any positive feedback, my manager and boss only gave me negative feedback.
I'll never forget that my boss used to make me draft every single email, including simple response emails that would be sent to the client, directly to her. I once forgot a comma, and instead of telling me the error I had made in my draft and telling me it was only ONE error, my boss wrote back, ‘I can not get past the first paragraph without finding an error. There are multiple spelling and grammatical errors. Please rewrite.’
I wasn't sleeping, eating, or taking care of my health. I developed horrific stress headaches and would cry when I went to work. My boss and manager were extremely controlling and out-of-control micromanagers. A couple months after quitting, my tension headaches went away, I started putting myself first, and I became a better version of myself and who I am today.
At the end of the day, I had a good support system. I also had a unique situation because I lived in NYC and was pretty much living paycheck to paycheck, so I was really scared to quit. That being said, getting my parents on board was really important since I wasn't sure how long it would take for me to get another job and I wasn't sure if I was going to need help paying rent. I had enough savings, but I get really anxious about money and savings (as we all do). And my friends and other coworkers at the job could not have been more supportive too.” —Emma H.
2. Do your research before jumping right into another job.
“I’ve held a few jobs in my life that impacted my mental health mostly in the same ways (no appreciation from management, general discomfort from coworkers, etc.). I left because it came to the point where I didn’t want to get up in the morning, my favorite hobbies and stress reducers weren’t helping me anymore, and I flat out wasn’t enjoying my time outside of work. I was so worried about what had happened the day before or what would happen when I went in the next day. I had managers micromanaging my every move, every email, and breaks. No one likes to be watched like a hawk. And whether it was my anxiety-induced paranoia or not, it felt as though coworkers were getting in on this game of ‘we didn’t want to hire her so let’s just run her out of the company.’ It became incredibly anxiety-inducing and depressing to exist in that environment.
After quitting, it did make me feel better—the weight was lifted. However, I did leave feeling incredibly violated. I became desperate at times, picking up the next best thing just because I thought it would be better. The jobs did look better on the outside, but when you’re in a shitty environment, anything looks better. I signed onto a position to have more money, more stability, a different manager, whatever it was, just to fall into similar traps because I didn’t do enough research. I have learned to trust my gut, get out when I can, and research jobs more (ask questions during interviews, read up on reviews of companies, do deep dives on LinkedIn, etc.) to make better judgements and decisions.” —Sam M., 27
3. Don’t rule out self-employment.
“The office I worked for was very tight-knit, and I was the newbie. Some people were welcoming and others couldn’t have cared less. I became pregnant shortly after being hired and had pregnancy complications that led to bed rest. Not a single person checked in on me then or when I had my baby. When I returned to work, I got COVID. My whole household did. Even my newborn baby. Again, no one from my office checked in on me or wished me well. The owner's wife baked a cake for everyone’s birthday—except mine. So this atmosphere of being excluded really led me down a road of hating what I did for a living and questioning what I was doing. It led to ill feelings and self-doubt. For a while, I thought maybe I did something wrong. Eventually, I came to the realization that it wasn’t me and they were losing employees for a reason. I decided to exit the working world and stay home with my kids and become self-employed instead.
I now have an Etsy shop selling essential-oil-related products. I found this passion long before I quit my job but was never able to pursue that passion as fully as I wanted because I didn’t have the time or energy while working.
I also do food delivery services like DoorDash and help my husband run his business doing exterior cleaning. My advice to others is to have a heart-to-heart with themselves and to do what is truly best for them. Being self-employed is very scary and requires a lot of passion, research, and a huge leap of faith. Ultimately, you have to do what is best for you and your family.” —Ashley W., 32
4. Set a resignation “due date.”
“My job was my first role out of college, and my mental health rapidly declined because I had a bad boss. Everyone knew, but no one supported me. We were an in-house marketing team of two for a company with several subdivisions, which meant lots of work and a constant stream of consciousness from my superior from when I logged on in the morning to when I logged off at night. It wasn't collaboration that was coming through the team's chat but consistent negative feedback.
I reached out to HR and had a formal conversation with them about how I was being micromanaged and was unhappy with my treatment. They said they'd escalate it to my boss's supervisor because they were concerned. The escalation didn't take place. They went directly to my boss who, in turn, seemed to take it out on me.
I think the best thing I did for myself was quitting when I did. My only regret is that I didn't quit sooner because I am still dealing with the mental health impact of my previous role and the self-doubt that it ingrained in me a year later.
Finances were a huge reason why I stayed in my role. I have prided myself in being financially independent ever since leaving college, and it felt absolutely shameful to me to put that at risk, especially with a rent payment, car payment, insurance payment, and student loans due each month. My advice for those who feel the same anxieties I did about financial insecurity would be this: Give yourself a resignation letter due date and live significantly below your means until then. Stick to that due date and save your money and start looking, but whether you have a lead on a new role or not, commit to that due date. Be a gig worker (Grubhub, Uber, Wag/Rover, Care.com, etc.) and monetize the skills you do have (graphic design, social media/content, website building, writing, etc.) and figure it out until you find the right role that won't hurt your mental health.” —Anonymous
5. Maybe don’t start a new job right away if you’re still struggling mentally.
“I had a harassment situation at a previous job. I took a new one right away, which was amazing, but it turns out that I was not close to ready to work again. And so I had to quit that new job in order to take care of my mental health.
I was extremely lucky that I had the finances to be able to leave without a plan B, but I also had no choice. I had left a very bad job to go into a great one without taking the time I needed to heal, and as a result, I was still feeling terrible and was not able to give my best. When you are in an apparent ideal situation and you still feel terrible, unable to be present or efficient, you have no choice but to stop and take care of yourself. So my advice is this: Take the time you need to heal. Getting into a new job, even if it’s great, will not fix your mental health. Taking care of yourself will. And the next great job will be that much more amazing with you at 100%.” —Juliette C., 32
6. Ask yourself what you truly want (and if you don’t know, that’s fine!).
“Between experiencing severe burnout and recognizing that I was meant for so much more than just designing emails, creating banner ads for products I didn’t care about, and changing retail prices over and over and over again, I decided to quit. Now, don’t get me wrong...there were still a handful of good things that I learned from this job, like working with a great boss who was always in my corner and learning to be open, honest, and clear in my communication.
But the job was still the job. It was extremely repetitive and draining. My mental health and way of thinking started to suffer and decline to a deeply resentful, negative, and depressive space. I was choosing the same thing day in and day out, knowing how it made me feel, hoping that one day I would suddenly love my job and love what I did.
My honest advice for others thinking about quitting without any other job lined up, like I did, would be to ask yourself: Do I love what I do? Does my job make me happy? What do I really want right now? And is this job supporting what I need?
I think we often associate our happiness or our self-worth so deeply with our job, career, and overall output of work that we forget to pause and check in with ourselves to ask if this is right for us, if it’s helping or hurting us, and what we value most. I would highly recommend doing some reflection for yourself around the topic before jumping to conclusions and taking a leap of faith that may seem like it is for a good and reasonable cause but ends up being a decision that may impact your mental health state even more negatively. It all depends on the person.
Asking these questions also helps us take one step forward in the right direction and make the changes that we want to make—one being a better, more fitting job that won’t negatively affect our mental health—because we’re thinking more clearly and know what we will and will not tolerate. In the end, you know you best. Lining up another job before you quit your current one may very well be the best way to go for you personally, and that’s OK. But it’s also OK to take time off to get your head clear and your mind right so that you can make better choices in the future.” —Jess S.
7. Treat yourself like the asset you are.
“I ultimately quit my first job out of college toward the beginning of the pandemic. I had been there about four and a half years, long before COVID hit, and I had a toxic relationship with my company. It was a marketing agency with demanding clients and a rather small team considering the volume of work we were doing. Lots of over-promising and over-delivering without any reflection or rest, which snowballed into a heavy amount of stress. I did have a lot of autonomy and responsibility that I enjoyed, but I was exhausted at the end of every day.
I had five bosses in the time I was there, so the lack of interest in my growth or having any sort of stability in my department contributed to the burnout too. Once COVID hit, the business I worked on was restructured and I began reporting into my fifth and last boss. She was unbelievably cold and rude, and she lacked empathy at any level. Dealing with her and the long hours left no time for me to figure out how I was going to get out of the hamster wheel I found myself in.
All of that said, I became awful to be around. I would snap at the smallest inconvenience, I couldn't sleep, I would find myself sobbing at least once a day, I became nauseous whenever I tried to eat, I started having heart palpitations, and I was mean. I hated that about myself and knew I needed to quit.
The complete turnaround in my health and my demeanor upon leaving that job was immediate. Even my final two weeks were so different from what the experience had become. In starting my second job, and the others I've had after that, I've been very clear with my managers and teams regarding boundaries. I'm no longer available at any and all hours. It's now a non-negotiable that I need to have some movement in my day too, whether that's a Peloton class, going to the yoga studio, or even just taking a walk around the neighborhood. I've learned that I need to put myself first and prioritize my well-being in order to be an asset in the workplace. Tired, mean, hungry Me is not going to produce anything useful.
My advice for others is to take the leap if they are thinking about quitting their job without another lined up. Definitely have an emergency fund of sorts to cover your expenses between roles. I had that, and even though I found a new role relatively quickly, knowing I'd be OK for several months was a big factor in my decision. This also gives you the time to reassess your career with a clear head and determine what your right next step is.” —Anonymous
8. Quitting may help you realize your value.
“I quit due to workplace bullying. At the time, I was in my 20s and a healthcare manager working in a well-known London hospital when I experienced workplace bullying from hospital consultants. It went on for a number of months, and I was broken. I had got myself into very unhealthy working practices so they wouldn't have any ammunition: working long hours, trying to carry a heavy workload, responding to all emails, working when off sick or on holiday. I was stuck in a cycle of negative thinking and felt awful physically and mentally.
I saw a leadership coach, who made me realize the only thing in this situation that I could control was myself. I realized I had a choice. I did not need to stay in this environment, and I trusted that whatever happened, I would find work and be OK regardless. I took on a temporary role, which was a breath of fresh air, staying for a year until the ideal permanent opportunity came along. I absolutely learned from this that no job was worth my sanity. I also realized my value. This was a valuable lesson that when you trust in yourself, great things happen.” —Merrisha G.
9. Get an outside perspective from someone you trust.
“I quit because I felt disrespected by coworkers and a manager. I was already on the fence before coming into this one specific shift, but after being verbally accosted by this one coworker and completely unsupported by management, I didn't even give a two-week notice. I told them I would finish this one shift, and then I was done. I was so drained at this job. Between being a student and working three-to-four times a week at this restaurant gig, I had no free time, even though I needed the money. I missed family vacations and left hangouts with friends early to meet the demands of my schedule, which really isolated me. I also had zero energy when I was off the clock. I would sleep all day until my shift, work my ass off for hours (we would average 10-12 miles in an eight-hour shift), and then go home and crash. It was a pretty boring cycle that took a lot out of me.
When I quit, I was really freaked out. Even though it would have been a lot less stressful if I had another job lined up, the way I quit spoke to the effects the job had on my mental health. I had messaged my partner earlier that day, asking if he thought we could swing it if I left because I knew this shift was my last straw. I didn't want to put the bills on him, and I knew this would be a dramatic cut to my already low funds. He told me we would figure it out and that my mental health was more important than money. I am so thankful for him because without him, I would still be there.
It's been tough, but with my extra time, I've been able to get another job that fits my lifestyle better as well as venture into entrepreneurship. I am also on track to graduate earlier than expected now that I have all this extra energy.” —Michaela A., 27
10. Consider therapy to help work through any trauma or uncertainty.
“I’ve worked in the nonprofit sector most of my life, trying to help others and neglecting myself. I most recently worked in the homeless service sector with people with lots of trauma. Vicarious trauma is real. Thankfully, I saved money in case I decided to leave. I’m glad I did that, and I have a therapist who is helping me navigate the uncertainty of what’s next.” —Anonymous
11. Decide how you want to better approach your next job.
“I’ve been an overachieving perfectionist my whole life (but only recently got diagnosed with OCD). I was so excited to start my first full-time job after college on a small staff of four. I loved the duties I got to do and enjoyed my team members, but as such a small staff, I was always being pulled in so many directions. I stayed at the job for a little over two years.
My bosses were shocked, which frustrates me to this day because I had told them at my second annual review several months before (where I received a promotion) that I was feeling burnt out and needed something to change. Nothing did, so I took matters into my own hands.
I feel fortunate that I was in a financial position to put in my two-weeks notice without knowing what would come next. The giddy euphoria I felt afterwards so outweighed the dread I had felt leading up to it. I was able to put in my last two weeks on a good note and take two weeks off before I started a new job (which I was offered the week after I put my notice in).
During this time off, I looked up healthy habits for the workplace and figured out how I could build these into a new routine for myself. Thankfully, my new job environment has its own protections against burnout, but I still stick to my new routine. The best things I’ve done are waking up an hour earlier than I need to for breakfast, doing simple chores like making my bed and unloading dishes, and taking time to snuggle and play with my cats. At my old job, I’d rush to work, arrive just on time, and begrudgingly eat breakfast at my desk feeling like I had no control over my time. Now, I start every morning fueling up for the day ahead and putting myself in charge of my day.” —Ashley F., 24
12. Check out workplace mental health resources if you can.
“I was teaching behavioral science for eight years. It was extremely rewarding in the beginning, but my relationship with my boss, who had mentored me and was a teacher of mine—because it was the same institution where I had gone to school—became toxic since she had this vision for me going forward, and it wasn't the same vision I necessarily had. That really took a toll on my mental health. A lot of lines were blurred between personal and professional.
Another thing that was happening at the same time was I was noticing more and more mental health issues becoming prevalent for my students, and our counseling services at the school were not so great. I was in therapy already, but if faculty members wanted to seek any kind of support services at the school, there was really only one school psychologist who was rarely ever there.
Between the toxic relationship with my boss and the students’ stories when they came to me after class, with me taking on their trauma and having my own, it was out of control. I was coming home hysterical every day, and so I ultimately decided I was going to leave.
I would try to research if there are mental services in your company or what your company has in terms of time off. Look into that if you’re trying to find another job, too, once you’ve quit. I would like to think the lack of resources has changed.” —Lindsay A., 37
13. Remember your worth and that there’s no one definition of success.
“I quit my job because I worked in a soul-sucking office environment where our bosses constantly looked over our shoulders to ensure we were being productive. They were so obsessed with making sure they didn’t pay us for even a second that we weren’t working that we had to clock out when we went to the bathroom or to microwave our sad frozen meals.
Obviously, this affected my mental health. Not only did they mistrust us with their time and pressure us to keep constant focus, but they also forced us—most often women—to perform menial tasks like moving boxes in and out of storage and cleaning toilets. In a setting where I felt constantly watched, often doubted, and sometimes demeaned, I began to feel hopeless and disempowered. I was only there for five months.
The final straw for me was when my boss forced me to clean a toilet and then, in the same week, gave me a measly $1K raise, where most people in the office received $2k or $3k raises. When I asked my boss for the reasoning behind my lower raise, he explained to me that that’s what he thought I was worth. I told him, with tears in my eyes, that I couldn’t continue to work there—even though I didn’t have a job lined up and had just moved into my first apartment with my own lease two months prior, the only saving grace being that I split the rent with my boyfriend at the time.
I handed out paper resumes to people in stores, looking for freelance jobs, side gigs, anything I was slightly interested in at places that had positive environments. At the end of the day, I ended up with a part-time job working for a florist and a freelance gig writing blog content for a boutique.
I immediately loved the flower shop. Everyone was nice, the admin work was easy, and I occasionally got to clean and arrange flowers, which genuinely made me happy. And when I realized I was happy, I did another thing: I stopped feeling bad about not achieving my definition of success within two years of college graduation. I stopped feeling bad that I didn’t have a full-time job with a career trajectory outlined, and I gave myself a break. I told myself it was OK to take time and find a corporate environment that could give me a higher salary, job security, and the future career I looked forward to—as long as I kept myself safe, sane, and far away from anywhere like my last job. If I had a job that was making me miserable, I would quit without a backup plan again in a heartbeat—without cleaning a toilet this time.” —Marisa W.
These quotes have been edited and condensed for length and clarity.
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