Holidays from work can elicit relief and dread in equal measure when you know you’ll be going back to a co-worker who seems to suck the air right out of the room and drains you dry — in other words, an “energy vampire.”

Working with difficult people for too long can lead to burnout — a state of emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged exposure to stress. It saps your energy to the extent that you can lose your interest and motivation on the job and end up feeling increasingly cynical and resentful. It can even lead to someone developing serious mental health and medical conditions such as depression, anxiety, problem drinking, digestive issues, chronic fatigue syndrome, immune system disorders, obesity and heart disease.

So what are energy vampires and what can you do to help prevent them from ruining your work day?

Energy vampires are emotionally immature individuals who are self-absorbed, often incapable of empathy, with poor control of their emotions. They can cause power factions in teams and manipulate others to get what they want. They may invade your personal space, fail to extend the normal professional courtesies that are expected in the workplace and don’t seem to understand the word “no.” You could feel angry, anxious, overwhelmed, bored or irritated around them and begin to doubt yourself as your reality becomes distorted.

If you are dreading going back to work because of the presence of energy vampires, you can follow these five steps to protect yourself from them.

  1. Acknowledge the early warning signs. If you get a gut feeling that something’s not quite right, listen to it. Read the signs even in the smallest of behaviors. Stop doubting yourself and observe reality as it is, not as you think it should be. Remember, an energy vampire’s world revolves around them and you exist only if you are useful, so never take what they do personally.
  2. Set boundaries and don’t be too empathic. Energy vampires have poor boundaries. Make sure your “no” is loud and clear or else they won’t get it. You may have to manage them rather than relate to them, and if you are too empathic, you risk being used.
  3. Don’t share personal information with them. Be tight-lipped. Anything you share of a personal nature could come back to haunt you. They won’t hesitate to exploit it to gain advantage.
  4. Limit your exposure. Know your limits and give yourself lots of space. Small strategies such as sneezing at certain moments to interrupt draining discussions, taking a step back out of their space or going to the toilet can give you breathing space.
  5. If you can’t take it, don’t — get out. Your workplace energy vampire isn’t likely to change and suddenly take self-responsibility. Instead she will blame others and demand that everything around her should change. You would be wise to cut your losses and consider finding another job or working in another department. You need to have a really good reason to stay, not just because you need the money.

If you feel drained from working with energy vampires and want more detail on how to protect yourself, you can learn more about developing effective strategies by downloading the following report.