This week I wanted to talk about something that isn’t really shared much, but it should be. I have done previous blogs around mental health and depression. This time I thought it’d be important to highlight something that affects a lot of people. Depression at work. How on earth can you spot something like that? It’s a valuable question to ask because quite often a person might simply shrug it off as stress and think they’re just having a bad day. I personally want to talk more about it so people are able to identity depression or stress at work before it gets worse.

Depression at work can slowly creep up on anyone at anytime. In fact, one in six New Zealand adults were diagnosed with a mental disorder in 2013. What’s even more shocking is to know millennials are more depressed at work than any generation. These findings shed some light on why young people or adults might be more afraid to voice their concerns about mental illness because of the stigma around it.

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I’ve talked about the stigma around mental illness in previous blogs but you an imagine how daunting it’d be to share this kind of information in a work environment. A perfect example of this was when I used to work in customer service. The supervisor at the time was talking about an employee’s mental health like it was any other topic. They were gossiping about them and I was listening in horror. That employee had obviously disclosed this information in private and it was been shared with other people without their consent. Not all work places are like this but it could be one of the big problems around mental health and work places. People don’t know how to talk about it or address it.

Employees might not want to tell their boss about their reasons for wanting a day off, so it can lead to people showing up to work 9-5 five days a week. Yet they’ll perform well below average and won’t really seem like themselves. When things start to get out of control there are unfortunate consequences which can eventually lead to losing a job or leaving because you feel completely miserable. This isn’t enjoyable for anyone to go through because a common feeling with depression is guilt, so if you fail in your work life, it’s an ongoing vicious cycle. I’ve been hesitant to open up about my own experience but seeing other people on my news feed be courageous and say they left their job because they were experiencing depression, or struggling, made me want to do the same.

My experience only really happened towards the end after a few months. I had a great team I liked working with, an awesome job, and a healthy pay check. Yet I wasn’t healthy myself. This isn’t to say oh hey I got a new job and it made me depressed. That’s not how it works. Things in my personal life had seeped over where I wasn’t getting enough sleep and I was stressing myself out over little things. So if you aren’t getting enough sleep you aren’t productive at work and you don’t eat properly and so on. I had of course tried to sort out those things in my personal life and things would seem fine but then there started to be more grey days than good days. Eventually it all became too much.

lose itAfter performing well and achieving accomplishments I had gotten worse. I wondered why I couldn’t complete even the most basic tasks. I would drag myself to work and as soon as I walked in the door already I would feel like a failure dreading the day ahead. Surely this wasn’t normal. How could I be feeling this way when I’ve had many jobs in the past and thrived in busy environments? The worst thing to do is to push it aside and pretend it’s all rainbows and sunshine. I was afraid to jeopardize my new position and lose everything. I know I’m a good writer it’s what I love to do and what I want to do for a job yet my weakness was I couldn’t admit I actually had a problem. Partly because I’m a bit stubborn and pride got in the way where I thought the dark cloud would pass.

While you might not have experienced depression like I have, you’ve most likely had a bad day. Depression, however, isn’t just a low day that goes away. Everyone can feel sad, grumpy, or moody every once in a while. With depression these feelings can continue for days, weeks, or even years. It’s a lonely and horrible place to be. Plus, it can seem almost impossible to tell the difference between stress and depression at work if you haven’t experienced it before. So here are some common symptoms of stress and depression at work, but again everyone might be different:

Stress at Work 

  • Increased anxiety and irritability.
  • Impaired sleep and concentration.
  • Verbal or physical aggression.
  • Reduced attention span and impaired memory.

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Depression at work

  • Low, depressive mood with negative thoughts about self and others.
  • Numbness, emptiness and despondency.
  • Lack of interest in life and motivation to do things.
  • Difficulty concentrating.
  • Social withdrawal.
  • Lack of appetite, or comfort eating.
  • Sleep disturbance.
  • Increased use of alcohol, tobacco or other drugs.
  • Feelings of guilt.
  • Self-neglect.
  • Anxiety.
  • Suicidal thoughts or thoughts of self-harm.

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Getting Help 

If you’re experiencing stress at work it could be to do with your work load or other areas of your life. It’s much easier to pull yourself out of stress if you get help early and simply talk to someone about it to avoid getting burnt out. Decrease your workload or take the time to find a healthy balance. A bit of stress is good if it keeps you motivated where you meet deadlines, but not if you’re falling asleep at your desk and chugging a crazy amount of coffee each day.

Of course it isn’t just as easy as saying you can pull yourself out of severe depression because you can’t. I’m not saying it’s an easy road to recovery but the first step is admitting the problem otherwise it just goes on and on. Reading the symptoms now you may think it’s easy to spot the problem but I was experiencing some of these things without actually knowing it for at least a year. I now look back and realise I can’t blame myself for something that was out of my control. Having a mental illness isn’t your fault.

The best way to get better is to seek the help you need either through counselling or medication depending on how severe the depression is. Little things like exercise and doing things you enjoy can help with depression. Other things like meditation and getting rid of negative thoughts. Even knowing what triggers your stress or depression is a good step towards self healing.

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Walking up Mt Eden for some exercise

Most of all don’t push yourself or ruin your mental health. If the job isn’t working for you perhaps take a break for the sake of your sanity and as hard as it is, leaving a job can sometimes be the only option. There will be other jobs and opportunities in the future, but you are your number one priority. People sometimes ask, “what if that situation happened again?” well, I now know the symptoms of stress and how to handle it. Right now I’m in great health and have overcome depression, but I probably wouldn’t recognise myself a few months ago.

Some people with mental health can hold down jobs quite easily and for others it might prove to be a lot harder. Since we spend a lot of our time at work feeling supported at your job is important. You don’t need to yell it out in the middle of the office that you have anxiety or depression or whatever it is, and you don’t have to disclose your mental health situation to your employer if you don’t want to. Yet chatting to the right people and those who you feel comfortable with can bring a feeling of relief. Whether it’s family, friends or a partner, people who can support you are those who truly care about you no matter what.

If I have any advice for someone who might be going through stress or depression don’t suffer alone. Dealing with depression or mental illness isn’t a weakness. There are the old feelings of will people pity me if I tell them, will they think differently of me and not think I’m capable of functioning properly. The fear of feeling vulnerable in front of others and not wanting to draw attention to myself. When I began to think more positively I realised I wasn’t alone. There are others who have gone through a similar situation or know someone who has.

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Remember you’re valued just as much if you open up to people about a mental illness. Having a mental illness often feels like you’re trapped in your own mind and in a emotional prison. Or that you’re in a fight and it’s you vs you. It won’t happen over night but gradually you’ll get better and win the fight. Just like when you heal from an injury or a broken bone, your mind is also healing, day by day you become stronger until you’re ready to get back on track.

3 thoughts on “How to Cope with Stress and Depression at Work

    1. Just been there for someone with depression is important. An ear to listen and a shoulder to cry on. Not making their problems seem small or thinking it’s a “bad mood.” If you think someone is a danger to themselves have a chat to them, counselling is a great service but a person can only seek help if they’re ready to.

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