Workplace depression is real. Here’s how to live your best life on the clock.
Even Oprah gets depressed.
The media mogul and lifestyle guru reveals in Vogue’s September issue that her 1998 box office bomb “Beloved” sent her into a dark place for six weeks.
“I actually started to think, Maybe I really am depressed. Because it’s more than ‘I feel bad about this.’ I felt like I was behind a veil,” she said. “I felt like what many people had described over the years on my show, and I could never imagine it. What’s depression? Why don’t you just pick yourself up?”
And it’s not just major publicized workplace failures that can leave workers feeling low. The daily grind is wearing many of us down. Mental illness short-term disability claims are growing by 10% annually, according to the Center for Workplace Mental Health.
And this brain strain costs serious money. Depression is a leading cause of lost U.S. productivity with an annual cost of $44 billion to employers, according to the Depression Center at the University of Michigan. In fact, employers are losing 27 work days per depressed worker, with two-thirds coming from “presenteeism” – when workers are present, but less productive.
“There are very clear connections between work stress and depression, as well as other psychological symptoms,” psychiatrist Dr. Igor Galynker at Mount Sinai Beth Israel told Moneyish.
He explained that while small doses of acute stress (working toward occasional deadlines, or giving a big presentation) can cue your fight-or-flight response in a good way to boost performance, chronic stress (journalists on constant deadline, or police officers in the line of fire daily) is linked to depression, heart disease, high blood pressure and type II diabetes.
Other workplace traps that can trigger depression include:
-Feeling like you have no control. You have no say in making any decision or changing the work culture, and you don’t feel comfortable talking to your manager or employer about it.
-Job insecurity. You could be fired or laid off at any time, or fret getting axed if you address workplace issues.
-Irregular work hours and poor sleep. You can’t rely on a consistent schedule, and you’re not getting enough rest to recharge.
-Work-life interference. You’re texting and emailing with your employer outside of work hours, and you’re struggling to maintain family relationships, or care for children or sick parents.
-Workplace discrimination or harassment. Hostile work environments and threatening interactions with coworkers and superiors are associated with higher risks of depression.
-Values that don’t align. You legit abhor where you work or who you are working for, or you’re doing something you have zero interest in.
So what can you do?
Identify whether you’re stressed, or depressed. “When you feel like it’s Monday every day, you’re being pushed over the edge,” Dr. Nancy Spangler, a consultant for the Center of Workplace Mental Health, warned Moneyish. Are you having trouble sleeping at night and getting out of bed in the morning? Are you withdrawing from coworkers? And has the quality of your work changed: You can’t make decisions, meet deadlines or keep organized anymore?
“What may look like withdrawal or laziness or disinterest could really be an employee struggling to keep it all together,” said Dr. Spangler.
Employers should also watch out for these symptoms in employees. Treating depression saves employers $2,000 annually per employee through improved health and productivity, according to the Center of Workplace Mental Health, which has tools to coach supervisors in spotting someone suffering from depression, and ways to approach them to help.
Take steps to regain control so that you don’t feel so trapped. “Create options for yourself,” said Dr. Galynker. See if you can switch schedules, or reprioritize what’s on your plate, and push back deadlines where possible.
This could also include finding another gig. “Looking for a job is an escape mechanism, and sometimes also a life-saving mechanism if you find a good job that repairs the situation,” said Dr. Galynker. Or it can give you fresh perspective on your current gig if the other jobs out there are actually worse, or paying less.
Take breaks. Dr. Spangler suggests going for a run or a walk, which is proven to boost mood. Spend a few minutes meditating at your desk or someplace quiet. Use your vacation days, even to just extend your weekend by a day or two to reboot. Or call in a mental health day, which is losing its stigma thanks to employers like Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and Olark CEO Ben Congleton, who went viral recently after praising an employee for taking personal time to focus on her well-being.
“Sometimes we ignore the signs [of depression], or we don’t think it’s serious until we’re overwhelmed,” added Dr. Spangler. “Knowing when we need to replenish ourselves, physically and emotionally … helps us bounce back from stress and become resilient.”
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