Are you struggling with depression at work? Don't miss these tips for managing work stress.
A new study shows that one-third of people in the workplace struggle with depression. In the past, there has been a lot of attention paid to gaining a healthy work/play balance, which basically boils down to making sure you leave the stress of work at the office and play hard at home. Good advice, but if our stress level is building throughout the day, by the time we arrive home, we often feel exhausted, irritable, and spent. We don’t have the energy for making a healthy meal much less having fun with our children. When all is said and done, we are lucky to get in 5-6 hours of fitful sleep before dragging ourselves through the same routine the next day.
Sound familiar? If so, I would argue that waiting until after work to “balance” out your life is setting yourself up for failure. Instead, the more stressful your job, the more critical it is to add play and rest into your day rather than stockpiling it for later.
I know what you’re thinking. I don’t have time for pee breaks much less playing during the day. Believe me, I understand. As a therapist specializing in trauma with a full practice, I feel a huge amount of pressure to do my best and give my all for my clients. My workday is full of stress. On any given day, I start the day with a client ready to kill themselves followed by another shaking with anger (possibly at me—that transference stuff is no joke), and then a couple awkwardly trying to talk about how sex triggers PTSD flashbacks. And this is just what happens before lunch. The idea of stopping for a bathroom break, much less play, can seem trivial given that my clients are literally dealing with life and death issues.
But the problem with calling my basic needs trivial compared to the needs of my clients (or your own compared to those of your company or that deadline) is that, in the words of my mother, it’s not a competition. This idea that we have to choose between our own needs and those of our business is as silly and backwards as my daughter feeling like I love her brother better when I tell him I am proud of him. The reality is that we can…and should…meet our needs so that we can better meet the needs of our jobs.
Sure, sure, you are thinking. That’s easier said than done. And you are right. The reason that 1/3 of workers are depressed is because it is extremely hard and scary to actually apply balance in our workplace. It brings up questions of worthiness and requires authenticity and tenacity. Our society tells us that to succeed we need to work harder. I say that we need to work smarter. We are told that taking breaks and playing on the job are wastes of time, laziness and selfishness. I say that if we are to be effective managers of time, we need to set ourselves up for long-term productivity. We believe that if we say no to a time-sucking client that we might not get another client and our business will fail. I say that if we know who we are and stay true to that (which does require saying no to people and projects that do not fall under the umbrella of our core goals), then we will build a more meaningful and strong business that can stand the test of time.
So, if you want to feel less depressed at work (or at home or wherever), follow these four simple steps.
1. You have to believe it first, then you’ll start to see the results. Tell yourself that you are worth it. Drill it into your thoughts that your business or work performance will be better when you do it. Remind yourself so often that you drown out the doubt and stomp out the guilt. Know also that believing is a leap of faith. You will not have the evidence in hand until after you try.
2. Set yourself up for success, not failure. Take the time to step back and think about your day. Are there some steps you can take that will help you take breaks as you need them or remind you to be playful as you work. For me, I need to schedule in breaks or they do not happen. I also fill my office with toys and challenge myself to laugh at least once a session. If I can inspire laughter working with the topics of grief, rape, and panic attacks, it can certainly be done with spreadsheets and sales quotas. Put the structure for play and rest into place even if it means taking some risks to do so.
3. Make play and rest an integral part of every day and every activity, rather than a separate thing on your to-do list. If you have a presentation to make, pause to take a breath. Even think about inviting the audience to do the same. Pay attention to how you are feeling as well as to how the audience seems to be engaging. Ask yourself if you can present the information in a fun way. Look for the laughter. Taking a breather, checking in with yourself, actually enjoying the taste of a client dinner…all of these things that can and should be done at the same time as being efficient. It just takes focusing on this goal before you start.
4. Remember to get back on when you fall off the wagon. Once you are playing and resting throughout your day, you will begin to see how much more efficient and effective you are. It is amazing how much more we get done when we are focused on our true goals and staying true to ourselves.
But inevitably, you will fall back into old ways. It might be triggered by some outside stressor. Or perhaps something makes you feel insecure and sparks up the old tapes telling you that you have to prove yourself. The trick is to recognize when this is happening and redouble your efforts towards balance then and there. Go back to these steps, and you will further insulate yourself from the workplace blues.
Navigating life can be a hard, lonely business. Sometimes a little strategy, a few new tricks, and an ear to listen can be just the thing to get you moving in a better direction. I believe everyone can be their best selves and dedicate my practice to wholeness and healing.