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  • Neil Dolan

Work Depression: How to take care of your mind on the job



If you feel down and depressed when working, you’re not alone. Stress, anxiety, sadness, difficulty concentrating, loss of motivation, and boredom are just a small range of the things you may be feeling if you’re experiencing depressive symptoms at work.


Depression impacts upon over 6 million UK adults and 17 million American adults each year, and these figures nearly doubled during the pandemic last year.


When you consider that full-time employees spend an average of 8.5 hours per day working on weekdays and sometimes working extra hours on weekends and holidays, it comes as no surprise that many of them will experience symptoms of depression while on the job.


So, what is workplace depression?


While it may not be the job itself that causes depression, the environment may worsen symptoms for someone who already lives with depression.


A negative working environment can lead to:

  • lost productivity

  • absenteeism

  • mental and physical health concerns

  • increased substance use


Research findings report that depression falls within the top three problems in the workplace for professionals.


As with all health conditions, awareness and early detection are key.


Depression is a complex condition, as it tends to co-occur with other symptoms, and manifests through thoughts, feelings, and behaviour that can affect anyone and everyone. There can be a variety of work and non-work-related factors at play when someone is struggling with workplace depression.


So, what are the signs of workplace depression?


The signs of workplace depression are the same as those for general depressive symptoms. However, some may appear more specific to the workplace setting.


This depression will affect the way you function while at work and while you’re at home.


Common signs of workplace depression include:


  • inability to concentrate or pay attention to work tasks and trouble retaining or remembering things in daily work tasks

  • increased anxiety levels, especially when managing stressful situations or thinking about work when you’re away from your job

  • impaired decision-making capacity

  • irritability, increased anger, and poor frustration tolerance

  • physical complaints like headaches, fatigue, and upset stomach

  • increased absences or coming late and leaving early

  • loss of interest in tasks at work, especially duties that you previously found interesting and fulfilling

  • overall feelings of boredom and complacency about your job

  • low energy and lack of motivation to do things, which can sometimes manifest as boredom in tasks, especially new information

  • making excessive errors

These signs of depression, all indicated by a decreased level in cognitive functioning, are the result off an overly stressed brain which leads to both physical and mental exhaustion.


This is the result of too much negative introspection or rumination.


We as human beings are very adept at masking or internalizing such symptoms, so that they are not visible to co-workers. But there are some signs and symptoms that are more likely to be noticed.


What are the common signs of workplace depression to be aware of?


  • late arrival at work, missed meetings, or absent days

  • procrastination, missed deadlines, reduced productivity, subpar performance in tasks, increased errors, or difficulty making decisions

  • seeming indifference, forgetfulness, detachment, and disinterest in things

  • withdrawal or isolation from other people

  • poor self-hygiene or significant change in appearance

  • an appearance of tiredness for most or part of the day (may be taking afternoon naps at work)

  • irritability, anger, feeling overwhelmed, or getting very emotional during conversations (may start crying suddenly or become tearful over trivial things)

  • lack confidence while attempting tasks


Why you might be depressed at work


There are numerous reasons why you might be experiencing depressive symptoms at work. These can be the same and different for everyone, but there are common themes that emerge when identifying the causes or triggers of depression at work.


  • lacking balance between work and home

  • working irregular hours

  • working in a setting that does not match your personal values

  • working in a toxic environment

  • being over worked and underpaid

  • doing work that brings little meaning to your life

  • feeling like you have no control over work issues

  • doing work that doesn’t further your career goals


What’s the difference between work stress and work depression?


It is fairly common to experience stress at work, but don’t ignore those feelings of depression. It’s important to know the difference between the two.


Work stress

  • occasional bouts of feeling anxious and irritable

  • muscle tensions or headaches

  • stress that decreases in intensity when the stressor has passed


Work depression

  • Stress that does not decrease when the stressor has passed

  • persistent feelings of anxiety

  • lack of focus and concentration

  • increased feelings of sadness

  • feeling bored and not fulfilled in your job


What can you do if you feel depressed while working?


It does not matter where you work, managing symptoms at work can be challenging. Below are five beneficial things you can do when you’re feeling depressed:


1. Take actual work breaks


Take a regular 10 minute a break away from the desk or office


Whenever possible leave your work area during your lunch break.


Far too many people are taking their lunch break at the desk or area they work from. In doing this, the mind doesn’t switch off from work task demands. This is because the environment, the workspace is psychologically paired with engaging in work task demands. So, when you stay at your workspace, you are in fact not giving your brain the downtime it essentially needs.


A break means exactly that -take a break from it!


2. Go for a walk


Go for a quick walk during your break, even if it’s indoors, to decompress and discharge and any workplace stress.


3. Mindfulness meditation


Practise a few minutes of mindfulness meditation during your breaks and/or lunch. There are plenty of free mindfulness apps out there for FREE.


4. Breathing Properly


Incorporate some beep breathing techniques into your day. The 7- 11 breathing technique (in for 7 seconds and out for 11 seconds) is very subtle and very effect at downregulating stress responses.


Its crucial to remember that the outbreath needs to longer than the inbreath, because the out breath activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which down regulates heart rate, blood pressure, and the release of adrenalin.


5. Be assertive


Be assertive in relation to YOUR needs. Start by saying no to small tasks demands others make on you so that you do NOT become overloaded with your own work and work of others.


This is about you being HONEST around your own needs, and making sure that they are meet first, before you help others out.


6. Talk to your immediate supervisor of boss


If you are noticing a link between depressive symptoms and your work place a good first step is to raise this with your supervisor or boos, as long as you feel supported by them


A change in assignment or location within an office or organization can help reduce symptoms


Some employers now offer wellbeing courses for their staff to attend.


Outside of work, a combination of hypnosis, psychotherapy and lifestyle change are often recommend for treating depression.



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