Depression and anxiety at work
More than 18 million Americans suffer from depression. Don't let it disrupt your life and work; it pays to get help.
You have difficulty concentrating on work, are exhausted because you can’t sleep, feel on the verge of tears all the time, are nervous and overwhelmed, or some combination of the above.
But that’s just part of work and the daily grind, right? Better learn to suck it up and deal, right?
Not exactly. There’s a definite difference between regular ol’ stress at work—a big presentation, a client’s disapproval, a heavy workload—and serious depression and anxiety.
“When you experience really painful feelings that just won't go away—no matter what you do—and those feelings interfere with all areas of your life, it's important to get support, as you may be experiencing signs of depression and anxiety,” says Aimee Barr, a Brooklyn-based psychotherapist.
Depression and anxiety can be debilitating, so it’s not surprising that these two forces can impact your experiences at work. In survey by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) that asked people which aspects of their job were affected by anxiety and depression, 56% said workplace performance, 51% said their relationship with coworkers and peers, 50% said their quality of work, and 43% said their relationships with superiors.
The last thing you need is for your job stability or your boss’s perception of you to suffer when you are suffering. So if you’re feeling like anxiety or depression is hindering your work relationships and performance, try these expert-recommended strategies.
Start by talking to a professional
A therapist can help you develop a treatment plan, such as weekly talk therapy or medicine. But even looking for someone to see can be a tough first step when you’re already not feeling your best. So Dr. Ann Clark, CEO and founder of the San Diego-based Employee Assistance Program (EAP) provider ACI Specialty Benefits, recommends participating in your company’s EAP, if there is one.
“[EAP] is a confidential, employer-sponsored program to address absolutely any mental health concern including depression, anxiety, stress, emotional wellness, grief and loss, substance abuse and addiction, family and relationship issues, and any personal concern,” says Clark. She adds that employees typically have access to three to six free sessions—where the clinician offers assessment, short-term problem resolution, and referrals to additional resources.
If your company doesn’t have an EAP, you can find lots of resources online. For example, the ADAA has a “find help” section of their site, and the National Institute of Mental Health is another great source of information.
Talk to your boss or HR
Even though so many people say anxiety and depression interferes with work performance, only 40% of them disclose it to their employer. It’s likely that people don’t speak up and ask for help because there is still a stigma around mental health. People may be worried that they will be viewed as incapable of doing their job and could be let go as a result of asking for help.
But depending upon the severity of your symptoms, you may want to make certain people at work aware of your situation.
If you need to take a mental health day here or there, Clark recommends using a sick day or paid time off without providing a detailed explanation about your reason.
However, “if your depression and anxiety is starting to interfere with your work and your ability to do your job, I recommend speaking with your boss,” says Barr, noting that your boss has more of an impact on your work responsibilities than HR. (She recommends that you only turn to HR if your conversation with your boss does not yield any results.)
For example, if you’re working on a particularly difficult project that is causing you to feel anxious or depressed, you might want to let your manager know you need help so that he/she can delegate some of the responsibilities to your co-workers. You might say, “I want to deliver excellent results, but I’m feeling overwhelmed. It would be very helpful if I could work on this project with a few more people. Who on our team do you think could be a good fit?”
If you need to take a leave of absence or accommodations to your workspace, Clark says, “a simple statement like, 'I have a medical condition that requires an extended leave,' or, 'I have a medical condition that requires I work in an area with natural sunlight,' should suffice for HR or management." Note that you may need to provide additional documentation from a doctor or clinician.
Create coping mechanisms
Taking care of yourself and developing coping mechanisms can help you throughout the workday. A professional can help you develop specific coping mechanisms for your symptoms.
In general, Barr recommends doing breathing exercises to reduce anxiety throughout the day. “We need to regulate our breathing, especially when things are really intense,” says Barr. “When our anxiety is at a high level, it’s hard to problem-solve and think critically.”
Take short breaks during the workday—go for a walk and cry if you feel the need, call a friend or family member, or simply take some time to yourself. It’s also important not to isolate yourself. Reach out to co-workers, join them for coffee breaks, and make a concerted effort to be engaged, rather than closing yourself off.
Nancy Halpern, an executive at the New York City-based executive coaching firm KNH Associates, emphasizes maintaining healthy habits such as eating well, getting enough sleep, exercising, and spending time with friends and family. She recommends making plans three to four nights a week so that you always have someone to talk to after a draining day.
Depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions can make it especially challenging to get through even the normal routines of a work day, but a strong support system—at home and at work—can help you push through the tough times.
This article is not intended as a substitute for professional legal or medical advice. Always seek the professional advice of an attorney and/or qualified health provider regarding any legal or medical questions you may have.