You tell yourself it’s OK and that it happens to everyone, particularly in the City. There’s nothing unusual about feeling stressed, particularly when things have been difficult in the office.
But it isn’t OK, and work shouldn’t be making you feel down. Ideally, it should be psychologically stimulating and rewarding. Too often it is neither, but we accept this because it puts food on the table.
What we should never accept, however, is a work-induced depressive illness as part of our job, and yet it regularly creeps up on us before we even realise what’s happening.
When work triggers depression, we are paralysed by feelings of dread and pessimism and are probably unable to function at a competitive level. This doesn’t bode well for our chances of success in the City, with its long hours and high level of pressure.
In fact, competition is at the heart of City culture – it drives us to be better than others or else be seen as inferior and a failure. It is the law of the jungle. But competing is stressful and does not suit every personality. Some, for instance, will thrive in a more cooperative and benign environment where they feel more creative and supported, and will crash in a workplace where they have to prove themselves against others.
The signs of work-induced depression
Recognising the signs of a stress-related mental illness is crucial to stop it developing further, so let’s go through them now.
1. Sleeping problems
A reduced ability to sleep is almost universal during any kind of psychological stress. Your mind senses a threat and decides, unilaterally and unhelpfully, that you have to remain awake in order to avert that threat. Some may feel tempted to use alcohol as an over-the-counter hypnotic, but that will only make matters worse.
2. Anxiety and tension
A pervasive feeling of anxiety and tension is a very common symptom of depression. We are not talking about the slight apprehension one may feel in anticipation of a difficult task ahead, but the generalised dread and floating fear that characterises depression.
This has immediate practical implications at work, because a generalised fear will impair performance drastically. Fear is designed to keep us alive in the jungle, but in the working world it doesn’t have a useful purpose.
3. Turning towards or away from food
There is a cluster of symptoms that may be present in different degrees, such as low self-esteem, loss of libido, irritability, feelings of guilt, fatigue, or lack of appetite and weight loss. Some, however, will find comfort in food.
4. A “flat” feeling
The hardcore symptom of depression is a pervading feeling of sadness, inevitably associated with an inability to enjoy life. Like Hamlet, the depressed worker will find all the uses of this world “weary, stale, flat and unprofitable”.
So, if you are feeling sad and anxious and can’t sleep at night, and have been feeling like this for a while, it is likely you are depressed rather than just being a bit stressed at work. And the longer you go without addressing the cause of these feelings or seeking help, the worse the symptoms are likely to become.
Depression is a horrible thing. There is no merit and no gain in living with it, so let’s not put up with it.
By Dr Euba, as published in City AM