What is work-related stress/depression?
According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), work-related stress, depression or anxiety is defined as “a harmful reaction people have to undue pressures and demands placed on them at work.” Stress and depression caused by work can affect people in many different ways, and very much depends on the person. We all handle stress differently, and what people can cope with can vary greatly. Just because someone else can cope in a stressful situation, does not necessarily mean that someone else can. Often people do not realise that they are stressed until it gets to the point where they may need medical treatment. It’s very common to keep going as things get more and more difficult and then ‘snap’ after many months of constant stress.
What should I do if I’m feeling stressed or depressed because of work?
It’s best to seek help as soon as possible to minimise the long term effects of stress. If stress is left untreated it can lead to more severe stress symptoms and eventually depression. It is best to speak to your manager as soon as things start getting difficult, but often it may not be easy to speak out about problems, as often people are worried that it will reflect badly on their ability to do their job. If you are struggling to feel motivated at all or get out of bed, It’s best to make an appointment with your GP and tell them how you feel. You may be prescribed medication to help you to feel better in the meantime until the stressful situation subsides. It’s also important to learn about self-care techniques so you learn to recognise your stress triggers and how to look after yourself better. Making positive changes to nutrition, health and wellbeing can help you to cope better with stressful situations, but in some cases the amount of stress people are under is unmanageable. In this case it might be necessary to be signed off work for a period of time to recover and get out of the stressful situation. Often people can find being off sick just as stressful as being at work, but in most cases it helps to be out of the situation. Your manager should involve Occupational Health when you report stress or other difficult situations, so that they can carry out a stress risk-assessment and work out how to improve the situation.
How is work-related stress or depression treated?
You may be able to feel better by reducing the levels of stress at work (changing your working environment, reducing your workload, extra training) and putting self-care techniques in place to improve your health and wellbeing.
If you have been in the situation for a long time, you may need to take time off work and concentrate on feeling better. This might involve anti-depressant medication and talking therapies to discuss how you’re feeling and come up with solutions. You could join a local support group to get support from outside the family if necessary. You may also be able to access exercise on prescription from your GP so you can join a gym or swim affordably to help with your recovery.
If you are feeling very ill or suicidal, you may need to spend some time in hospital. It may be best to check yourself in if you are feeling at risk, as you will receive more specialist support. You may also need medication that cannot be prescribed by doctors (a Psychiatrist will be in charge of your case). If you are very depressed you may benefit from ECT. This treatment is not for everyone, and can cause memory loss. Discuss these options with your care team.
What should I do if I’m not happy with how my situation is being dealt with at work?
If you have spoken with your manager(s) about the situation and nothing has been done to improve things, then it may be necessary to go over their heads. You can make a formal complaint using your employer’s grievance procedure. If necessary get advice on the grievance procedures applicable to your organisation. If bullying continues after grievance has been started you should consider legal action and go to an employment tribunal (a solicitor can advise you about this). You can also speak to advisors at the Citizens Advice Bureau and ACAS.
There are many ways that you can make changes to your lifestyle, health and wellbeing to try and cope better with stress in the future.
- Exercise – regular exercise has been found to be crucial in helping people to cope with stress. Exercising for twenty minutes daily can make a huge difference to your mood and is a great coping strategy. Find exercise that you enjoy and include it in your daily routine. Yoga has been found to benefit both the body and mind, think about joining a class in your local area or doing yoga classes online.
- Dietary changes – often when we’re stressed we turn to junk food, sugary snacks and alcohol to feel better. This might work to keep us going in the short-term but long-term this has negative effects on our wellbeing. We use sugar to give us energy and alcohol to calm us down, which can play havoc with our bodies and lead to diabetes, obesity and other long term health problems. By eating a healthier diet, avoiding processed food and snacks, drinking more water and cutting down on alcohol, we find that we can naturally cope better with stressful situations that arise.
- Meditation – managing our mind is just as important as looking after our bodies. Mediation has been found to lower stress levels, boost our immune systems and give us more peace of mind and clarity in our lives. By joining a local meditation class or doing guided meditations online, you can learn techniques to calm your mind.
- Spirituality/faith – if you have been ill you may have questioned your life and what you’re here for. You may come to the realisation that you need to have more passion or purpose in your life, and you may not have been feeling that in your work. There are many personal development and spiritual books out there which help people to gain deeper meaning and find fulfilment in their lives. You can also work with a life or business coach to help you to change careers or become self-employed.
- Hobbies – having good work-life balance is another great tool to counteract work-related stress. If you’ve been working too much, think about what you enjoy and hobbies that you may have had when you were younger. You might be neglecting your creative side! Painting, writing or journaling, crafts and any other creative pursuits may help you to feel better. Making time to go to the cinema or read may also help. If we don’t switch off our brains and spend all of our time in front of a laptop, it makes sense that we will feel bad at some point down the line. Having an active social life is also a good way to counterbalance stress at work.