Dealing with depression and anxiety when you have a demanding career

In my New Brighton counseling practice, I have the pleasure of working with high-achieving young adults. I specialize in anxiety and perfectionism, and many of my clients find themselves in demanding careers. Women who have perfectionistic tendencies often push themselves toward an unrealistic ideal. When the unrealistic goal is never achieved (because perfection is not achievable), they experience dissatisfaction and a lack of contentment. The cycle continues, and the woman is continually frustrated, believing her efforts aren’t good enough. Or worse, that she isn’t good enough.

It's not difficult to see how this situation could exacerbate existing anxiety and depression. And, while I believe we’ve made progress in crushing the stigma attached to mental health, it can still be quite difficult to manage anxiety and depression while in a demanding career.

Traditional work-life balance can be difficult, if it’s even possible at all! You may be expected to stay late at the office, or hop back online after dinner. Your job might require you to work weekends or nights, leaving you with little time to focus on yourself and your wellness. For better or for worse, demanding jobs require a significant amount of energy.

I won’t tell you to change careers or refuse to meet your employer's expectations. But I will encourage you to advocate for yourself. If you don't put yourself and your wellness first in the workplace, nobody else will do it for you. Here's what I mean.

The Modern Man's Essential Grooming Kit.png

Your employer, no matter how gracious, intuitive, or accommodating, cannot read your mind. You are the only person who truly knows what’s going on inside your mind and heart. It’s up to you to decide what you need, and then ask for it. So many of us- women, in particular- believe the subtle hints we are dropping are enough to communicate our needs to others. I say this in the most loving way- it’s something I struggle with, too! If you need your employer (or anyone else, for that matter) to accommodate your mental health, you need to ask for what you want in a clear, direct manner. Here are a couple ideas to get you started:

How to advocate for your mental health in the workplace

  • If you need to go to your therapy session during the workday, have a conversation with your boss about that. Come prepared with ideas- maybe you can come in an hour earlier (or stay later) on those days. Increasingly, employers are understanding the real benefits of allowing employees to take good care of themselves. Happier employees = happier customers.

  • Assume the role of mental health advocate in your office. Talk with HR about the benefits of happy, health employees. Does your company’s wellness program focus on physical health? What if mental wellness could be incorporated? Consider these facts about depression and anxiety in the workplace:

    • 30% of employees with an anxiety disorder report a loss in productivity, compared to 0.5% of employees without an anxiety disorder

    • An estimated $1 TRILLION is lost annually due to depression and anxiety

    • Untreated anxiety has an adverse impact on quality of work and relationships with coworkers

    How would your career benefit from an office culture that promoted whole-person wellness? We all get a boost when we feel our work is meaningful- just imagine how you might feel when advocating not only for yourself, but for the many others who would benefit from such a program.

  • Take all your vacation days. Every single one! And encourage your co-workers to do the same. Just say “no” to the martyrdom that comes with hoarding PTO. Paid time off is part of your compensation package, just like your salary or health insurance. Your employer gives you these days as a respite from work, which is actually an investment in you as an employee. Studies show that employees who take their vacation days are more productive, more creative, and happier than those who don't. I have a hunch that these findings are especially true for those of us who are managing depression and/or anxiety on a daily basis. 

  • Feeling overwhelmed by the noise in an open plan office? Invest in noise-canceling headphones to focus in on your work as needed. Reserve a conference room for some quiet time.

  • Take advantage of any flexibility your employer offers. Working remote one day per week can be a nice change from the daily commute. Can your hours be tweaked to start earlier or later in the day?

  • Check into your employee assistance program. You may be able to see a mental health therapist free of charge through your company's EAP benefits. These programs are usually time-limited (e.g., short-term counseling), but if you click with the therapist, all the more reason to continue working with the counselor after your EAP sessions are used.

  • Beware the office snacks! Pay attention to how food impacts your mood and anxiety. Take some time over the weekend to prepare lunches and snacks for the week. Focus on incorporating nutrient-dense foods into your work lunches- not only will this help you focus on your work tasks, but you'll avoid the emotional crash associated with too much sugar, processed foods, or caffeine. 

  • Similarly, beware of happy hour! A little nuance is important here. If anxiety or depression are telling you to isolate, maybe it would be beneficial to attend happy hour. If you have trouble saying no to alcohol or you end up relying on it to feel comfortable, maybe it's best to steer clear. Reflect on your needs and make the decision accordingly.

How to effectively care for yourself OUTSIDE of work

  • Invest in yourself outside of work hours. Read personal development books, take fitness classes, explore your city, spend time in nature, reach out to old friends! I love sites like Career Contessa and The Everygirl for career inspiration.

  • Find other interests outside of your career. What was it that your 8-year-old self loved to do? For me, it was reading and writing, especially while outside. What is it for you? Swimming, playing with a pet, doing something artistic? 

  • Resist the urge to isolate. Both depression and anxiety love to make you feel alone in your pain. There's a difference between spending time alone to rejuvenate, and spending time alone because depression is telling you to withdraw from your friends.

  • Start meeting with a counselor. You could learn why you respond to a particular co-worker in that way, or why getting a “do you have a minute?” message from your boss sends you into an anxious tailspin. You could learn concrete strategies for thinking and behaving in a more helpful manner.

Anxiety and depression don’t need to dictate your next career move. Counseling can help you learn to manage your mental health at work, while giving you practical skills to think and behave in more helpful ways. To get started, schedule your intake session today. Appointments available in New Brighton and Roseville.