Harvard Law has taken a ‘cold, hard’ look at issues affecting their student body, one of which is student mental health. The ‘grisly reality’ is that, in a survey taken last year, a quarter of the student body reported suffering from depression. Read more here.
The sad truth is that too many lawyers end up taking their life after being beaten down by their career. In “Another Lawyer Suicide: How the Psychology of Being a Big Firm Lawyer Can Tear You Down,” Harrison Barnes explains that lawyers can prepare themselves and beat the psychological tear down that often comes with the legal industry by avoiding the external factors that they feel the constant need to measure up to. Read it here.
I recently interviewed a friend and former co-worker who lost a career and a 13-year job due, in large part, to a bout of severe depression and anxiety that was not being managed well by her behavioral health specialist. This friend has depression in her family and had been through several depressive episodes in her life, but had come out of each of them with a combination of medication, support from friends, therapy, and self-exploration. In her 30+ years of working, she had never before lost a job because of her mental health issues.
Prior to this episode, she had been widely praised at her company for over a decade, and most of the time had received praise, bonuses, and regular raises. Her social security reports showed a steady upward trend in her compensation over the years that she had been in the workforce, the way it was supposed to. She felt she had done well professionally.
But then, things got hard. She had just left an abusive relationship, and the combination of trauma and her genetic predisposition to depression had sent her into a spiral of sometimes-suicidal depression, for which she sought professional help.
We seem to really get a kick out of complaining about work. We hover around the water cooler, confide in our friends, and even share our workplace horror stories with our spouses.
But recounting all the things that made us miserable one day doesn’t help us enjoy our workday more tomorrow. A better strategy is to actually address the negative feelings we have.
When annoyance, self-doubt, or the blues surface at work, we can learn to work through these feelings. Here are three emotion regulation strategies you can use—and how to put them into practice for a happier work life.
- Mindful acceptance: Let the things you cannot change be.
Negative emotions exist. Pushing them away or ignoring them does more harm than good, even if we might be tempted to do so.
Instead, try acknowledging your emotions and giving them a seat at the table. Maybe you feel bad because your boss plays favorites—and you’re not the favorite. Or maybe you’re frustrated because your teammates are always running late. It’s okay to feel these negative emotions. You don’t need to judge yourself.
To learn how to practice acceptance at work, start at home by writing out a list of the things you can and cannot control. First, focus on the things you cannot control. Let any emotions you have rise to the surface. Work on accepting these emotions, and yourself, just as you are—saying things like, “I am angry that I didn’t get a promotion, but that’s okay. I am allowed to feel angry.” Experience these emotions, but don’t hold on to them or ruminate on the causes. Just let them fade in their own time.
A word of caution: You might be better served by actually changing your situation if you have the ability to do so, rather than accepting an abusive boss or unhealthy work environment. Use that list of things you can control to take action.
- Self-distancing: Observe your situation like a fly on the wall.
We all experience unpleasant situations, especially at work. You may ruminate about a meeting that went poorly, a coworker who slighted you, or a lack of acknowledgment for a project you poured your heart into. But the longer you feel bad, the more that bad feeling compounds.
To calm these negative emotions, mentally removing yourself from the situation is a helpful trick. Research suggests that a more distanced, third-party perspective can reduce the intensity of the negative emotions you feel. To try it, imagine that you’re a fly on the wall, observing your situation. How do you see the situation? How do both people look—you and the other person? By cultivating a broader perspective, you’ll often discover that the situation is not as bad as you thought it was.
A word of caution: Be careful not to mentally remove yourself from the situation permanently. There are many benefits to staying mindfully present for your work life.
- Reappraisal: Find the positives in negative situations.
Finding the positive in negative situations is an especially useful regulation strategy when something happens at work that you judge to be undesirable.
To begin to change your perspective, learn to pause in the face of something negative and think of or write down at least one positive. For example, did you get critical feedback on a recent presentation you gave or a report you wrote? Might you reappraise this as helpful information for your career growth—an opportunity to learn how to do better next time? The more frequently you challenge yourself to find the positives, the easier it will be for your brain to start noticing them on its own.
By Tchiki Davis, Ph.D.
Tchiki is a consultant, writer, and expert on well-being technology. Over more than a decade, she has helped build happiness products, programs, and services for non-profit and for-profit businesses, for children and adults, and for online as well as in-person audiences. Tchiki is currently working with Silicon Valley tech companies and UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center to build more effective well-being technologies.
Although it appears to be a mundane sort of thing, I find disorganization and chaos to be one of the biggest problems reported by depressed and anxious individuals. Emotional baggage has a way of building up and then expressing itself in an outward display of turmoil — as if a tornado had let loose in your brain and your surroundings.
The symptoms of feeling overwhelmed and not wanting to face the day often stem from not knowing where to start or not wanting to face the mountain of tasks that lay ahead. I have found folks to be so bogged down with even the everyday task of leaving the house on time that their entire day is a mess before they ever get started. By 8 am they are frazzled.
There are screaming children, pets that need walking, work begins at a certain time, the laundry isn’t done, and available clothing is something picked out of the bin from the week before that didn’t make it to the dry cleaner. Stress chemicals are running rampant, and irritability and panic set in as well as resentment of the household, job, family and everything else.
What is worse is that typically if disorganization is a problem at home it is a problem at work as well. A cluttered desk, half-finished tasks, and unmet deadlines are the career version of the problem and are also with you all day.
Does your automobile look like a homeless person’s shopping cart? If so, none of your major environments is peaceful. There is nothing pleasant about your surroundings, and this is a major stressor.
The problem is not that you have too much to do or work full time, it is that you have not found a routine and effective organizational plan, or you found one but are not consistent in following the plan.
Running around willy-nilly, being chronically late, never being able to find things, and having a dirty or sloppy house are stressful conditions and contribute to the anxiety depression cycle. Things scattered about affect your ability to concentrate, and irritability sets in if not outright anger.
Simply put, the stress chemicals from disorganization eat up the good chemicals needed for mood stabilization. With that process in effect, you feel depressed and overwhelmed.
Look around your house. It should be your sanctuary, not a hell-hole screaming your name to come clean it. The house and time management issues are all about the planning and execution of a schedule and routine. If something is not getting done or is causing you distress in the household it is because you have not found the right system for you.
Very simply, a place for everything and everything in its place is a good saying to live by. Think of the simplicity of that statement. Yet this is the biggest bug-a-boo I see, not knowing where you left your car keys, clothing, sports equipment, checkbook, you name it.
We often allow our emotional state to dictate these sorts of practical matters. “I am so depressed I don’t care what the house looks like.” “I am so nervous I can’t concentrate.” “I am so ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder), I will never be able to organize myself.” It does not matter if you are depressed or anxious, your house and time need streamlining, and with that will come an improvement in your symptoms. You will feel an immediate shift just from the empowerment and taking control of your life. If you really are ADD then organization and time management are the very set of skills that you need.
To get started take an inventory of the areas where you need organizing. Maybe there is just one area out of control or maybe the entire place needs an overhaul. Either way, it can get done and not be overwhelming by breaking it down into sections and tasks. The major areas that cause disruption are your house, car, purse or wallet, finances, and paperwork.
I am now going to take you through a general plan that you can begin to institute immediately.
- Get out a pad of paper and look around. Jot down room by room what the major problems are such as laundry everywhere, kid’s toys, and paper clutter. Where are the major stressors?
- Now go to where these items would ideally reside. Is there enough room for them all to be put away at once? Do you need to get rid of some of it or do you need more space or better organization of it? If you have enough space, then it is probably more a problem of time management and routine. If there isn’t enough space, you may be keeping too much stuff or just not have the proper storage solutions.
- List all chores that require travel such as groceries and dry-cleaning. Can you do those on your way home from work? Can you do them all at once in order to be more efficient rather than make multiple trips?
- Think through your morning routine, this is usually where the day starts to go downhill. How much time do you need to get yourself ready? Pets? Kids? Breakfast? Pick up your house before you leave so as not to come home to a depressing mess. If you have a family, I suggest getting up 2 hours prior to when you need to leave or when they need to be out the door. This gives you time to get ready, get them up and ready, prepare and have breakfast as a family, and squeeze in a 30-minute walk or exercise of some sort. In order to do this, you will need to have already planned the night before for things such as:
- Projects of your own
- List of priorities for the day, knowing exactly where to focus your energies on any given day
- Gas in the car
Now think through your evening routine. How do you get the above things done? Is there too much stuff in your evenings? Maybe the kids are in too many activities or you need help getting them around. Are you eating healthy food at night? Are you eating too late and not cleaning up because you are exhausted? Then you have to get up to a mess and again it’s all downhill from there. Remember you are in control of your schedule and your life, and sometimes too much is just too much. Even though you are trying to provide a quality of life by having many activities available for your family, it is not a quality of life if you are depressed and agitated and the house is a mess and you are eating takeout every night. Think about the memories you are creating.
Now you should have an idea of where the problem areas are and where your time is being utilized. Here are some general guidelines that will make a world of difference immediately if you put them to work for you.
- Keep dishes and plates put away all the time, fill dishwasher after every meal.
- Do a good cleaning once a week. Enlist the family, including children, to help especially in their own rooms. Many people feel guilty making their children learn chores but there is nothing to feel guilty about. They are simply participating in the household and will have to run their own households someday. If they learn now they will not have to struggle with these issues later.
- Keep money matters in one place as well as files for all your important papers and issues such as credit card information, taxes, medical, legal, travel, etc.… It is very nice to be able to put your hands right on something the minute you want it.
- A place for everything and everything in its place. It’s really that simple.
- Go with a schedule for cleaning, weekly daily, monthly and seasonally. Then stick to it.
Does your car look like you live in it? This too is very stressful and carries chaos from your home into your driving. You will be more distracted and harried while driving if your car is a mess.
- Clean it out daily from anything you may have eaten, wrappers, coffee cups and work-related papers.
- Wipe console free of dust and grime with a wipe made for this to free your view of dirt.
- Take it to the car wash once a week if finances permit or at least every other week. Allow them to vacuum it and wipe it down.
- Each child riding in the car is responsible for his or her own seat area if old enough.
- Dog nose prints on window wiped off daily.
Another war zone, filled with extra papers, bunched up money, cough drops, candy with dirt embedded in a wrapper, year-old receipts, hair items and cosmetics. This is a virtual dumping ground of things we collect daily. None of them should be here.
Go through all purses and wallets, and take out all junk. If you use multiple purses clean out one per day until they are all done.
Vacuum or wipe out purses as you go.
I know these things sound very simplistic and not the topic you might think to bring to a psychologist. But I really can’t tell you the number of times that I have seen clients experience great relief from their symptoms of depression, anxiety, and anger just from taking control of their life routines and belongings. It frees up your time for more constructive thinking, planning and daydreaming!
There are many books, as well as internet resources, pertaining to organization and time management. If this is an issue for you, begin reading one today! It’s never too soon to start, and you won’t believe how just 15 minutes a day dedicated to organizing your home can make you feel better fast!
About Audrey Sherman, Ph.D.
Sherman is a psychologist, speaker and author of the book Dysfunction Interrupted-How to Quickly Overcome Depression, Anxiety and Anger Starting Now. She has been working with individuals and families for over 20 years and her expertise is in helping others to overcome the emotional baggage that keeps them stuck in unhappy and unproductive relationships, jobs and more. She currently works with clients in person or via Skype or telephone. To learn more about Dr. Sherman, her book, and workshops you can visit her website, PsychSkills.com.
An innovative approach to counteract feelings of stress, anxiety and other negative mental states, this watch-like device allows users to feel gentle vibrations on their wrist when their heart rate increases. Read about it here.
The American Bar Association’s House of Delegates on Monday will Consider a Proposal Urging Law Firms, Law Schools, Bar Associations and others to bolster their mental health and substance abuse problems. Read about it here.
In answer to the question, ‘can we improve the success rates of treatment for depression?’ Dr. Azab answers with a ‘definite yes.’ She believes correctly and thoroughly diagnosing the interrelated yet distinct causes of depression is the key first step in doing so. Read more here.
Reporting on the correlation between stress, anxiety and depression and lawyer attempts to self medicate that is so prevalent in the legal profession. Read it here.
While most of us are so busy with doing that, we have little time for being, the days surrounding major holidays can feel especially overwhelming. Most of us seem to lose touch with our connection to the natural world until we experience a life-changing event that locks that moment down into the month or the season. “The Holiday Season,” with capital letters, is one of those markers that is meant to provide a space for reflection, wonder, and deep joy. Advertisers capitalize on our sentiment through advertisers using images of families or neighbors coming together to cheer up individuals who are portrayed as alone and lonely, if not downright abandoned.
Unfortunately, many lonely people do not have a cheering group of neighbors, friends, or families eager to surprise them with holiday lights, tins of cookies, or invitations to join them for a holiday meal. Loneliness and hopelessness can increase while images of altruistic concern and heartwarming moments seem to be the bar against which all holiday experiences should be measured.
Once the first day of winter arrives, the shortened days and decreased exposure to sunlight generate unexpected feelings of depression for many along with lethargy that comes from the resultant vitamin D production in the body. If you have experienced loss, heartache, or depression, the change in season can send you spiraling deep into a very dark place. Putting on a brave face for others can be especially difficult when the world is blasting us with images of group hugs and the memory of your final hug with someone you love is all that you can think about.
No matter what the cause of your holiday lows might be, here are ten tips that might help you cope during this season:
Don’t completely isolate yourself from other people. Social connection has great healing power – attend a faith-based service, even if you are not committed to a particular religion, just to experience the positive feelings of being surrounded by others.
Allow yourself space to acknowledge any losses, despair, or hurt you are feeling, but do not let yourself use the loss as an excuse to escape through alcohol or other addictive substances.
If a particular ritual is just too painful to try and continue this year, accept that there are limits to what you are capable of doing and forgive yourself for that.
Don’t allow yourself to use any holiday-related time off from work as an excuse to hide from the world – stick to as regular a schedule as you can.
Don’t binge eat or binge drink – while these may offer a sense of temporary escape, they are not healthy coping methods.
If you’re recovering from a broken relationship, it’s especially important not to dwell on the past, an imagined future, or thoughts of revenge. Make sure that your ex’s contact information is wiped from your phone to help you avoid any temptation to make any desperate attempts at reaching out.
If you’re recovering from grief at the loss of a loved one, create a special new ritual that honors the person who is no longer there. Light a special candle and offer a silent or spoken tribute to this person. Add a special decoration to your collection and display it in this person’s honor. Choose a special recipe that was always a favorite and prepare it each year – saying a special prayer in their honor before consuming it.
Reflect on what has brought the most joy to you during this season in past, happier years. Force yourself to engage in this aspect of the holiday with as much energy and commitment that you can muster. If it was the lights of the season, throw your heart into decorating your home with the lights that always brought a smile! If it was the cookies, bake your heart out – even if you aren’t the most talented chef, enjoy doing something that your loved one would have enjoyed seeing happen. If it was the carols and songs of the season, let the CDs, Sirius, or Pandora serenade the silence with the songs this person loved.
Remind yourself that at this time of year, the shortest day falls on the last day of autumn. Winter may bring the coldest weather, the deepest hibernation of animal life, the barren trees may stand out starkly against the winter sky, but remind yourself that once the first day of winter has arrived, the days are once again growing in length and the nights are beginning to shorten. This is a magic time when we can feel the change in the natural world on a very deep level. The feelings of depression or deep grief you feel may ebb and flow like a tide, but remind yourself that there is a natural rhythm in life and it truly is always darkest before the dawn.
Honor your feelings, but don’t allow yourself to get so wrapped up in despair or hopelessness that you retreat fully from the world around you. When we let ourselves get sucked into a place of abject despair and darkness, we are sacrificing the potential for joy that others might bring you – or that you, yourself, could bring others.
If your holiday season is a time of depression, grief, or hurt, know that you are not alone. Others also are suffering as the world blares entreaties to be “merry and bright,” but sadness and heartache are filling your heart. Keep active over this period, show up in life, and remind yourself that each day that you do, it’s one less day you’ve given depression the power to take from your life.
By Suzanne Degges-White, Ph.D., LPC, LMHC, NCC. Susan is professor and chair of the Counseling, Adult and Higher Education department at Northern Illinois University. She is a licensed counselor whose focus includes working with individuals and families facing transitions. Her academic research explores development over the lifespan with a strong focus on women’s relationships and women’s developmental transitions. She is currently president of the Association for Adult Development and Aging, a division of the American Counseling Association.