As many of my loyal readers would know by now, I work as a Psychologist for most days of the week. Part of my role involves providing support to employees of various organisations around Australia, for any work-related or personal issues they may be experiencing.
Lately, I have been hearing a common theme during sessions – “I hate my job”, which in most cases is accompanied by symptoms of depression.
I won’t use this post as an opportunity to chicken and egg the depression/workplace scenario, but below is a quick snapshot of what happens when somebody is experiencing depression.
The Negative Triad
When somebody is experiencing depression, they often think negatively about themselves, things that happen in the world, and their future. This is called the negative triad. I’ll give you an example of how this plays out.
I am working with a young person experiencing depression, who has set himself the unrealistically high goal of obtaining high distinctions in each of his subjects at university, as well as accelerating his course by completing more than the recommended amount of subjects per year. He intends to achieve this whilst taking on a promotion at work, in a job that he “hates”, where he feels it was “pure luck” that led to the promotion rather than hard work. The promotion will require significant periods of travel away from home, ultimately leading to missed classes and potential problems with university attendance. In many ways, setting this unrealistic university goal is setting himself up to fail, which has the potential to reinforce his strong feelings of inadequacy and inferiority, probably leading to him blaming himself if things don’t work out as expected.
In another example, I am working with a client who “hates” her job, but feels helpless and hopeless about changing things, expecting any efforts to either fail or lead to an even more miserable job or predicament. Another common experience of depression is to negatively interpret past and present experiences and screen out the positive events in life. In a recent session with this client, I asked how her week had been to which she replied ‘awful’. After some digging around, I learned that in fact, this client has experienced a really positive week, being given some flowers to say thanks from a customer, getting a bonus from her manager for taking on some additional duties while she was on leave for the week, being taken out for a surprise dinner from her boyfriend, and catching up with some colleagues for a fun night out after work. If you have read any of my other posts about the power of our thoughts such as here or here, you would recognise that this style of reasoning is part of the all or nothing/black and white thinking trap, which is also very common when somebody is experiencing depression.
So what can we do about this?
Unlocking your realm of influence
A simple activity I like to complete with my clients is the Circle of Influence / Circle of Concern activity, developed by Stephen Covey. This activity asks you to draw two concentric circles, with the outer circle representing your circle of concerns, or all those things in your life that are worrying you or causing you to feel down, and the inner circle representing your circle of influence, or all of the things in your life that you can impact in some way. With depression, quite often a person feels that there outer circle is all encompassing, and their inner circle is diminished to the point of non-existence. This can further exacerbate feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, and ‘stuckness’.
Applying emotional intelligence
- Think about how you can expand your inner circle – remember, only you can decide what attitude to take with you to work each morning, what attitude you bring home with you, how you enforce boundaries between work and home, what self-care you apply to your daily routine, who you interact with each day, how you spend your non-work hours, and what you do with any difficult thoughts and emotions.
- Look for the shades of grey – acknowledge that our minds can often fall into the all or nothing/black and white/good and bad judgment trap, particular when we are feeling depressed. Make a conscious effort to look for the shades of grey, to create a more realistic viewpoint of your situation.
- Recognise the negative filter – make a conscious effort to look for and appreciate the positives, rather than allowing our thoughts to fall into the depressed thinking trap of disqualifying the positives. A simple activity to help with this is to identify three things you are grateful for at the end of each day.
- Externalise your depression – recognise the power of depressed thinking on your energy, actions, and mood. When you notice negative thoughts, tell yourself “this is just the depression talking” rather than owning and believing every word it utters.
- Plan to do one thing each day – with depression, you can fall into the viscous cycle of not feeling motivated to do anything but what is essential (for example, going to work), which can lead to not planning to do fun and/or satisfying activities, which can further enhance the feelings of depression. A simple habit to get into is to set one thing each day that you plan to do, however small, that is a non-essential activity. This activity has the potential of bringing you a feeling of satisfaction, joy or accomplishment.
If you would like some personalised assistance to develop your emotional intelligence or work through depression, contact me to discuss how my health coaching program or psychological services can assist you to create your own roadmap to success.