How to overcome work-related stress, depression and burnout

If you are woman of ‘a certain age’ feeling overwhelmed and burnout, wondering “is it just me?”, fear not; you are certainly not alone!



The Health and Safety Executive’s annual statistics published recently reveal how many people are feeling the same and make for some very interesting reading.

The highlights show the following:

  • an astonishing 15.4 million working days were lost in 2017/2018 due to work-related stress, depression or anxiety.
  • 595,000 workers in 2017-2018 were suffering from work-related stress, depression or anxiety including new or long-standing cases.
  • the biggest cause of work-related stress, depression and anxiety was ‘workload’ (44%).
  • The industry most affected was education, followed closely by health and social work activities.
  • Women had significantly higher rates of work-related stress, depression or anxiety recorded between 2015 and 2018 with 1,950 per 100,000 as compared to 1,370 for men
  • The highest rates for women were for those aged between 35 and 44.

Having spoken to quite a few (mostly female) teachers recently, I have to say that these figures absolutely reflect the discussions that I find myself having around the subject of stress, depression or anxiety.

Work overload

As an employment solicitor dealing with workplace issues all the time, I have definitely found there to be an increase in the number of recent enquiries that relate to stress, depression or anxiety and not just in women. October saw World Mental Health Day where the goal was to raise the awareness of mental health. MIND, a leading mental health charity which campaigns to improve services, raise awareness and promote understanding of mental health categorise stress, depression and anxiety as types of mental illness.

When you consider how much of your time is spent in the workplace, if the source of your stress, depression or anxiety is workload, you can imagine how serious a problem this can be and how easily it can impact on your personal life as well.

In times of austerity, which we are now all too familiar with, budgets and financial margins are increasingly tight for business and so you can see how it might be that reducing staff within the workplace could lead to, in some cases, a significant increase in employee workload and a lack of support. This in turn may lead to longer days and less free time away from the workplace. The constant use of work (or even personal) mobile phones allows us to be “working” for much longer than our contractual hours provide. Think of how many people you see on the train on the way to and from work who are still dealing with work e-mails. Is this the fault of the employer or is it just how it is?

Switching off

In some cases, and in my view, more could be done by employers to alleviate the increased workload pressure that is placed on employees, but either they turn a blind eye to what is going on or they are simply not aware of the pressures that their workforce is facing.

Should it be that when you have ‘left the office’ you can comfortably be in that ‘out of office state’? Should you be able to “switch off”?

Certainly, some professions require you to be “on call”, but that should be part and parcel of the job and the requirement to be available “out of hours” so to speak and also what you signed up to. And even so when you finish your day’s work, you would expect to be free to relax and unwind without interruption.

Interestingly, the fact that women of a certain age (35-44) have the highest rates of workplace stress, depression or anxiety makes me wonder whether that ‘workplace’ source is exacerbated by their other responsibilities of looking after children and elderly parents because it is still the case that more women than men have that responsibility.

According to a Direct Line Insurance report earlier this year, while 83% of parents believe society’s attitudes towards childcare have changed since they were young, two thirds (64%) of mothers are still the primary carer for their children, compared to just a third (36%) of fathers.

So, I think that the information so far shows several things. The first is that if you are a woman of ‘a certain age’ and in a certain profession perhaps you are more likely than others to suffer from workplace stress and there may be many factors that might mean that is the case. The other is that we are generally working longer days because of the availability of better technology that allows us to be ‘available’ wherever we are!

Tips for avoiding stress

Hating to leave you with just doom and gloom, here are my tips for avoiding workplace stress:

  • Make your employers aware of any workplace stress that you are feeling; stress, depression or anxiety are not to be ignored, especially when the cause is from the workplace;
  • Ask for support if you feel it is needed, but be realistic about what an employer can do; there is little point making what might be seen as unreasonable demands from an employer that just cannot deliver;
  • If there is little your employer can reasonably do about alleviating workloads, remember that more money is not always the answer– it just becomes more acceptable to do the increased work!
  • Take control of how long your working day is going to be by not taking calls or checking e-mails out of working hours if it can be avoided; for example, minimise your exposure to stressful work situations by not reading work e-mails in the evening or the weekend when not at work – the reality is that there is little you can do about any issue  that has arisen and more likely – it can wait!
  • Just because a client e-mails you at midnight does not mean they expect an immediate response. Be kind to yourself and don’t impose unnecessary pressure upon yourself; not every e-mail demands an immediate response!
  • Take proper rest breaks and lunchtimes – sit down to eat away from your desk or workstation;
  • Remember to give as much to your family and friends as you do to your employer in terms of your time and attention;
  • Speak to someone about how you feel. Often talking about how you feel will put things into perspective;
  • Get a good night’s sleep – never underestimate the value of a good night’s sleep; switch off your devices a good while before you go to sleep – a really difficult one I know!

My final message is do not suffer in silence. Stress, anxiety and depression of any kind are bad for your mental health and can lead to more serious issues that might require long-term medication and therapy! Do yourself a favour; take control of your time and learn ways of managing your stresses.

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