A few months ago, I started finding it hard to concentrate on work. I was constantly exhausted, losing sleep, and vulnerable to the slightest bit of stress. At first, I just blamed work anxiety but then I realised it was much bigger than that – I was suffering from depression. This had a major impact on both my professional and personal life. Here are some of the steps I took to prioritise my mental health and strike a better work-life balance.
I started working as a Java developer in 2015 and over the last few months, I’ve transitioned into more of a DevOps Engineer role. I was good at coding, but I really struggled to enjoy the work I did. I constantly felt under pressure to perform well in a job that never really fit my personality.
At the start of this year, a dear colleague of mine moved to another company, which left me feeling lonely in the team. Initially, I thought maybe that was the reason I had been feeling so upset, but later I realised that this was just one of the many things that had been piling up within me.
I started getting panic attacks more regularly and bursting into tears during meetings for no particular reason. Not surprisingly, I needed to take more sick days than usual, and it started heavily impacting my deliverables and my productivity.
For me, this was a clear indication that I needed to change something, and seek help. I also really didn’t want my situation to affect my team. Here are the steps I took to take control of my mental well-being.
Step 1: Find someone you can confide in
Depression still carries a stigma, which means that it isn’t easy to talk about. Initially, I was afraid of telling anyone about my feelings for fear of being judged.
There was a colleague on my team who I had always had a friendly relationship with, so, as a first step, I opened up to her. I told her about how much I was struggling to find joy in the work I was doing every day, and she listened patiently without any judgements. This made it easier to accept what I was going through, and less scary to share my feelings with other people.
Step 2: Make use of the resources that your workplace provides
Once I started feeling more comfortable talking about my emotions, my colleague recommended I use the support structures and resources at my workplace as a first step towards seeking professional help. The company provides counselling services to its employees, so I took the opportunity to use that support.
To be honest, before my colleague suggested the counselling services, I didn’t even know they existed. It wasn’t because the company hadn’t notified us, but before it meant something to me personally, I had simply not taken notice of it.
I set up a session with the internal ‘Happiness Coach’, and we started discussing and unraveling what I was going through. With each session, I felt like a little burden was taken off my shoulders. I felt like there was finally someone who understood what I was going through, and could actually help me start navigating my feelings.
Step 3: Figure out a more long term solution
Once I started feeling a little bit better on an emotional level, I knew I had to start dealing with the situation on a practical level, so I set up a meeting with the HR representative.
While I was nervous, making the choice to explain my situation honestly instead of making excuses meant I was able to talk to her human-to-human.
She was empathetic and told me that I could take as many sick days as I needed to get in better shape.
Even with all the positive support I received, I was still struggling with panic attacks on a regular basis, so my coach suggested that it would be a good idea to see a professional psychologist.
Step 4: Seek professional help
I booked an appointment with my family doctor who recommended a female psychologist who was fluent in English. It was important that I found someone I would be comfortable with.
Engaging with a mental health professional helped me change my perspective about my situation, and gave me extra support and validation, as well as useful daily practices I could try to make real steps towards feeling better.
Some of the exercises she recommended I try include:
- Keeping a notebook to record my feelings, as well as ‘rules’ for me to follow: These include things like spending time outside every day and getting some exercise.
- Working on puzzles: This has been a great way to focus my energy on one thing.
- The sleep therapist I see also suggested I make to-do lists to help keep my short-term memory sharp, and avoid having to multitask, which is something I really can’t handle at the moment.
The most important thing I’ve learned so far from my therapy is that you can only take things step-by-step, and taking that approach is what will help you through in the long run.
Mental health takes active effort – be kind to yourself!
In the end, I decided that the best thing for me was to leave my current project. I needed a new environment to break the associations I had with my depression, and I wanted to find a job that would utilise my strengths to the fullest.
Things that help me cope on a more daily basis – especially being at home all the time – include:
- Solving puzzles, which helps me focus
- Cooking, which I find really therapeutic
- Writing three daily tasks that I want to achieve. These range from small things like paying bills, to bigger things like buying groceries or working out.
A simple routine helps me get through the day without having negative thoughts or triggers. I don’t follow it every day, but I know that I need to be patient with myself as well.
This is an ongoing process. What I’ve realised is that trying to manage anxiety by yourself can be challenging. It’s always a good idea to reach out for professional advice — or even just to a close friend or colleague.
If anyone wants to reach out to me, to talk or to share your feelings, please feel free to do so!
Apoorva Bhalla has been working in the software industry for over five years now. She has extensive experience in DevOps and Agile Methodologies. Some of her favourite hobbies include reading, riding her bike, cooking and doing puzzles.