Work = Stressed, No work = depressed. Lame!
April 4, 2006 10:07 PM   Subscribe

I get depressed when I don't have any work to do, but get totally stressed with the workload I usually have. What gives?

So most of the time, I'm totally buried under work and stressed out and waiting out for a break or the end of a semester. I'm doing a relatively difficult pair of undergrad degrees, and it's a bitch of a workload.

Then a blessed break comes, and I get totally depressed. What gives? I know other people who are like this. If you are/were one of them, what do you do to fix this?
posted by sdis to Health & Fitness (17 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I've have the same feeling. In my experience, if you have a huge work-load, you get used to it. If you get a break from that, you feel guilty about not doing anything. That undirected guilt transforms before your very eyes into actual depression.

In my experience, finding a pet project helps. When I feel a need to be doing something, any small, fun project will work. Learning something? HTML? Origami? Drawing? Something.

Doing stuff really helps.
posted by brundlefly at 10:17 PM on April 4, 2006

Hey, I do that. I've found that throwing myself into projects during dull times helps. Read, write, paint, play in the woods, go to Bolivia, make all your friends personalized mix CDs, revamp your website, whatever works for you. Or put in extra hours at work; I did that every break after my first semester of college once I realized how freaked out I got when I didn't have a massive workload. I used to get really depressed during downtime; I've found that I just have to plan what I'll read and do, and stick to that plan.

During busy times, I make detailed daily schedules and try to stick to them. This is successful to varying degrees. When that doesn't work, I stop sleeping. Not recommended.
posted by honeydew at 10:23 PM on April 4, 2006

I have to disagree with delmoi. I have a negative view of antidepressants*. Why take a pill, when you can entertain yourself with something real?

*No offense. I saw friends in high school flattened out and made uninteresting by psychiatric drugs. No Tom Cruise-style religious objections, here. Just wariness.
posted by brundlefly at 10:25 PM on April 4, 2006

I find the same thing happens to me. I get upset that when I'm bored I have nobody to hang out with, but its because most of the time, I can't hang out (too busy with work or homework). I found just trying to keep in contact with people more even when I'm busy helps.

Also, I go crazy during summer breaks, and now I either enroll in Summer online courses (interesting, generally easy, and you can do them on your own time) or find a subject I really want to learn about and make that my project.

Its hard to go from a lot to nothing all at once. Just try to do all those things you wished you were doing instead of studying, while you have the time.
posted by gilsonal at 10:43 PM on April 4, 2006

I have the same problem, at least on the no work = depressed side of things. I started keeping a log of things that made me feel productive- time I'd spent practicing foreign languages, books I've read, new things I've learned to cook, and workouts that I've done.
When I'm bored, or depressed, or otherwise feeling unworthy, I try and accomplish things that I can write down in my log. If you're the kind of person who likes tracking progress and stuff, there's a huge thrill in writing down a new recipe you mastered, or logging more pushups than ever before, or adding #8 to the list of books you've read this year. Of course, your activities that make you feel productive may be completely different than mine, but the idea is the same.

On the other hand, I highly recommend you learn how to relax. Being able to just relax and absorb downtime is an invaluable skill.
posted by BuddhaInABucket at 11:15 PM on April 4, 2006 [1 favorite]

When you function for a long period of time in totally-stressed mode, you can end up running on adrenaline and pushing yourself a lot further into exhaustion than you would normally go. When the stress stops, so does the adrenaline and your body & mind crash. Understanding this can help you deal with downtime. It's like the aftermath of a marathon - you won't feel 100% again for a while, but there is good advice upthread on how not to sink all the way into a depression.

Long term, the key is to learn how to manage your workload without carrying around a bunch of inner tension all the time. That may seem impossible, but there are ways to make it better. First, make sure you like what you're doing reasonaby well. If you hate it, you'll never be happy. If fear of failure is an issue for you, invest energy in working through that. Some is healthy but if it's overwhelming you'll never relax during busy times.

I agree with the advice about learning how to cope with stress more. Sometimes stress and tension result from the fact that the mind simply doesn't want to slow down after spinning all day. Meditation and yoga are frequently recommended and both have done me good. Also, try setting a few boundaries for yourself, such as ensuring you get enough sleep most nights of the week. Just realizing that you have the power to take care of yourself can lower stress all by itself.
posted by rhiannon at 11:30 PM on April 4, 2006

I used to feel exactly the same way. I ended up seeing a psychiotrist and a psychologist. I've been on anti-depressents now for 5 years and I don't ALWAYS get depressed. I agree with brundlefly that taking anti-depressents can really mess with some people, but sometimes they fix what's wrong.

The suggestion to find a hobby is a good one also. I've found it goes hand in hand with my new outlook.
posted by Kraki at 12:12 AM on April 5, 2006

I have/had this problem - I've just completed my honours degree and joined the job queue. I found that a short term volunteer job booted me out of my blue funk. I actually had a list of things that I wanted to do/teach myself once I'd finished the semester. But it seemed like the depression set in almost straight away, so that I couldn't motivate myself to accomplish anything on the list.

I went to go to a volunteer centre and asked for referrals for jobs that used my (IT) skills. The first one I selected was helping a non-profit get caught up on a data entry backlog, but once the non-IT-savvy staff realised they had latched on to someone who knew something about computers, they described a number of other problems, which I could help with, plus I discovered a few problems they didn't even realise they had (e.g. they weren't backing up their data. Ever! Some of their revenue comes from hall-hire and the record keeping was such that they didn't know some of their users haven't paid for months and owe them hundreds of dollars...)

It is beneficial to me to be out of the house, talking to people (even better, "normal" people outside academia ;-) ), and feeling like I was doing something worthwhile, instead of moping about how hopeless and futile life is. Being useful makes me feel better about myself. I was upfront about the fact that I was looking for full-time work, so the organisation knows I'm not in it for the long haul, but while I'm available they get access to my IT capabilities, and I get something to add to my resume. It's a win-win situation.
posted by Pigpen at 2:09 AM on April 5, 2006

I recommend working out. A long run or a fun game of basketball or whatever you like can really exhaust your body in a good way. Your mind will stop pestering you because it'll be tired too. And you'll be doing yourself so much good. I don't know if this will help you but it works for me. At least try this before you go off and take some pills.
posted by smeater44 at 2:42 AM on April 5, 2006

Perhaps some low-level fear of failure? When you have no work, it can certainly be easy to start feeling like you are falling behind. Failing.
Then, when the work comes, you stress yourself out, perhaps, in fear that you will get something wrong and, thus, fail.

Second smeater's recommendation on exercise. Even a brisk walk around the neighborhood can help.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:52 AM on April 5, 2006

I agree with rhiannon.

If you're like me, you have two natural speeds. Lazy, and working-like-crazy. The former leads to depression and the latter to stress.

Yoga can be helpful because it teaches you to relax muscles you aren't using while doing something difficult, or in other words, relaxing and working at the same time. You're working hard to stay in a position, but at the same time, relaxing as much as possible in that situation. Rolf Gates, whose yoga book Meditations from the Mat is great, writes that successful older people have learned to "relax within the posture" that is work. You and I must develop that middle speed.
posted by callmejay at 7:05 AM on April 5, 2006 [1 favorite]

I have / had this problem (lazy and 'working-like-crazy' modes). One solution I've found is to operate on a simple principle of 'if it'll take less than 15 minutes to do, just do it now'. This means the trivial stuff all gets done and I can then just worry about the important things rather than the distractions.

This only really helps if you work for yourself or work from home and can choose your own schedule though.
posted by wackybrit at 7:59 AM on April 5, 2006

got feeling? get antidepressants.
posted by Satapher at 10:57 AM on April 5, 2006

Like everyone in this thread i have the same problem.

If you are like me you thrive off stress...youll do better if you have 4 tests in a week than if you only have one.

ive sort of learned to embrace it and live with it.

However, i have found that marijuana can help turn off your brain and help you relax after you get your work done. I find it helps me balance my moods if i self medicate in this manner. But dont go too crazy or you wont ever get anything done.

i dont know how you feel about pot, or if it taboo to suggest it. But it definatly works for me.
posted by I_am_jesus at 2:16 PM on April 5, 2006

I pick up other jobs that are completely different from my day job. So I do spend a lot of time working, but the freelance/occasional work pushes my buttons in a different way. And it's a bit of a kick to get paid for glorified versions of hobbies, especially when the responsibility load is very different.
posted by desuetude at 3:29 PM on April 5, 2006

rhiannon is wise, listen to him/her.

I think what you are experiencing is perfectly normal. When you are stressed, your body is literally in the overdrive mode. Your blood stream is flooded with hormones, your heart rate it up, sympathetic and parasympathetic systems are actively competing, and so on. While the sensation of "feeling" stressed is mostly mental, and is often-time associated with "bad", the actual stress has absolutely been proven to be a physiological condition with dire long-term consequences. But, in the short-term, it can feel good, exactly because of the hormones and the adrenaline and the elevated heart rate, and so on.

Conjecture time: I believe strongly (but do not have scientific proof) that the state of stress is physiologically addictive. I've observed this in myself and countless other people, and given the limited information available here, the original poster is suffering from the same. I think it is exactly the same phenomenon as hard-core runners becoming addicted to release of endorphins into the blood stream. I further believe that this is not at all unmanageable - it's not heroin we are talking about here - but ought to be recognized and dealt with. The bottom line is this: it is not OK to feel depressed when stress is removed from your body. Stress is a deviation from homeostasis, it is not and should never be your default stress.

The detox course is not rocket science. Relax. Do exercise, get into it, spend more time paying attention to your body. You will see (as I did) that it is a lot happier when not in fact being torn apart by ten thousand committments. Taking up something highly intraspective may work for you. Yoga seems popular; I substitute same with spending a half day walking around the city with my camera and "thinking differently". Any sort of outdoor exposure is just superb for making you realize how dumb it is to stress yourself out for the hell of it. Go for a hike. Take up some light rock climbing. Etc, etc.

This was much longer and long-winded than I wanted it to be. Here is the summary, boiled down to three bullet points:
- What you are experiencing is OK and normal.
- Stress is not good for you long-term.
- Relax
posted by blindcarboncopy at 10:25 PM on April 5, 2006 [1 favorite]

I am one of these people exactly! What helps for me is this:

a) Doing something I actually enjoy. Pointless busywork stresses me out the most; work that I enjoy can be stressful, but the payoff is worth it. Sometimes there is a slight period of "OMG STRESS" before the joy comes in - starting, for me, is the hardest part.

b) Having people I like around me. They don't always need to be working on the same thing I am (though it helps!) - often just their presence helps a great deal. Someone to talk to, someone who understands, someone who can give support and comfort.

c) Doing something small. For me it's more "I have to do SOMETHING or else I get bored OMG" - but then I sometimes have picky standards of "doing something" (basically I refuse to do anything that's chore-like). When I'm in one of those funks, I pick up a book or watch some TV or go online...and the boredom goes away. Sometimes my mood gets lifted up enough to do the icky-but-necessary stuff too.
posted by divabat at 4:03 AM on June 16, 2006 [1 favorite]

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