When Work is Giving You Dark Thoughts

by Andrea Blundell
Reviewed by Dr Sheri Jacobson

Struggling to cope at work? And it's become so overwhelming you have started to have suicidal thoughts?

Work suicide is connected to many negative experiences, including bullying, harrassment, job insecurity, too much being asked of you, being underestimated and overlooked, or being treated badly.

But many high profile suicides are simply linked to high stress. How is this possible?

(If you are going to act on your thoughts, please call emergency services or go to your nearest A&E. If you desparately need to talk to someone, call the Good Samaritans on 116 123. Trained listeners are waiting and happy to talk with you. Don't hesitate. Call.)

It's not you, it's what you are going through

Stress is an incredibly insiduous force that pulls us into survival mode, where we are so caught up with battling what is directly in front of us we lose the bigger picture. We convince ourselves we are coping, even if everyone around us tries to point out we are not.

And then suddenly we aren't just not coping, we are mired in depression or thinking of suicide.

But if we we can realise the ways stress works, and that we are under its spell? We can understand we are not what our stress-driven thoughts are telling us.

1. Stress means you confuse yourself with your job.

If your life has become nothing but work for long enough, you can begin to make the dangerous mistake of thinking you ARE your job. If the job doesn’t pan out, you can think you have no value.

But nobody is just their job.

  • What are three things I enjoy outside of work? What do they tell me about myself?
  • If I had enough money I never had to work again, what would I do with my time?
  • When was the last time I helped someone? What did I have to offer the other person? Attention, advice, humour?

2. Stress distorts your thinking.

When we are really stressed, our mind can feel crystal clear. This is actually caused by the chemicals the body releases during stress, but we can convince ourselves these are 'revelations'.

On the contrary. Stress leads to what psychology calls ‘distorted thinking’ -- thoughts that deviate from reality.

  • Are my thoughts very black and white, doom and gloom? Have I lost the middle ground (a sure sign thoughts are distorted)?
  • Am I sure I can ‘predict the future’? When actually nobody can?
  • Am I cutting out all possibility? Convincing myself I will never get another job, never repair my reputatation? ('Never' and 'always' signify distorted assumptions).
  • Is it possible my thoughts are not as true as I think?

3. Distorted thinking leads to alienation.

Distorted thought such as “I am letting everyone down”, “everyone will see me as a failure” mean that we can withdraw even from people who are not connected to our job stress, like friends and family.

We lose sight of the fact that other people value us for more than our job title, and need us just for who we are.

And we also lose sight of the fact that support is crucial when we are stressed. Suicidal thoughts thrive on loneliness and feeling different, but fade when we realise we are just like everyone else.

  • If your thoughts were not the truth but were distorted, what might be true instead?
  • Who have you not been turning to that you could now take a minute to connect with?

4. Your perspective has been hijacked.

Workplace stress, particularly if you are working long hours on little sleep with no time to see family, or indulge your hobbies? Can mean that suddenly all you see is work. Success and ‘not letting your boss down’ can start to feel like all that matters.

  • If tomorrow I won five million, would this job seem as important?
  • What if I switch perspective? What would the Dalai Lama say about what is upsetting me? A person living in a hut in a third world country? My five year old self?

5. It leaves you running on empty.

Workplace stress can mean we aren’t sleeping, skip the gym, are reaching for alcohol and recreational drugs more than we usually would, and are bingeing on fat and sugar laden foods which leave us on highs and lows of energy.

  • If a friend hadn't slept in days would I trust all their decisions? So why should I trust these dark thoughts I have when I am physically worn out?

6. Stress slowly but surely sabotages your self-esteem.

Workplace stress is often exacerbated by competitive environments that prey on insecurities. Suddenly we feel not good enough, or as if we are in a job we are under qualified for. When the truth is that all jobs have a learning curve, and it’s normal to not always get it right.

  • Is everyone around me perfect at their job? Then why should I be?
  • What are three times I did my job really well in the past?
  • What three things in my life outside of work make me feel valuable?

7. It takes you away from your personal values.

Said yes to a project you deep down aren’t comfortable with because you were so stressed you didn't have energy to question it? Or working with a new boss who is secretly breaking rules, and you feel you have to go along with it?

Personal values are the things we hold as most important. When we live by them, we feel good. But going against them can feel a sort of torture.

  • Is this job in any way compromising my personal values?
  • Is it possible that my dark thinking is only as I am going against values? Not because life is not worth living?

8. It exacerbates issues outside of work.

This can mean you are suddenly fighting with your partner or family, or even facing a breakup.

  • If I wasn’t so stressed about work, would I have the wherewithal to deal with this?
  • Is it possible I need to cut myself some slack and not beat myself up?
  • Are my childhood issues being triggered, and it is time to seek support?

But who seeks a therapist over job stress?

Therapy is not about being crazy or in pieces. Therapy is about reaching out when you need someone to talk to so that you never need to reach burnout in the first place.

And if you are having suicidal thoughts, the time to reach out is now. As soon as you can, call a friend you trust and take the leap of admitting you are struggling. Or call a help line. Then gather your courage and book a session with a therapist who will understand what you are going through and not judge.

Ready to stop workplace stress from giving you suicidal thinking? And to remember that you are worth more than any job could ever be? Book a therapist today and get talking to someone who understands.

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