Long hours have become the new normal in this faltering economy, leaving the worker (as usual) to pay the price. A recent study suggests what many people working these long hours could tell you... routinely putting in 11 hour days is one of the risk factors of depression - doubles the risk in fact - compared to those who work the more traditional eight hours each day.
Long days at work take a toll on your body, but there's also evidence of impacts within the brain as well. Overtime and depression have not been studied to any great extent so the team examined over 2,000 British workers (average age 47) who didn't have mental health issues at the start of the research in 1991.
Almost six years passed before nearly 70 incidences of serious depression were identified by mental health screenings given to the workers. Those whose working hours topped more than 11 hours a day had a two times greater risk of being diagnosed with depression compared to those who spent under eight hours at work each day.
Now there are lots of things that put you at risk for depression - genetic factors, physical or emotional issues and prolonged stress. All those hours at work give you fewer opportunities to relax and likely less sleep as well. You don't have time to exercise and your own self-care slips. The long workdays can also cause problems in close relationships with friends and family, and this itself can also bring on depression.
The most likely candidates for depression were younger women who were in the lower job grades, used alcohol in moderation and had also been diagnosed with a chronic condition. Should you be worried? Here are some warning signs to watch for:
- Trouble sleeping
- Changes in appetite
- Fatigue or loss of energy
- Feeling stressed or worthless
- Being irritable and impossible to satisfy
- Not taking pleasure in activities that usually bring you joy
- More mistakes at work
- Trouble organizing things, concentrating or making decisions
- Suicidal thoughts or acts
If you, or someone you love, has three or more of these symptoms and they last for at least two weeks, depression is most likely the cause. Recognizing you're in trouble, and in need of help is important - the first step toward getting better.
Even if you love what you do, the long hours you're on the job can still trigger a depressive episode, but it may well take longer to show up. Eventually however, researchers believe that workaholics too will show signs of depression.
It's hard to know if these results would hold for workers doing other jobs, but it certainly points out the fact that working long hours can play a part in depression. Since you usually can't cut back on working hours, here are some simple ways you might cope...
- Try to alternate periods of high stress with times of less pressure or with shorter hours.
- Listen to your favorite music as this boosts levels of dopamine, the feel good chemical in the brain.
- Don't skip vacation time or days off.
- Try a random act of kindness to your boss, co-worker, a vendor.
- Look for humor in daily goings on, circumstances beyond your control.
- Make time for sleep and don't skimp on exercise.
The research on long working hours as one of the risk factors of depression appears online.