For a decade I have supported people through organisational transformation without, I realise, really understanding the depth of the emotional impact on them. Until now!
Recently, I found myself both agent (as a change consultant) and victim of change. A humbling experience! One that had me running to my bag of self-help tricks for a fix. But only after I had wobbled. And only after I had had the courage to admit to myself, “Hell I feel really bad. In fact I think I might be a little depressed!”
Chaos, confusion, loss, despair
Organisational transformation plunges us into a smelting pot of chaos, confusion, loss and despair. The uncertainty can be unbearable. We’d rather get it over with than be left on tender hooks for months, wondering if we’ll make it through. Protracted consultations or negotiations with trade unions leave our nerves frayed. Those of us with families wonder if we will be able to provide for them. Some of us are overwhelmed by assessment and selection processes, acutely aware of our lack of interview experience. We fear the loss not only of our roles but ways of working, community networks, colleagues and friends. We lament the departure of our bosses or fear that we’ll end up with the boss from hell. We all move through a cycle of emotions: angry and disempowered, anxious and afraid, stressed and yes, depressed.
It’s normal to feel depressed
If you are in a similar situation, step number one is to reassure yourself that it’s completely normal to feel depressed. Any single major life event in which a sense of loss is experienced, such as redundancy, moving house, health challenges or family conflict, can lead to stress and depression. In today’s world, many of us are struggling to cope with multiple life events at any one time.
This has certainly been the case for me and it has meant that my tolerance threshold is lower and my resilience shaken. I have been plagued by a pervasive, underlying anxiety. Surprising really, for as a consultant I am used to change and I’m used to moving around. However this was different. It was being done to me. I wasn’t calling the shots and quite frankly timing wasn’t great. I already had enough on my plate. Before I knew it I was running a spiral of unhelpful thoughts like, “What if they decide they don’t want to keep me? That’s got be worse than interviewing for a new opportunity and losing it to another consultant. Hasn’t it?”
Depression is the curse of the strong
The second thing to know is that, contrary to popular belief, depression tends to hit those of us that are strongest. Give a set of stressors to someone who is weaker and they will quickly give up. A strong person on the other hand will keep going. Instead of saying, “Hang on this is crazy. This is clearly too much for one person to deal with. I’m making myself ill.” They will just keep on, keeping on. For that is what they always did in the past and they don’t want to disappoint others or themselves. Until suddenly, in the words of Dr Tim Cantopher, “BANG! The fuse blows.” Then the only thing that can be done is to turn the electricity off.
You don’t have to stay here
The third thing to know is that this is not the end. You don’t have to stay here. There are things you can do to help yourself feel better without necessarily running to get a prescription for psycho-pharmaceuticals.
- Awareness is key. It's a precursor to acceptance. Depression is one of the recognised phases of change identified by Dr Elisabeth Kubler-Ross in her work on death and dying. Despite the focus on death, her perspective has helped us understand how people resist or react to change and provided a useful foundation for change management. Anyone going through change or loss might experience depression in some shape or form.
- It’s important for us to be compassionate with ourselves. We are already overwhelmed. Increasing the pressure will just make things worse. Better to give ourselves permission to take the time out that we need.
- Taking a step back creates space. This allows us to start monitoring how we are thinking. When we are depressed our thoughts are usually negative. The more we are aware of how we are thinking, the more we can interrupt unhelpful patterns and replace them with more positive thoughts.
Let go of the stigma associated with depression
If you are experiencing major change and feeling overwhelmed and depressed, know that you are far from alone. According to Paul Gilbert in his book Overcoming Depression, there are an estimated 350 million others suffering depression with you!
Life today is stressful. Everything is constantly changing. Job security is a myth. Our political landscapes are in chaos. Our planet (and home) is being destroyed. Perhaps a more appropriate question is, “Who isn’t depressed?” So, don’t let yourself get bogged down by the stigma of depression. Be kind to yourself, take care of your body and gently, and firmly, take back control of your mind! After all, all change brings with it opportunity and that's what we want to focus on!
As one door closes, another opens!
Here’s some things you can do to help yourself feel better:
Connect with the here and now
- Using mindfulness techniques, meditation and breathing exercises practice taking time out to be in the moment.
CHALLENGE your inner critic
- Stop that inner critic in it's tracks with a simple “No! Thank you.” And replace it with a positive visualisation. Puppies getting up to mischief usually works.
take care of yourself
- Reduce your intake of caffeine, sugar and alcohol. It goes against the grain, I know but it’s key to recovery. Drink more water, eat more vegetables and ensure you keep up a regular exercise regime. Adapt it if you need to but make sure you keep moving.
Trust your instincts
- Check-in with yourself. Do you have too much on your plate? What can you let go of? What makes you feel good? What can you do to inject more enjoyment into your life? Who can you turn to for support? At times like these, social networks are important. Sign-up to events that pique your interest on Meet-Up and start connecting with like-minded people.
Why not try: Think back to a situation that left you feeling anger, despair or depression. What were your thoughts and beliefs? What feelings were you experiencing and how intense were they? Write them down. What would you say to a friend who was thinking these same thoughts? Write that down too. Now take a look at what you've written. How has it helped you to see things differently? Has it helped to shift your feelings?
You might like: The Compassionate Mind by Paul Gilbert