Navin Mehrotra, a 32-year-old investment banker in Mumbai, thought so. In recent years, he found himself becoming more irritable, moody and short-tempered. “I became something I wasn’t,” says Mr. Mehrotra, who has been working for seven years.
He attributes the change in his personality to high workload, strenuous deadlines and long working hours. Over time, his changing behavior started affecting his relationships outside work, and took a toll on his health. Last year, he turned to a psychologist for help.
Mr. Mehrotra is not alone. Today’s fast-paced, high-pressure work environment is causing a visible change in the behavior of professionals, say psychologists and counselors who train executives.
In many cases, these changes can lead to more serious problems.
A study released earlier this year showed that 43% of U.S. executives surveyed had chronic illnesses due to work-related stress. These included depression, psychological disorders, impaired immunity functions, even suicidal tendencies, according to the study by the American Psychological Association.
In India, too, stress has become an increasing part of work life.
Deepali Kapoor, a senior counseling psychologist at New Delhi’s Indraprastha Apollo Hospital, finds that professionals often display erratic behavioral patterns like outbursts of anger, overreacting to situations or becoming reclusive at work.
In a study of 500 India-based professionals conducted last year, Ms. Kapoor found that 65% of people said that work was the sole cause of stress in their lives. Some of the professionals surveyed were as young as 25 years old.
Most of these people “weren’t even aware that work-related stress was altering their behavior for the worse,” says Ms. Kapoor.
The most common changes in people’s behavior are restlessness, mood swings, and frequent irritability. Some professionals turn to measures like excessive smoking, drinking, or drug abuse to relieve them of stress. This makes them increasingly prone to hypertension and chronic illnesses, including cardiac arrests and cardiovascular diseases.
Typically, professionals tend to ignore unexplained changes in their behavior. But experts say that a few minutes of introspection can help rein in long-term damage.
“Damage control should ideally begin the second you notice, or are made aware of, your changing outlook,” says Abha Singh, who heads the psychology department at Noida-based Amity University.
Start by making a list of what may be causing the stress. Is it unrealistic deadlines, long working hours, over-competitive employees, or a difficult boss? Once you’ve identified what’s making you fret, set some goals to rectify the situation.
For instance, if you are upset and stressed out because you’ve been passed over for a promotion then evaluate whether you want to continue in your current job. Or, if the work load is too much, inform your boss and ask for help, instead of quietly taking on more and more work. If your job profile isn’t living up to your expectations, ask for a transfer or consider looking for another job.
Consider talking about your situation with a trusted colleague or close friend who can give you a chance to vent and offer some practical advice. If that doesn’t help, consider approaching a psychologist or counselor for help.
Get rid of the notion that a psychiatrist or psychologists only deal with treating mental disorders. “Most Indian professionals, particularly top-level executives, still consider it a taboo,” says Kapil Kakar, who heads New Delhi-based IPSSR Pvt., which provides training to corporate professionals in stress management and leadership.
Ms. Singh of Amity notes that many companies in the West, such as BellSystems Inc. and Apple Inc., have set up dedicated teams of counselors, trainers and psychologists to constantly review and fast-track aspirations of employees.
Mr. Mehrotra, the investment banker, found it very helpful to go to a psychologist. Though his job is still stressful, he says he has better control over his mood swings and temper, thanks partly to anger-management sessions. He says he has “a much more positive outlook at work than two years ago.”