Some context: I work as a programmer at a large sized company in the Netherlands. I have been working there for nearly 2 years and so far (this is also my first job), I haven't heard anything negative about the work I deliver. Currently I am working on a bigger project with 5 other colleagues, and with our manager as team leader of this project.

Problem: Every once in 2-3 weeks, I wake up completely stressed, aggressive and/or depressed. The funny thing is that I have no explanation at all for this. I don't know why, but it just happens, and it has a big effect on the rest of my day. My colleagues can see this but so far I have been able to let it pass as a result of bad sleeping, lots of traffic, etc...

The thing they don't know is that my performance at work drops to nearly 0 on these days. I get almost no work done no matter how hard I try. This hasn't really been a problem in the past because I am quite a fast worker and manage to win that lost time again, but right now I am working on a tight schedule and a lot of deadlines are closing in.

I fear that these days will make me miss my deadlines sooner or later.

My question: Should I inform my manager (and colleagues) about my situation so that they could keep this in mind while planning the schedule etc? Could this put my career in danger? I don't think anyone would like to employ someone who looks like he could fall into depression anytime?

Additional info: these "bad days" started around 1,5 years ago. I haven't really searched for (professional) help.

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    "I haven't really searched for (professional) help." Are you planning to get this kind of help? I see no professional way of raising the subject while at the same time making it clear you're not planning on trying to resolve it...
    – Lilienthal
    Commented Mar 8, 2018 at 11:29
  • 6
    Gender might offer further context.
    – Strawberry
    Commented Mar 9, 2018 at 0:10
  • 2
    Does your work allow you to use your sick days as mental health days? Would they know if you did?
    – corsiKa
    Commented Mar 9, 2018 at 0:13
  • 1
    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. Commented Mar 9, 2018 at 18:27

6 Answers 6


I think you'd best get some kind of professional (medical) diagnosis for this.

It is a lot easier to go to your boss with a medical term that they can, to some extent, relate to and appreciate, rather than a vague description that they might just think means "he feels lazy some days, and wants my permission to slack off".

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    Also, knowing whether or not there is something physically wrong that is causing the issue is important. These types of issues can be chemical imbalances that are easily alleviated with changes in diet or medication. So in addition to having credibility with their boss, they could actually resolve the problem.
    – ColleenV
    Commented Mar 8, 2018 at 13:20
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    Something I think everyone should read is an article the creator and owner of StackOverflow wrote on his blog about not being able to get things done, joelonsoftware.com/2002/01/06/fire-and-motion
    – SPYBUG96
    Commented Mar 8, 2018 at 19:48
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    @Wildcard I wasn't diagnosing; I was just doing the best I could in the limited space available to suggest that a medical diagnosis is important for more reasons than proving something to your boss. Symptoms like the ones described aren't always big scary problems or have-to-be-under-the-care-of-a-mental-health-professional-for-the-rest-of-your-life issues. Sometimes (speaking from experience) you can feel better without much trouble at all. It can be as simple as regulating your sleep schedule or avoiding certain foods. You have to talk to a doctor to find out though.
    – ColleenV
    Commented Mar 8, 2018 at 22:05
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    @Wildcard Psychiatrists ARE trained in medicine. They are medical doctors with additional training in psychiatric medicine. You may be thinking of psychologists.
    – barbecue
    Commented Mar 9, 2018 at 4:01
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    @Wildcard In fact, in some countries, psychiatrists need to first finish the regular medical school, then do a specialization in neuro-psychiatry and then, afterwards, subspecialize in psychiatry, to make sure they don't overlook the actual physical neurological issues that might be the underlying cause of shown symptoms.
    – AndrejaKo
    Commented Mar 9, 2018 at 8:03

I had the exact same issue you describe for about 7 years. Sometimes I woke up not being able to concentrate at all, and other days I could work hard to catch up.

After a few years I discovered what was causing this (and that it wasn't actually normal). One of the symptoms was a pretty heavy depression that would play up from time to time. After discovering the cause I was able to seek counsel and sign up for therapy.

If you want to convince your manager that this is something real, you would need a note from your doctor with proof it is real. If you don't have that, it is going to be a tough conversation.

I think the most important part is that you inform your manager about the issue and you are seriously working on it, by going to a doctor/therapy/something.

I would advise you to seek (professional) help and talk about the issue. Talking to your doctor would be a great first step. If you are religious you can try to ask for pastoral care within your community. To me a church was able to help me on the way before a professional got in the picture.

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    This, as this sounds like what happens when my sleep apnea is particularly bad, and i don't get a proper nights sleep Commented Mar 8, 2018 at 19:18
  • I agree. Most people don't even realize that they aren't getting enough sleep, until it's already affecting their body seriously and permanently: nrecursions.blogspot.in/2016/12/…
    – Nav
    Commented Mar 10, 2018 at 12:58

I'd like to take a different tack on this issue (though I do agree with the other posters that you should seek some professional help to ensure you do not have a more severe medical or psychological issue at play).

In this situation you are internalizing the problem entirely on yourself - these are your bad days, you are getting no work done. But it sounds to me that you have a very serious problem with how your work defines productivity and sets deadlines.

If you work in IT then you likely are familiar with terms like LOE (Level of Effort), Agile Storypoint and Team Velocity. These terms exist entirely as a recognition that in order to complete any project goal, very specific measurements around task complexity, team capability and resource allocation need to be calculated. Recognition that distractions and roadblocks will be encountered during these project phases is absolutely important towards properly calculating these measurements (and ultimately the success of the project).

Everybody has bad days... even the healthiest of us. Energetic people will suffer through rough nights of sleep, happy people will go through spurts of sadness, diligent individuals will have trouble focusing.. I guarantee that even the nicest and most professional person you know has chewed someone out before for no reason other than that they "woke up on the wrong side of the bed" (See! It is so common that there exist idioms in English to describe this behavior!)

There is not a single person on this earth (Elon Musk included) that can produce at 100% every single day of the week. If you are using this expectation as your guiding point for normality then you really are setting yourself up for failure. Worse still, if your development team is using some daily measurement of productivity rather than building unforeseen events into their timelines then that needs to be addressed. Software development teams should not measure productivity in daily increments..

I would highly recommend using this project as a learning lesson to in the future:

  • Make sure to pad any LOEs with extra time to deal with unforeseen issues (like "off-days")
  • Make sure that you are not allocating 100% of your work time towards picking up tasks (you need to build in time for admin work as well)
  • Try and focus on deadlines over the course of a Sprint (or a weekly/biweekly period) rather than as a daily goal of productivity

In the meantime... talk to your project manager. Don't tell them about your personal issue (yet) but do tell them that your deadlines are so tight that any minor hiccup will prevent you from hitting your goal. This is a risk of which the manager needs to be aware (and frankly should be a kick in the pants for them to reassess how they are setting these deadlines in the first place).

Lastly... I'm no doctor (so please do go see one) but it should be mentioned that occupational burnout exhibits a lot of the same symptoms as clinical depression. It is extremely common in our profession and if you have been operating at an extreme level of productivity for years that could very much explain some of what you are experiencing.

  • 1
    +1 for making sure to pad any LOEs with extra time to deal with unforeseen issues. This applies to most everyone. The problem isn't whether you get "bad days". The problem is whether your timelines and deadlines allow for day to day variation in productivity.
    – krubo
    Commented Mar 9, 2018 at 22:03

You should try to get it diagnosed. It looks like you have been stressing out, maybe even without realizing it. But it might be physiological as well. E.g. hormone imbalance might manifest as mood swings.

Once you have it figured out you can think how to alleviate it. Even if it is "just" stress.

I also don't think you should keep it separate from work, if it's induced by work that is impossible. Everyone has a bad day occasionally and many managers are fine with it. Programming is usually a creative job, and it's normal to have variable productivity. However, being permanently stressed by job also needs addressing at the job.

A little back story: I didn't go for professional help but I was new and having trouble keeping up deadlines (I didn't need to keep) worked for 12h a day to the point of feeling physically unwell. And trust me, I am by many touted as the most laid-back person they know. The pressure got to me, and I didn't get the help needed team-wise. My teams' modus operandi was to have more tasks than fits the schedule and just push the ones that didn't make the release, but I couldn't adjust to this, I've constantly felt under-performing even after getting "meets all expectations" eval two years straight. I didn't feel like it, and the pressure I've felt was mostly subconcious and self-induced

This is addressable by a manager, and almost all job-induced stress is. I've changed a team (within the company) and I think it's fitting me better. There are many other ways, like hobby, or not giving too much crap, but you have to have the root cause figured out 1st.

(I made the decision before talking about it with my previous manager because I didn't want to expose myself, in case no remedy could be found.)


Deal with this yourself outside the workplace. You have done the first and hardest part, admitting there is an issue and that it is yours, owning it is by far the hardest part. Now find something that works to alleviate it.

Exercise, a new hobby, something interesting and positive. Buy a boxing bag etc,. DO NOT take it out on your family though, many people deal with stress this way and it's just shifting blame, unhealthy in many ways.

Most times all that is needed is a proactive change in attitude and a close look at what is actually important enough to be angry about. If you can train your mind to recognise what is happening and make a positive effort to shrug it off, you can.

Do not make yourself the drama of the moment (and an ongoing one) at work. It is bad for your personal discipline as well as your professional reputation.


Don't discuss it with your superior unless they personally know you well enough to empathise with you. They have their bad days and deadlines too.

I would recommend that you discuss this with your family and friends. They will help you identify and solve the problem before it gets out of hand.

If you get mood swings because of your job then you have two choices - either develop a thick skin and live with the problem (if the money is so important) or search for something more fulfilling to do in your life. If the problem is related to some other area of your life, then identify it and address it ASAP.

Informing your team is the least of your worries. You are heading for a real breakdown if you continue on this path. Then it will be just a matter of time before your team comes to know of your problem, irrespective of whether you tell them or not.

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