Getting through the workday can be especially difficult when you’re depressed. It’s important to find ways to stay productive while also taking care of yourself.
When I’m depressed, even the smallest tasks become excruciatingly painful. My life slows down, and I get this detached feeling, as if someone has unplugged me from my life.
During these times, mornings are the hardest part of the day: pulling myself out of bed and into the shower to make myself look half-presentable when I really feel like I am the ugliest girl on the planet.
Swirled in the inferno of depression and its sadness and disconnection, it hurts to wash my hair, brush my teeth, and rummage through my pile of dirty clothes for that one outfit that isn’t terribly wrinkled or stained.
But my job doesn’t give a damn that I am depressed. My co-workers will be there smiling and cheerful when I arrive disheveled and broken. While I stand in the hallways with trembling hands, my co-workers are busy discussing the latest books they’ve read and the movies they’ve seen.
I wonder how my life could be so different, how depression has suddenly become the very centerpiece of my life. Engaging with anyone is so difficult through these depressions when I feel compelled to hide under my desk, with my office door bolted shut, where nobody can find me.
Through my most recent job, one that I often came to very depressed, I learned some tips and tricks to make it through the days while I waited for my medications to kick in. Seeking therapy and possibly, medication, if needed, is the most important step. But in addition, these five steps below might also help you manage your work while you’re depressed.
This is something that you can do if you feel comfortable with your relationship with your boss. You’re not stepping into your therapist’s office to discuss symptoms and treatments, but if your boss knows that you are dealing with something medical, you may be able to work together to come up with accommodations to make work more manageable.
For example, I explained to my boss that mornings are particularly difficult for me and together, we agreed that I could come to work an hour later, as long as I made adjustments to my work schedule in other areas. This often meant eating lunch at my desk or staying at work later to make up for the time.
Coming into work later made a huge difference in my day, allowing me to feel ready to come into my office, sit at my desk, and tackle the slew of e-mails and tasks that would be waiting for me. My boss always reminded me that he didn’t need all the details of what I was going through, but it helped him to understand if I needed other workplace accommodations.
Developing a routine was essential to get through the workdays when I was dragging. I would do my very best to wake up and go to sleep at the same time each day, even when that was a struggle.
During the day, at work, I would take a few moments every hour to close my office door and practice some of the relaxation exercises I had learned in therapy. For example, I would listen to music that made me feel better, no matter what mood I was in at the time. I would also practice deep breathing and mindfulness.
Most days, I would have lunch at the same time, in the same place. I valued this as “me time” when I could retreat to some quiet space and eat my meal mindfully, trying to focus on the present moment instead of analyzing past conversations with co-workers or tasks that had pressing deadlines.
I would also try to leave work around the same time every night, even if there were still some e-mails I didn’t respond to. I was effectively saying that my health — and overcoming my depression — was the most important thing.
Along the same lines, it’s vital that you set aside time to consistently see your therapist and, if applicable, your psychiatrist. Your mental health team will be essential in helping manage your depression and keeping your job while depressed. I sunk onto my therapist’s couch every Tuesday afternoon and spent an hour talking about the stressors I was facing at work and how I wondered when the depression would ever dissipate.
Often, I looked forward to this time to decompress and share my feelings about work with someone on the outside who could help me problem solve. My therapist also reminded me when I was engaging in cognitive distortions — basically, when my depressed brain was lying to me. The same thing goes for your psychiatrist, if you have one. I had appointments with my psychiatrist every other week to discuss how the medication he prescribed was helping, or if adjustments to my mood stabilizers were in order.
While my job tended to be very stressful, I always loved seeing the money from my paycheck that was directly deposited into my checking account. After a particularly hectic day at work, I would treat myself to a meal at one of my favorite restaurants. I really did it up, ordering whatever I was craving at the moment. I knew that I would have to find things to look forward to in order to propel me through the days.
I also spent a lot of downtime alone, doing quiet things that soothed me, such as going to see a movie by myself, or just binge-watching one of my favorite 90s television shows in my pajamas and slippers. The important thing was that I practiced my healthy coping skills which made me feel better and relieved the stress I was facing at work.
It’s also important to prevent your job from becoming your life, making time for hobbies and activities that you enjoy. For example, I like to write, so I would crave those moments when I could work on my novel or scribble something in my journal.
Behavioral activation highlights the importance of doing things that make you feel good. It’s common to feel unmotivated when you’re depressed, and this therapy technique focuses on overcoming this and intentionally doing things that help your mood.
Your co-workers understand the stressors of your job better than your friends and family members, who are on the outside looking in. I could complain about my job to these people, but it was hard for them to understand because they weren’t living it. My co-workers proved to be a good support system, who could lend a helping hand or an understanding ear.
For example, my last job required me to be on call 24/7 for certain time periods. This was very hard for me to do both because of my depressive symptoms and the sedating side effects of my medications. I was constantly in a panic that I might miss an important call in the middle of the night.
I made friends with one of my co-workers who offered to carry the emergency phone at night so that I could sleep. This backup assistance was a relief when I was depressed.
My psychiatrist was concerned about the stress I was facing on the job. He was trying to sort out my medications, and the extra anxiety only seemed to fuel my depression. He often suggested finding other employment options that might take less of a toll on my health.
My mom always says that “there will always be another job” and through the job search, I have hoped that to be true. Sometimes, you have to stay in an unhealthy — or even toxic — job because you count on the paycheck to pay the bills. But I think it’s important to keep trying to find the optimal healthy situation that works best with your depression — and to be hopeful that it is out there.
Some people also like remote or hybrid jobs when you work at home all or part of the time. This may be more comfortable when dealing with depression because you don’t have to interact with co-workers in person and it’s often an all-around more flexible option. For example, without a commute, you can sleep in more — another advantage when you’re dealing with symptoms of depression, like challenges with sleep, lack of energy, or difficulties with thinking and concentration.
It’s clear that depression can make getting to work — and staying there — quite difficult. But there are strategies that you can use to cope with the stress or help you decide that it’s time to find a job that can allow you to more easily balance your mental health with the demands of your work.
Medically reviewed on October 25, 2022
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