When you live with major depressive disorder (MDD), you’ll likely experience sadness, fatigue, and loss of interest in day-to-day life for an extended period of time. It’s one thing managing your symptoms at home, but MDD is often incompatible with a job that demands your complete focus and attention for eight or more hours a day.
Many people try to push through their workdays when they feel miserable. In one survey, 23 percent of workers said they’d been diagnosed with depression at some point in their life. Less than half of them had taken time off to address their condition.
When you have depression, it’s hard to be a productive member of your team. You’re more likely to miss work altogether, or get less done at the office because you’re too tired, unmotivated, or just can’t concentrate.
Depression isn’t something that simply goes away. You need time — and the right treatments — to get back into the groove at work. Here are a few tips to help you cope with depression on the job.
See your doctor
Depression is treatable with antidepressants and psychotherapy. It might take some trial and error to find the right drug for your symptoms, but once you feel better, you’ll find work much more manageable. One study found that people who took antidepressants for eight weeks missed less workdays, became more productive, and performed better than those who remained untreated.
Put yourself first
Your career is important, but no deadline or meeting should take priority over your mental health. You can’t get anything done if you feel unmotivated and can’t focus on the task in front of you.
Take a mental health day — or two — to regroup. You’ll be a much greater asset to yourself and your employer if you return with renewed energy and a more positive outlook.
We live in an “I need it now” world. Everyone wants everything right away — or preferably, yesterday.
Trying to achieve someone else’s unrealistic expectations (or your own) will only set you up for failure. Be very clear with your managers and co-workers about what you can and can’t accomplish. If they won’t give you any breathing room, get human resources (HR) involved or consider making a move to a more flexible and understanding company.
Have an action plan ready to go for times when depression symptoms strike. If you can’t concentrate during depressive episodes, try to break down big projects into small, manageable tasks. Then, take a break after you complete each one.
Also, set aside a couple of vacation days for the times when you don’t feel well enough to make it into the office. If it’s an option, see if you can work from home.
If your job becomes overwhelming, find a safe space at work where you can disappear for a few minutes to take some deep breaths. You can always ask a co-worker for help with any projects you can’t handle on your own.
Find an office ally
Depression might be a secret you only share with close friends and family, but having an ally at work who understands what you’re going through can actually help you out.
If you’re comfortable revealing your condition to your manager, someone in HR, or a co-worker, you’ll have at least one person who can stand up for you in difficult situations. Plus, they can offer a compassionate ear when you need to vent.
Keep up with your self-care regimen
Antidepressants and therapy are only two pieces of a multi-layered depression treatment strategy.
Incorporate these practices into your daily routine as well:
- Get enough sleep. The world looks much darker when you’re exhausted. Go to bed at a reasonable hour and try to get at least 7 to 9 hours of sleep every night — even on the weekends.
- Exercise. Jogging around a track or taking a Zumba class releases a flood of feel-good chemicals called endorphins in your brain. Working out can help beat stress, improve your mood, and calm your anxiety.
- Change your diet. On days when you feel down, you’ll crave the very foods that intensify your dour mood. Cookies, donuts, candy, and chips taste good going down, but they have a rollercoaster effect on your blood sugar. As soon as your blood sugar plummets, you’ll feel even more anxious and irritable. Eat slower burning foods, like fruits and vegetables, Greek yogurt, and whole-grain crackers with cheese to keep your blood sugar steady and your mood stable.
- Manage stress. Every impending deadline and looming pressure at work is magnified when you’re depressed. Take time each day to unwind from the day’s stresses. When you’re overwhelmed, close your office door and breathe deeply, or get up from your desk and take a 5-minute walk. Doing so can release some of the pressure you feel. When you have time at home, practice relaxation techniques like yoga and meditation.
Depression can make even the little things in life difficult to get through. So, of course it can take a toll on your job performance, too.
Rather than pushing yourself through your workdays to the point of complete exhaustion, these tips can help keep your depression under control. Talk to a trusted co-worker and develop strategies to manage stress. And remember, it’s all right to take some time off if you need to.