Having depression during a pandemic kind of feels like grappling with mental illness on “hard mode.”

There’s not really a gentle way of putting this: Depression blows.

And as many of us make the transition to working from home, this increased isolation and confinement can actually worsen depressive symptoms.

It’s not ideal. Having depression during a pandemic kind of feels like grappling with mental illness on “hard mode.”

While the COVID-19 outbreak introduces a lot of new challenges (and plenty of unknowns), there are still coping skills we can call on to make life more manageable.

If you’re struggling to work from home without tanking your mood, here are some tips to make things a little easier for you (and your brain!).

I realize this can be irritating advice. If depression is hitting you hard right now, the idea of incorporating “joy” into your day might feel foreign or absurd.

But wherever possible, taking small breaks to stretch, watch a funny video, get some sunlight on your face, cuddle a cat, or listen to a favorite song can help make working remotely feel less draining.

It might feel like these small actions don’t make much of a difference, but the cumulative impact can matter more than you’d think.

If you struggle to remember to take breaks, you should give the Pomodoro method a whirl. This can both increase your focus while working, while also creating intentional space for small breaks throughout your day.

The technique in a nutshell:

  • Set your timer for 25 minutes and start working.
  • When the timer goes off, take a 5-minute break.
  • Then, set the timer again and get back to work.
  • After four 25-minute work sessions, your fourth break should be longer! (About 20 to 30 minutes.)

There are all kinds of apps that make practicing this much easier. Some even allow you to work this way with others!

Give it a try and see how it boosts your productivity (while taking some much-needed breaks as you work).

Work meetings aren’t the only way you can connect with your co-workers.

Can you schedule a video call to have lunch together? How about a virtual coffee date? You don’t have to forgo human connection during work hours, but you do have to be more deliberate about scheduling time for it.

Socializing with our workmates is a critical part of staying mentally healthy during the week, especially when you’re working from home.

It can be easy to get sucked into our work and completely forget to eat and drink water.

But especially during such a stressful time, keeping our bodies in working order is how we keep our immune systems supported and our depression at bay.

Another pro tip? If you’re losing focus during the day, don’t reach for the coffee just yet. Instead, consider trying a snack first — many of us lose focus because we’re not nourishing ourselves properly, and coffee will only further suppress our appetites.

Most people aren’t firing at full capacity right now (or, frankly, anywhere near it). There’s a global crisis happening! And that means very few of us are going to be as productive and on top of things as we might’ve been before.

So be kind to yourself. Instead of keeping a to-do list, maybe consider the addition of a “got it done” list, tracking your accomplishments, big or small, throughout the day.

It can be easy to convince ourselves we didn’t do much on a given day, but celebrating the small victories can help us keep perspective.

Above all else, remember that it’s okay (and completely understandable) that you might be having a hard time right now.

Staring at a screen all day is draining enough as it is. If possible, it can be helpful to limit your screen time outside work hours and take frequent breaks to give your brain a quick reset.

With computers offering us so many distractions at any given moment, the amount of concentrated focus it requires can impact us significantly. It’s important to give ourselves some spaciousness to combat the digital fatigue that can come with working remotely, especially while self-isolating.

In my recent article about combating “cabin fever,” I broke down some tips for making your living space healthier during self-isolation.

Some suggestions included:

  • incorporating plants
  • working near a window
  • decluttering
  • experimenting with lighting
  • prioritizing spaciousness

Yes, even a lava lamp can help things feel a little less bleak. Don’t hesitate to make a few changes — when self-isolating, you’ll likely find yourself even more sensitive to your environment.

Remember, what you see when you log into your computer is still part of your “view.”

Take some time to clean up your desktop, organize your bookmark tabs, and swap out that desktop image for something more uplifting. Sometimes things that appear “small” can add to the background anxiety that we feel on any given day.

Depression is a serious condition, and as such, it’s important to have adequate support.

This roundup of low-cost therapy options is a great place to start, and many have teletherapy options. ReThink My Therapy has both therapists and psychiatrists available to users as well, if medication is something you might want to consider.

If you have a trusted relationship with your manager or an HR professional at your job, you can also reach out for professional support. This can include adjusting work expectations or hours, or setting stronger boundaries about what projects you will and won’t take on at this time.

Remember that while depression and self-isolating can feel lonely, you’re not alone in what you’re experiencing.

Don’t hesitate to seek out more help if you need it — especially now, you’re unlikely to find a single person who wouldn’t benefit from some extra support.


Sam Dylan Finch is an editor, writer, and digital media strategist in the San Francisco Bay Area. He’s the lead editor of mental health & chronic conditions at Healthline. Find him on Twitter and Instagram, and learn more at SamDylanFinch.com.