I’ve suffered from depression most of my life. I was fortunate to get help and still my depression persisted off and on (mostly on) for years. It wasn’t until I started really living the positive and healthy habits I write about in this blog that the depression has been kept at bay.
My depression affected my personal life and, of course, my work. Many days just getting out of bed seemed an unbearable task, let alone getting dressed and getting to work on time. Depression affected every aspect of my work and life. In some cases, work was even a secondary cause of my depression.
I’m not alone in my experience with depression in the workplace. Studies show 19% of Americans will suffer from depression at some point in their lives. The cost of depression in the workplace is estimated at $83 billion per year in the United States alone.
You are not alone.
Struggling to manage depression for many years I slowly learned healthy habits and positive coping mechanisms that helped me deal with my depression and ultimately get better. While no single positive habit removed my depression, practicing these tips regularly improved my situation until I recovered from depression and helped me be a productive and more positive employee.
How to deal with depression at work
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Take care of your health
Depression affects your physical health in addition to your mental and emotional health. When you’re suffering from depression it’s more important than ever to take good care of your health.
At minimum, get between 7-8 hours of sleep every night (it helps to go to bed and wake up at the same time!), drink plenty of water, eat regular healthy meals, and exercise.
Take breaks at work
Depression can completely overwhelm your work and your life. Taking breaks can help you break up the day into more manageable chunks.
Set a reminder in your Outlook calender to remind you to take your breaks. Leave your desk for your break and do something that rejuvenates you, like listening to music, doing a few stretches, deep breathing, taking a walk, calling a friend, or working on a puzzle.
If you have a good support network, this is the time to reach out. When you’re feeling depressed you may feel isolated, or have a tendency to self-isolate but this is the worst possible time to be alone.
It can help to have a trusted friend at work to confide in, or just socialize with. If that’s not possible, call or email a good friend outside of work. Make plans to meet a friend for lunch, or dinner after work- use your support network regularly, not just when you’re in crisis.
If you don’t feel like reaching out, do it anyway. Do it because you don’t want to keep feeling this way. Do it so you can get better.
Focus on the task in front of you
When suffering from depression the lines between the past, present, and future can seem to blur, making your situation feel even more hopeless. Sadness from the past and anxieties about future events overshadow what you’re doing today.
Try focusing on one task at a time, giving your full attention to what’s in front of you. If you find your mind wander to other things, gently guide your thoughts back to what you’re doing.
Help someone out
It feels good to help others, and it’s a great way to remind yourself you have wonderful gifts and talents to share with others.
You might chair a work committee designed to improve your work environment, or consider organizing a volunteer day with your co-workers. Being of service to others gives meaning to a life plagued with depression.
Be kind to yourself. Not only do you deserve kindness, when you’re depressed you really need it.
Put your worries in their place
Try writing down your worries and putting them in a safe place to deal with later. Some people have a “god box” or “worry jar” where they write down their problems and practice letting go. You don’t have to carry all your worries around with you all day long.
Challenge negative thoughts and feelings
When you’re experiencing negative thoughts and feelings it may be helpful to challenge them with questions such as, “where’s the evidence?”, “what am I really afraid of?” or, “am I assuming the worst?”.
Put negative thoughts and feelings in perspective
Don’t believe everything you think. Try observing your thoughts without attaching to them. Imagine your thoughts are like words in a book- read them and then turn the page.
Don’t believe everything you feel. Just because you feel hopeless doesn’t mean your situation IS hopeless. Feelings are just feelings and they’re always temporary.
Keep it positive
When you’re depressed your mind fills with negative thoughts- try adding some positive thoughts to the mix. This includes positive self-talk, practicing gratitude, and repeating self-affirming statements.
It’s okay if you don’t feel positive in the moment- this is the power of acting “as if”. The more positive statements you make, the more those positive thoughts will positively affect you.
You may not feel self-love right now but this is another example of acting as if. The more you treat yourself with compassion and love, the more self-love you’ll feel. It may take weeks or months to notice the difference, but you will notice a difference.
You can’t deal with depression on your own. Seek help from a counselor or therapist, or give group therapy a try. Your employer may even have an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) that offers between 3-5 free counseling sessions to deal with life’s ups and downs.
Don’t give up
Don’t give up on yourself. You deserve a chance to live a happy, healthy life.