The alarm clock blinked, and it was 7:45: fifteen minutes past my usual wake up time, but all I could do was stare. I felt meaningless and directionless, like I should just keep sleeping, maybe forever. That sounded nice. It was the only thing that sounded nice, if I was being honest. I am a morning person, dammit. I am a work hound. I work all day, like a beast, because I love it and because it’s what I want to do. But not today. Today I just stared at my alarm clock and felt empty.
I’ve only recently understood what depression means, which makes it really difficult to learn how to work through it. Where I come from, you’re supposed to push past that stuff, not let it get to you. You’re supposed to “man up and move on.” Unfortunately, that means ignoring your depression, which, ironically, only allows it to take over and consume you.
Work is especially difficult when you’re depressed, even when you love your work. Depression is a taboo topic accompanied by a handful of judgments and stereotypes, so I wanted to put this out there. I work hard, I’m happy and optimistic, and I manage depression. It’s not something I talk about openly, and it’s not an easy thing to admit in general, but the truth is it’s a frustrating battle I deal with every so often. I can only speak from my own experience, but a few things help me cope and get the job done until I feel like myself again.
1. Focus on Smaller Tasks
Depression can totally take over your reality. You see life through an entirely different lens–one that’s distorted, hazy, and overwhelming. To me, it feels like trying to run 75 mph under water.
For example, when I’m depressed, it’s intimidating to think I have to write 1,500 words for an article, a task that normally comes pretty easy for me.
One thing that helps quite a bit is breaking up my projects into smaller tasks. I focus on just outlining that article. Then, I focus on writing just one section. I take small, baby steps and tell myself, “if I can just get through this small task, I’ll figure out the rest later.”
Actually, this is useful advice even when you’re not depressed! Breaking up goals and projects into smaller milestones makes them manageable and digestible. This way, your mind isn’t distracted by the thought that your task is insurmountable.
2. Pomodoro Your Way Through the Day
- Set a timer for 25 minutes. Work without interruption. This is one “Pomodoro.”
- When the timer goes off, set it again for 5 minutes. Take a break without working at all.
- Repeat this process for three more Pomodoros.
- After the fourth Pomodoro, take a 25-minute break.
When I’m distracted or depressed, this method works wonders for getting me through the day. It also works well in tandem with the first tip because it keeps you focused. You hone in on just making it through the next 25 minutes.
3. Do the Uncomfortable Thing: Acknowledge It
When I’m sick, I usually try to ignore it, because I hate getting sick. I’ll keep my plans with friends, go for hikes, and keep eating the same junk until my cold or flu completely takes over and knocks me on my ass. I have a bad habit of doing the same thing with depression. Inevitably, it knocks me on my ass. Which is why, for a long time, I had no idea how to deal with depression.
It really doesn’t help to ignore something and pretend it doesn’t exist. Again, it only makes you frustrated and confused when you don’t feel the way you expect to feel.
This is where self-care goes a long way. Take some time to rest. If you can take a sick day or a mental health day, you might want to consider taking it instead of trying to push yourself. If you’re fortunate enough to have a boss who understands, you may even give him or her a heads up. You’re not looking to skip out on your work, of course, but you might not be on your A-game, and if I were someone’s boss, I’d want to know. Of course, this very much depends on your industry and your employer, so use your own discretion.
If you’re anything like me, you might feel like self-care is a luxury. A good friend of mine, a career counselor, said it best: self-care is not a reward. It’s part of the process.
Yeah, it can be hard to acknowledge your depression. It’s a lot easier, a lot more comfortable to just tell yourself it doesn’t exist. But comfort is overrated. It’s more effective to actually understand it so you can manage it the right way.
4. Know Your Triggers
Similarly, it helps to be aware of what triggers your depression so that you can anticipate it. For me, it’s almost always my period, if I’m being honest. It’s a weird and foggy feeling and those are the days I have trouble getting out of bed. Knowing this, I can anticipate the fogginess and plan accordingly. I lessen my workload around this time. I buffer my calendar and front load as much work as possible in the week leading up to it, when I’m motivated.
If I were to ignore my depression, I wouldn’t know those triggers, and I couldn’t plan for them accordingly. My work would suffer. For a long time, it did. I didn’t know how to deal with depression because I refused to acknowledge its existence in the first place.
Of course, it always helps to have support, and I’m lucky that the people in my life get it. It’s also worth pointing out that you have to know when to ask for help, too. At some point, you might consider enlisting the help of a counselor, support group, or mental health professional (there’s a lot of info here that can help).
In general, though, acknowledging it has helped more than anything. It’s not an easy thing to do, especially when there are so many misconceptions about it to begin with, but it’s a lot more productive than pretending that fogginess doesn’t exist.
I know it’s not an easy thing to discuss, but have any of you dealt with this? If so, what strategies do you use to streamline your work? Have you learned how to work through depression?