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Living with Depression: How to Keep Working

By: Emily Johnson

I live with a high-functioning depression in my life, and in the workplace. I’ve been struggling since 2015 when I thought it was just fatigue. Medication and therapy have helped me feel better, but I still experience depressive episodes. Sometimes going to the office seems close to impossible—even though I love my job. And like most others, I can’t take the liberty to refuse regular income and stop working for a while. But what I’ve discovered is: You can work when depressed.

Yes, depression can make work more challenging, but you can still be productive. It just requires self-acceptance and open communication with your professional circle. Well, and a couple of other things. It took me a while to figure it all out, but I now feel that I can effectively cope with my depression at work. Here’s how I do it:

Break Up Tasks

When experiencing depression, you’re probably content with the fact that you managed to make it to work. But now that you’re at your desk, you actually have to accomplish tasks. To handle the lack of concentration and energy, break up your work into small pieces with breaks between them.

For example, when I’m writing a blog post, I start with two paragraphs. Once I’ve accomplished that, I take a 15-minute break. Then I go back to work. This tactic helps complete tasks step-by-step.

Say No

“Do something productive, and you’ll have no time for depression.” How often have you heard this kind of advice while feeling sad, stressed, or depressed? I’ve lost count. And the kicker is: Many people believe that work addiction (being consumed by something “productive”) can heal a person’s emotional pain. Well, I can tell you firsthand that the principle of fighting fire with fire does not help.

There is no harm in saying no when you know that your colleagues can complete tasks themselves. Delegate when appropriate. And consider letting them know about your condition if you feel comfortable and supported.

Speak Openly About Your Depression

While there are potential downsides to being open about a mental health condition at work, it can be beneficial to tell your coworkers and supervisors. Explain your condition and symptoms in a way they can understand—that you are managing depression, not losing interest in work. There also might be potential accommodations available for your condition, like working from home.

Practice Heartfulness

Heartfulness is a type of meditation that involves listening to your heart rather than your mind as your guiding principle in life. Since depression is a mental condition (mind), putting emphasis on your heart might help you make decisions and keep working when your mind is telling you “you can’t” or “what’s the point.” You can begin this practice by focusing inward and “listening” to your heart once a day.

Personalize Your Workspace

Work environments influence your mood; physical components such as lighting, temperature, colors, and noise may impact your mental health. So make your space positive and comfortable—bring plants, pictures of your family, motivational quotes, or whatever inspires you. Loud noises can affect attention span and mood, so it might be helpful to have a pair of noise-canceling headphones to help you focus.

You can have a full-time job and a fulfilling life despite your depression. Specific lifestyle habits, effective therapy, and medical care can help you to recover and continue working efficiently. Nothing is impossible for those who have found the strength to accept and challenge their depression.

mental health at work

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