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How to deal with depression at work

Working with depression can feel like slogging through the mud. Try these strategies to help you maintain professionalism and cope with your symptoms.

How to deal with depression at work
[Photo: Michael Afonso/Unsplash]

If you’re working and struggling with depression, you’re not alone. Over 16 million American adults suffer from depression, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, with the majority of those individuals in their prime working years. The median onset age for major depressive disorder is 32.5 years old.

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Depression can cause difficulty concentrating, lead to feelings of exhaustion or being overwhelmed by your tasks. While some may attribute these symptoms to workplace stress, when the symptoms don’t go away outside work hours and begin to interfere with other areas of your life as well, it may be a sign that you’re suffering from depression and anxiety, two common mental health conditions that tend to go hand in hand.

According to Mental Health America, clinical depression costs the U.S. economy over $51 billion in workplace absenteeism and lost productivity. If left untreated, depression can be debilitating and harm your work performance, causing you to become even more anxious about your job stability or ability to move up the ladder.

Working with depression can feel like you’re slogging through the mud. Try these strategies to help you maintain your professionalism at work while coping with your depression symptoms.

Talk to your boss

While many individuals suffering with depression tend to be afraid to speak with their superiors about their mental health due to fears of being perceived as weak or incapable of doing their jobs, psychologist Dr. Nikole Benders-Hadi says speaking with your boss or HR department is important to creating a work environment that works for you. She advises setting aside private time to speak with your boss, without any interruptions to discuss the issues you are having as well as any accommodations you may need in order to perform in your job. This may include additional time off, scheduled breaks, or for some, a more structured day. When discussing any accommodations, Benders-Hadi recommends focusing more on your ability to perform your job rather than specifics of symptoms you’re experiencing.

Take care of yourself

Developing a good self-care regime is extremely important in order to cope with depression and anxiety symptoms. Eating a healthy diet, getting enough sleep, exercising, and being social are critical coping mechanisms. Breathing exercises and progressive muscle relaxation can also help to calm your body when you’re feeling overwhelmed. There are several breathing exercise apps available that you can download and practice during a work break to help you cope throughout the day.

Organize your workday

To prepare yourself for the day and manage your depression symptoms, take the time to organize. Prioritize tasks, schedule frequent breaks, eliminate distractions, and break large projects into smaller, manageable pieces to better allow you to plan the day ahead.

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Clinical psychologist Dr. Sanam Hafeez recommends scheduling your day based on when you are feeling your best. If your anxiety is high during the morning commute, for example, perhaps a shifted work schedule that has you coming into the office at 7 a.m. before rush hour, or, if early mornings aren’t your thing, around 11 a.m., after rush hour, and working until 8 p.m. may be an option. “The key is to know your best work situation where you’re most productive, less depressed or anxious, and have an open conversation to see what work arrangements can work,” says Hafeez.

Know your best times of day

Understanding when you are at your most productive can help you work through depression and anxiety. “If you know afternoons are more difficult for you to maintain focus, then get important tasks done first thing in the morning,” says Benders-Hadi.

Knowing your depression and anxiety triggers and when they are most likely to occur is also important to properly plan your day. “People who experience depression or anxiety in the morning may feel better turning the focus on meeting so they can interact with others and exchange ideas that may take their mind off what triggered the anxiety (a family issue or stressful commute),” says Hafeez. Others may want to focus on tasks and deliverables first thing in the morning and have meetings in the afternoon once they’ve crossed a few things off their to-do-list. Managing your workload means being mindful about when you’re at your best.

Rely on your support system

“It is incredibly important to have support from someone; your boss or coworkers, or people outside of the workplace entirely,” says Benders-Hadi. Depression can be an isolating experience. While you may feel like you need to cocoon yourself to avoid sharing details of your mental-health struggles with others, expanding your support system can be a valuable tool in your depression arsenal. “Often people can be feeling alone and unsupported, so it can be beneficial to reach out to others,” says Benders-Hadi. Schedule at least one or two social activities per week in your calendar.

Seek outside help

Acknowledge the struggles you are having, keeping in mind that mental health issues are nothing to be ashamed of. Finding a professional you can speak to is a great first step to tackling depression symptoms. Most Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) offer support for mental health concerns including depression and anxiety.

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About the author

Lisa Evans is a freelance writer from Toronto who covers topics related to mental and physical health. She strives to help readers make small changes to their daily habits that have a profound and lasting impact on their productivity and overall job satisfaction

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