How to Manage an Office Job With Depression and Anxiety
I never liked drama at school. In fact, I hated it. However, somewhere along the way, I learned to be a pretty good actor. Like so many of the mental health community, I have become an expert at outwardly functioning through my struggling.
People at work who learn about my struggles are always surprised and I’m grateful for that. I work hard to function, so people not noticing is great. However, that’s not a sustainable strategy for dealing with a problem.
I have an office job — a pretty decent one. I lead a team and devise part of the strategy for a retailer. My job relies on my decision making, clarity of thought and leadership of my team. Maintaining that when the voices of depression and anxiety are screaming, whispering and toying with you day after day is hard. Functioning when trying antidepressants that made me feel fuzzy and removed is hard. Going to meetings with large numbers of people in small rooms is hard. You likely know this, but how do you deal with it?
1. Work out who needs to know about it.
I spent a lot of time worrying about this. Truth is, it’s entirely up to you, but I have benefited greatly from a small network being in the know: my manager, my peer and my second in command. It means I have a support network if I have appointments, need a shoulder or to work through a negative self-evaluation.
These people have been hugely valuable in supporting me.
2. Manage your schedule tightly.
People in offices love meetings and it’s become increasingly common for people to drop meetings directly into your schedule, which is awful if you need to manage your energy levels. I started by blocking regular appointments for myself — making sure I get lunch or get an hour at my desk — then blocking time before or after meetings. Now only a handful of people knows my availability so I can control when I am available and so I can plan regular days to work from home.
3. Plan your week and create realistic expectations.
My anxiety is fuelled by a lack of self-worth and an unrealistic set of expectations of myself. Through my therapy, I’ve been working on rebalancing this and the office is a critical place for managing myself. I handwrite a weekly planner. What meetings and priorities do I have each day? Is that going to be possible? Is it critical? A manager’s role is a lot about prioritizing and I need to be most ruthless with myself. Sometimes I even run through this plan with my wife so I know it’s reasonable.
4. Understand your limits each day.
A plan is great, but it doesn’t mean you are going to have the energy to deliver on it. Because I have a plan and protect my diary, I can move things that aren’t vital or that are beyond my daily capability. Giving myself permission to do that is a challenge but it allows me to react to a bad night’s sleep, a spike in anxiety or a change in medication.
5. Know when to stop.
Sometimes it doesn’t work. The toolkit isn’t enough on a given day. Knowing when to throw in the towel and go home or take a duvet day is important. It’s the highest order of self-care because only I can determine my limits and give myself permission to rest. But being ruthless with the above means it’s easier to stop because I know what’s going on and what compromises I’m making.
I’m working incessantly on the above because it helps to manage my anxiety whilst leaving me flexibility. It’s an endless battle to stay on top of myself, but this is a manageable way to deliver at work whilst managing my health.
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Thinkstock photo via Rostislav_Sedlacek