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12 Hacks to Help You Get Through the Work Day When You Have Depression

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Depression is relentless. It may vary in severity, but I find that my depression has far more stamina than I do, and it can make it difficult to meet day-to-day adulting requirements. One of those requirements is working; trying to work when your depression is in overdrive is like trying to eat ice cream with chopsticks; you’ll probably be able to figure it out, but it won’t be enjoyable or easy.

Whether you work in an office, at home, or another place, I’ve found that it’s helpful to have different plans of attack depending on whether you’re having a good or OK day, a not-so-great day, or an unbearable day. Depression isn’t consistent, so the ways to get through the work day will have to vary as well. No matter what type of day you’re having, look for ways to reach out and confide in loved ones or coworkers; knowing you’re not alone can make a world of difference.

On ‘Not-So-Great’ Days

These are the days when you’re not in the best shape, but you can probably make it through the day. For me, these are the most common. 

1. Find Quick Wins

On days when depression is creeping in, my brain is craving any dopamine hits it can get. I may barely have any energy but if I have to work, I start with the lowest possible hanging fruit so I get that sense of accomplishment with minimal effort. It’s usually not enough of a hit to make me less depressed, but it’s enough to make me not feel totally useless so I can work my way up. 

2. Order Delivery for Breakfast

I’ll admit I do this way more often than I’d like to, but on bad days I can’t fathom the idea of having to eat or prepare breakfast. If I order in, I’m guaranteed to at least pick at my meal and try to eat. This also serves a second sneaky purpose: in order to get my food, I have to leave my apartment and go get it from the front door of the building. This forces me to step outside without the pressure of having to truly leave the house or get dressed. 

3. Keep A Work Shirt or Sweater Handy

I work remotely, but I often have to have my camera on and don’t have the energy to get dressed, so I keep a shirt by my desk that I quickly throw on top of my sweats to make it seem like I got dressed.

4. Dress Down When Possible

This can look different for different people; if you work from home, it might mean wearing sweats and a hoodie with a baseball cap on, and if you work in an office it might mean wearing jeans or joggers/sweatpants that look fancy but are super comfortable. If you have to wear a uniform or more formal wear no matter what, buy some clothes one size up from your usual size, which will make you more comfortable without breaking any dress codes.

5. Take Breaks

I’m notorious for working through my breaks or lunch, but when I’m already not doing the best, I need to slow down and rest throughout the day. If I don’t take breaks when depression is louder than usual, I’ll try to log off a bit earlier so that I’m not doing a full grind when my mind and body are worn down. 

On ‘Unbearable’ Days

These are the days when you just can’t do it. You feel like giving up, your limbs are like boulders, and there’s a truck on your chest. 

1. Call In Sick

While not always possible for everyone, these are the times when we need to stop and listen to our minds as best as we can. It’s still stigmatized to use sick days for depression, but mental health is health. If you need a day off because you’re sick with depression, that’s valid. 

2. Do The Bare Minimum

You’re just trying to get through the day here, so anything nonessential can wait. If it isn’t due or required today, don’t bother. Maybe if you’re usually in the office you can work from home instead, or if you’re usually working from home you can work from bed today. Maybe you go in late, or leave early, or leave your camera off in meetings. Maybe you just attend meetings with no desk work, or reschedule all your meetings if you’re not up to talking. 

3. Skip The Chores

When you’re in agony but can’t get out of work, something’s gotta give. It might mean eating a frozen meal, or having a friend or loved one drop off food. It might mean using disposable plates and cutlery so there’s no washing to do, or it might mean neglecting or pawning off any other chores you have. Again, it’s totally up to you, but the key is getting as much as possible off your plate.

On ‘Good/OK’ Days

On these days, you might only feel a twinge of depression and will be more productive and energetic than on the other days. 

1. “Bank” Some Work

If you have a long-term project you’ve been working on, chip away at it as much as possible, and keep it in a folder so that on a day you can’t do much, you can show this extra work instead. 

2. Prep For Worse Days

When making breakfast or lunch, double up on whatever you’re making and refrigerate or freeze half so that you always have something to keep you fueled up on a bad day to get you through the work day. 

3. Do The Hard Stuff

Good days are the best time to get the hard conversations out of the way, knock off the items on your to-do list that have been neglected for weeks, or work on the problems that require more thinking and creativity.

4. Document Your Accomplishments

Keeping track of all the good work you’ve done can be a boost when you’re having a bad day, and taking time to make note of everything you’ve done will help you balance out the voice in your head that says you aren’t good enough.

Coping with depression looks a little bit different for everyone, and can look different depending on the day as well. While it’s important to try and keep up with the typical stuff you’re told — take your meds, exercise regularly, drink water, don’t forget to eat, etc. — these day-specific tips are a bit different. I hope that you have more good days than bad ones and that the unbearable ones are a rarity or non-existent. It’s OK if you can’t try all of these tips, or feel overwhelmed about trying something new; you can always start with one and see how it goes. Working is hard work, and if you’re out there doing it with depression, I’m so proud of you. 

Getty Images photo via fizkes

Originally published: June 30, 2022
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