An important aspect of recovering from depression is continuing to participate in as many of your regular daily activities as possible during treatment. For many people, work is high on that list. Employment is about much more than making a living. The satisfaction and security of work contribute to positive self-esteem, and being part of a work team can help foster a sense of belonging. Keeping the established routine helps in certain distraction from the self-absorbing negative thoughts and feelings.
But there is no surprise that it can be challenging to function at your best in the work world while dealing with depression. That is true when you currently have a job, but that is even tougher when you are just entering or returning to the job market. In this situation, you need to “sell yourself” to the new or prospective employer and project the self-confidence and professional integrity, and concentrate maximally on new responsibilities and tasks, if employed.
We will offer selected practical strategies on how to make the most of your job situation. Note that many of these strategies can be put into action before you ever set foot in your workplace or schedule your first job interview. When you are playing an active role in your own treatment plan and maintaining the proper perspective on your situation, you will find it easier to bring out your very best in the work world.
Consider adopting the following strategies to improve your outlook and performance on the job:
- Do not let work take precedence over recovery. Work is important, but it is only one aspect of your life. Even on the busiest of days, remember that recovery is your top priority. Your treatment plan and the self-care strategies you employ each day should not take a back seat to the immediate concerns and demands of the workday. Sometimes, trying to reach your daily employment demands, you may jeopardize your strategic recovery plan.
- Stay in touch with your family and friends. If your job environment permits, make regular phone calls during the day to friends and family. Staying in contact with someone you trust can give you perspective on what really matters and keep you focused on getting better.
- Remember what’s important about work. It is rare to find a job that does not involve challenging people, deadlines, difficult assignments and other stress factors. At times when work feels overwhelming, try to focus on the positive reasons why you work, including financial independence and security, personal satisfaction and the sense of community or belonging that comes from contributing to a team effort.
- Do not take it personally. In many cases, the problems are unrelated to your personal performance or attitudes, but rather to the personality issues in your coworkers, managers, or customers, or with the objective complications. While you can do your best to work towards the problem resolution, that might not result in the desired outcomes. Do not try to blame yourself for every work-related issues, popping up in the area of your responsibilities. Remember, that people you work with, may also have their own psychological issues or personal stressful life events.
- Keep in mind that politics and personalities are part of working. When you work with other people, differing agendas, conflicting priorities and interpersonal conflict can’t be avoided. They do not need to derail your efforts to recover from depression.
- Don’t set yourself up by expecting perfection. But even if you are responsible for the work-related difficulties, it is not the end of the world. Everyone does mistakes. If you do your job, that is unavoidable once awhile. Adjust your attitude and expectations about yourself and your work, knowing that oversights and professional errors are inevitable in any job.
- Communicate with your coworkers. Interact with coworkers in small ways. Do not give in to the temptation to isolate yourself. The less visible you are, the more you jeopardize your job. However, if do not feel like, do not volunteer to initiate non-essential conversations; ask questions instead. If necessary, write them out before meetings and get prepared to important conversations and discussions ahead of time.
- Put special attention on your appearance. While you are coping with your depression, proactively and carefully monitor your professional appearance. Make extra efforts to look good.
- Try to hold yourself together in difficult moments. A crying jag may make you feel better, but it can disconcert your coworkers. If you burst into tears, go to a private place to compose yourself.
- Don’t let the past define today or tomorrow. Realize that problems caused by your symptoms in the past will not necessarily repeat themselves, especially if you have a working treatment plan in place. Just because a lack of energy once caused you to miss a crucial deadline doesn’t mean you are unreliable. Give yourself credit for the progress you are making, and permission to start over.
- Develop symptom-specific strategies. To help you keep focused on the future instead of the past, make sure to learn all you can about your illness and your specific symptoms. Take a close look at the symptoms that have tripped you up in the past, and develop specific strategies for countering each of them. For example, if your depression can make it hard to concentrate or if you feel overwhelmed when beginning a project, it might be helpful to break work assignments into smaller, more manageable steps that can be completed in shorter timeframes.
- Take regular breaks. Stepping back from work and doing something that relaxes you, like meditating or listening to music, can help you cope with stress. Do not tell yourself, you cannot afford even a minor distraction. Getting back to work after, you may be able to perform the task quicker and with better quality and efficiency.
- Expose yourself to a little sunlight during the day. Lack of sunlight can make depression worse. Make sure you’re getting enough. Working long hours might not give you a chance to be outside before or after your working schedule. If you can afford, take a short walk outdoors during your breaks, have your coffee or lunch outside, take a brief walk on the parking lot.
- Be physically active at workplace. If you have fitness center at job, aim for 30 minutes of exercise per day during your lunch break or in small installments during the day. Even short 10-minute bursts of activity can have a positive effect on your mood. If you do not have such opportunity, you can at least simulate it by, for example, taking the stairs rather than the elevator or parking your car in the farthest spot on the parking lot.
- Take baby steps. When you are working on a project that seems overwhelming, break it into multiple steps, and complete them one at a time.
- Don’t skip meals during the day. Going too long between meals can make you feel irritable and tired, so aim to eat something at least every 3-4 hours. Slow down and pay attention to the full experience of eating. Enjoy the taste of your food. But, avoid heavy lunches with lots of fat. Saturated fat in particular is really bad for your mind and makes you feel weighed down and sad.
- Drink water. Water needs to be an integral part of your day, especially if you are feeling depressed. It cleans out toxins and impurities and helps your organs process all the junk. No, I do not you call you to drink 8 glasses of water, as per some outdated recommendations, you may still find on the Internet. Drink, when do you feel like, when you are thirsty, but do not let it go due to the work overload.
- Smile, at random. Smiling has been scientifically shown to trigger a chemical response in the human body. What this means is that the physical action of smiling will cause you to feel happier even if you have nothing to smile about! Try smiling more often and see how it changes your mind.
- Don’t go it alone. It is difficult to juggle a full work schedule while also meeting everyone’s expectations at home. When you also need to find time and energy to devote to managing your depression, it can be overwhelming. Examine your daily or weekly schedule and look for activities, both at home and at work, that could be delegated to others. Involving coworkers in shared responsibilities, asking family members to help with chores, or reaching out to a friend to provide a “sounding board” for your ideas and concerns are all good strategies for accomplishing your goals without sacrificing your emotional health and recovery.
- Discuss your coping skills with therapist. Take your medications and attend your counseling sessions to ease the depression symptoms that are making it difficult for you to function. Address the job survival tips and techniques, while discussing your progress during your therapy sessions, and apply obtained recommendations at your workplace.
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