Coping at Work

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.

But it can be challenging to function at your best in the work world while dealing with depression.  That’s true whether you currently have a job, or you’re just entering or returning to the job market.   Strategies to help you make the most of your job situation are found below. 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.

On-the-Job Strategies

Consider adopting the following strategies to improve your outlook and performance on the job:

Don’t 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. 

Remember what’s important about work.  It is rare to find a job that doesn’t involve challenging people, deadlines, difficult assignments and other stressors.  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.

Don’t set yourself up by expecting perfection.  You will face disappointments, make mistakes, and encounter obstacles at work – everyone does.  Adjust your attitude and expectations about yourself and your work, knowing that problems are inevitable in any job.

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.

Keep in mind that politics and personalities are part of working.  When you work with other people (and most of us do!), 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 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.