Maybe the idea of work fills you with dread, or you’re finding it hard to connect with your colleagues. Maybe you find yourself zoning out when you need to be focusing, or you’re watching the clock, just waiting for the chance to crawl back into bed. If you feel any of these things, it might be depression creeping into your work life. If we’re dealing with depression at home, we’re dealing with it at work, too. Depression doesn’t have an overnight cure, but there are plenty of ways to start feeling better. Along with getting treatment for depression, there are many small steps you can take to make your day-to-day life a little easier.

Feeling down and low on energy at work
You may find yourself sad at work, unmotivated, or feel like you want to go home and go back to bed. It’s hard to motivate yourself to show up at meetings, organize your daily work tasks, or even connect with your colleagues or clients when you’re feeling low. It can feel like someone drained your battery, or like everything you need to do at work feels far more difficult or challenging than it normally does. Depression can hijack your ability to get things done.

It’s common for depression to affect how you feel about your work. You might not enjoy what you do like you used to. This makes it hard to give it as much attention as you’d like. A lot of times, things that you used to find motivating or enjoyable become more difficult. So where you used to be motivated to complete your daily tasks at work, you might find that you’re moving a little slower and struggling to meet deadlines. If your workplace has performance review processes, you might find that you aren’t meeting the same levels that you’d like to or that you used to. You might find that you struggle to find entertainment in the topics you used to with colleagues It can also significantly affect your self-confidence. When you are down on yourself, you may be afraid to make further mistakes, so you can get stuck in procrastination, unable to make decisions or be productive.

How to Cope with Depression at Work

If you’re finding that depression is affecting your work life, here are a few things you can do to gain a bit of motivation, rest or relief throughout the day.

Recognize your symptoms
First, identify where the problem areas are. Are you having trouble focusing? Unable to meet deadlines? Avoiding conversations with colleagues? Once you know what the problems are, you can set mini-goals and make an action plan to get through the day.

Work tasks are a means to an end so if you can identify what your goals are — whether that means getting back home and in bed at the end of the day, engaging with your support system, or something bigger, like finding your stride again — think about what steps you need to take in order to get to your goal. Just make sure you set realistic goals for yourself so that you don’t end up making yourself feel worse. It might take some trial and error before you figure out the perfect combination of small and large tasks that you can accomplish without feeling overwhelmed or burned out.

Identify some small things that bring you joy
Since depression zaps your energy, motivation and interest it’s important to identify things in your job or work setting that bring you either some enjoyment or feelings of accomplishment. For example, maybe taking a short walk to get a coffee at your favourite coffee shop brings you some joy or eating lunch with a co-worker makes you feel less sad.  Whatever your “happy” thing is, schedule it into your day as a little reward for getting through the less-fun stuff. The idea is to find moments of enjoyment or mastery. This can make you feel better and reduce the impact of depression on your work. Those moments of good might feel small, especially compared to the feelings that depression brings with it, but they can still help you find little bright spots in your day to help you stay on task.

Talk with Co-workers
When we are depressed, we have a tendency to isolate and close ourselves off, but that is actually the worst thing we can do. Avoiding other people can make the impact of depression on your work worse — and it can make it harder for you to get through the day.

It’s OK to communicate to co-workers and colleagues that you’re going through a difficult time and that you may need some additional support. Having an open dialogue with co-workers and employers about your experience with depression not only normalizes it but allows them to provide the support you might need to do well at work. Not everyone can open up to their colleagues, and not all workplaces have a safe space to allow employees to discuss their mental health. If that’s the case, it can help to talk with a friend about what’s going on with you. This might help lighten the load.

Breaks reduce stress
Everything feels daunting when you’re depressed — and forcing yourself to sit in front of your computer, attend meetings or serve customers for hours is a great way to start feeling even worse. Anytime you feel yourself getting overwhelmed, exhausted, losing focus, or just not feeling as motivated or interested, it is your brain’s way of saying it’s time to take a break. If you feel yourself getting more irritable or frustrated, that’s also a warning sign that you should take a break and probably step away. Try to make your breaks meaningful, if you can. Temporary zone-outs at your desk aren’t really breaks, so they won’t be as effective. Instead, try moving your body. Moving can create better blood flow to the brain and in turn help you get rid of some of the brain fog that can accompany depression.

Talk with your manager or HR
As difficult as this step is, it can be an important one. If you’re noticing that your depression is impacting your work performance, it can help to clue your manager in on what’s going on so that they can provide you with accommodations. Being able to make accommodations or modifications to job tasks or demands can be the biggest support when you’re living with depression. Things like flexibility in schedules, deadlines, or even modifications in job duties can help someone continue to perform at their job while coping with depression. Plus, over time, those accommodations can help you build up your self-esteem and confidence.