One of the most common symptoms of depression is fatigue, often accompanied by an overwhelming feeling of “I don’t want to do anything, at all, ever.” Couple these feelings with a remote work position, and it can be a recipe for disaster. But with the right strategies, you can power through dark days to maintain a good work ethic, even in a work-from-home environment that relies on skills like time management and being a self-starter that depression symptoms often sabotage.
The number of people who work remotely has increased in recent years; a 2017 report found that 3.9 million employees in the United States work from home at least half of the time, an increase from 1.8 million in 2005. With about one in six adults experiencing depression at some point in their life, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, depression is a major concern the growing remote workforce will continue to face.
As someone who works remotely full-time and has struggled with depression, I share my top tips to get through the rough periods below.
Get out of the house
Just because you work from home, that doesn’t mean you have to work from home. It may sound obvious, but if your depression is making it hard for you to ignore the will of your couch or bed, physically forcing yourself out of proximity of that option can help you stay on task with work. Why not get out of the house and go to a coffee shop? Sometimes, surrounding yourself with other people — many of whom are likely also working — can help you feel more productive.
Working from home can be an isolating experience, so getting out into the real world and interacting with other humans face-to-face, even if that’s just ordering a cup of coffee and a bagel, can make a real difference in your attitude. If you need more motivation and can afford it, consider paying for a membership at a coworking space to surround yourself with other productive people on a regular basis.
Finding an accountability buddy can also help. Many people work remotely these days, whether it be full-time or just once or twice a week. Ask around and find a friend who will meet up with you at a coffee shop or library regularly to do work together. For me, making plans in advance and feeling the pressure to stick to them and not let others down helps motivate me to get out of the house and get work done. And your friend will likely appreciate the company, too!
Try to maintain a routine
You wake up, grab your laptop from your bedside table, and log into your work email from the comfort of your bed. Sound familiar? Don’t worry — we’ve all been there. But we can do better.
Find a routine that works for you. What may help is to stick to a similar schedule that you might have if you were actually commuting to and from an office every day. Set your alarm for the same time each morning; get up, shower, get dressed, and make coffee or tea. Do whatever you need to do to get your body on the same page as your work day — a physical push to let your body know that OK, I’m home, but I’m still in work mode.
Even better: Try working out before you start your work day. Research shows that exercise can actually help treat depression. Find a form of physical activity that works for you. Motivate yourself best by purchasing a gym membership. Brisk walking around your neighborhood or following along with a yoga video on YouTube are other cost-free options to consider.
Schedule downtime into your day
In-office workers take breaks, and so should you as a remote worker. The trap comes when you let break time and work time bleed into each other with no real boundaries. Set yourself time limits — a half hour for lunch, a few five- or 10-minute breaks for coffee or a stretch. In my experience, getting outside for a walk around the block in the sunshine can work wonders. Giving yourself permission to do nothing in controlled increments can help you fight the urge to do nothing during your designated “work periods.” Using a timer app on your phone, or trying the Pomodoro technique of productivity, can help you enforce these rules.
Seek treatment for your depression
While working from home can be a great environment for some people with depression and other mental health problems, it can also make your depression symptoms worse at times. So my most important tip is to seek professional treatment for your condition to help improve your life overall. If you don’t address your mental health head-on, the rest of these tips will just act as short-term band-aids.
If you haven’t tried cognitive behavioral therapy, that’s a great place to start. There are also a variety of medications you can try that can help with depression symptoms, such as SSRIs. In fact, a 2014 review in World Psychiatry found that combining psychotherapy with antidepressants is more effective in treating depression than antidepressants alone. If you’re consistently having trouble getting through the day and getting your work done, know that help is available — and you should seek it sooner rather than later.
Listen to your gut
Last, but not least, listen to your gut. If you’ve sought treatment and are still struggling with severe depression or other mental health issues, maybe a remote work position isn’t right for you in the long-term. If you feel comfortable, consider speaking with your employer; letting them know that you are struggling can help them adjust expectations when you are going through a particularly dark patch.
You may also consider seeking new work that requires in-office time. Looking for a new job may sound like the last thing you want to do during a depressive episode, but getting back into a traditional in-office environment could be the motivation you need to help stay productive and ensure your livelihood.
At its best, remote work can be a wonderful privilege that helps us create our own flexible environment to do our best work; but when you have depression, these benefits can sometimes become detrimental. When your mental health is affecting your work, these strategies can help you cope.
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