Staying Productive Through a Bout of Depression

with guest Trav Lubinsky #MakingBank S4E31

Mental health is on everyone’s radar these days, in no small part because we are suffering from anxiety and depression at alarmingly high rates. Work can be a central cause of mental health issues for many people, and when it hits it can make staying productive an incredibly challenging experience. 

There are numerous ways to mitigate the effects of depression, but the #1 suggestion we can make is to look for work you find rewarding. If your job is about more than just money to you, if you can see and feel that you are making a positive difference or are at least happy and excited about your daily tasks, you will be much less likely to succumb to depression or other mental health issues. 

Beyond working towards a cause, it is up to you to take pride in your work. If you’re unchallenged, find a way to challenge yourself. Adding personal touches to claim ownership over your work or trying to make someone else’s day better, be it a client or a coworker, can help elevate your mood and buoy depression as well. 

But no matter how much you love your job or believe in its cause, depression can hit and take over. Here’s how to keep going when even the why is failing you. 

1. Let It Happen

When you feel depressed, one of the most important things to remember is not to fight it. Acknowledge your depression, accept it, and let it come over you. Maybe there’s something you need to work on or think about. Don’t avoid it, let it happen, and your depression won’t last as long or be as devastating. 

By fully acknowledging your feelings and making space for them to exist, you can digest them more easily. Trying to fight them is when you run into real trouble. Telling yourself you shouldn’t be depressed or being ashamed because you are will only add another layer of negativity to your mind, dragging you down even further. Try to remember that this happens to almost everyone, and that it’s only a temporary state. It will get better, and therefore you don’t have to beat yourself up for not being productive right this instant. 

If you can, take a mental health day or a sick day. Remind yourself that your wellbeing comes first in your life. If you are a priority, and you follow through on prioritizing yourself, you will be more productive overall than if you try to just slug through it. 

2. Have Friends at Work You Can Confide In

Having friends at work is one of the best ways, in and of itself, to steer clear of the workday blues. It’s scientifically proven that having relationships with people you genuinely care about helps to keep tough times in perspective and remain positive. 

You need your work buddies, you need people you can talk to that you trust. You also need to understand that this means being there for other people and being a person they can trust. This will not only help you both fight through tough times; it will help buoy those hard times from happening as often, or being as tough when they do. 

3. Breathing Techniques 

Meditation has caught on lately as one of the best ways to improve mental health and even performance at work. But this practice doesn’t have to be left on the mat in your living room – you can take it with you everywhere. 

Simply paying attention to your breathing is a great way to regulate your mood and your stress levels. It can instill a sense of calm and help you reduce stress, anxiety, and depression. If nothing else, it can help you put everything in perspective and keep moving forward. 

You can also take this a step further by learning breathing techniques that are specifically designed to direct your mood however you want to. Wim Hof even teaches breathing exercises that allow him to regulate his body temperature in order to endure extreme cold, like sitting in an ice bath. Compared to that, a little depression is a piece of cake. 

4. Set Small Milestones 

Chunking up your workday can help even in good times, but when you’re depressed there is added value. By focusing on short term goals, or small chunks of time, everything becomes more manageable and you can build up momentum towards bigger tasks. 

Try creating lists of simple things, like writing each individual email rather than just ‘10am – emails,’ and cross off each task as you complete it. This gives you a visual component to see what you have accomplished and can help you see the light at the end of the tunnel. 

5. Work Out in the Middle of the Day

Not only can breaking up your day help, but the most effective way you can improve your mental health is improving your physical health. Working out releases endorphins – a natural mood booster – and gives you a moment to yourself to think things through, process emotions, and be present in your body. 

Cardio is the best option here as it gets your juices flowing the most and provides the best opportunity to get into flow state, which has proven mental health benefits. If you can’t afford to work up a sweat, you can go for an extended walk or do some light yoga. Stretching is another great way to kick your system into gear and release endorphins that doesn’t require much room and won’t leave you stinking up the office. 

Understanding why you are depressed is easier said than done, but it’s an important first step. There is likely a confluence of factors, and by figuring them out you can take a step towards getting better. 

Depression sucks, but it doesn’t have to spell the end of you, and by taking a few steps in the right direction, you can stay productive at work even when it’s the last thing you want to be doing. 

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