A Guide To Getting Things Done When You’re Experiencing Depression
Mental Health Matters
Discussions over mental health have risen significantly in recent years. There seems to be a combination of trying times and stigma erasure that has brought this once taboo topic to the mainstream. As someone who has experienced chronic depression and anxiety my whole life, I am ecstatic that these experiences are being brought to light.
And, while I do feel well-equipped to discuss the extreme inconvenience of depression, I am now finding it incredibly ironic that I’m writing this article right now. I’m currently in a bout of situational depression and have procrastinated writing this article for over a week now. I haven’t been able to piece together enough energy to focus on this, even though it could probably help me through this time.
That’s the number one lie that depression tells you; that nothing will help you, you are doomed to loneliness and melancholy. It now seems wildly inappropriate for me to give advice on being productive amidst mental illness, yet here I am. Maybe we can work through it together.
1. Schedule Self-Care
So you’ve woken up this morning and felt drained of all your energy and you’re ready to hide under the covers for, well, eternity. Those toxic thoughts may have started to roll in and you’re finding it hard not to judge yourself for having absolutely no motivation. I get it. Depression feels like a Monday morning that will never end. And in a world that does not reward the antisocial, it’s difficult to feel satisfied with your introverted self.
Before you even start to attempt your to-do list, accept the fact that you will have to say no to things. Rid yourself of FOMO and shame around staying home from a social gathering or postponing a coffee date. Being busy can be a great way to distract us depressed types, yet, something has to give eventually. Look at your schedule for the week and take off any tasks or activities which are not mandatory and/or don’t get you excited. This is not the time to force yourself to make small talk with strangers—and that’s okay! Saying no to a few things one week does not mean you are doomed to an isolated life forever.
Next, schedule in activities which “fill you up” (as my therapist says). Block out time to watch your favorite movie, paint your nails, go for a walk, or do a little yoga. Find what feels right for you at the time and the people who are your true friends will understand.
All that being said, there is a fine line between self-care and indulgence. Another lie depression tells you is that you are safe in your mental illness. It wraps you in a big gray blanket and tells you that it’s not worth it to crawl out of your cave. I appreciate the self-care movement immensely, however, I think it’s important to try and remember that nothing is one-size-fits-all. When I don’t feel well, I isolate myself from everything I love. My introverted self does need “me time”, though it needs connection too. Check in with yourself each day to make sure that you are actually caring for yourself and not hiding from life.
2. Prioritize Wisely
When there is a lot on your to-do list and you don’t feel strong emotionally, things can get overwhelming very quickly. When you become “flooded” by all of the tasks you’ve been assigned, it’s easy to become paralyzed. So often a huge workload gets thrown my way and instead of being able to map out a healthy schedule, I end up getting nothing done because of my overwhelm.
Use the Pomodoro Technique, get an encouraging app, find an accountability partner, or set up a reward system. Don’t count on your depressed self to be productive without structure. When I write, I almost always start with a simple outline: introduction, paragraph topics, conclusion. Even though this is not a groundbreaking concept, nor does it immediately complete the job, it helps me to feel less intimidated by a blank page. Half of the battle is starting.
The next step is to make peace with the fact that you can’t and shouldn’t do everything. By creating a realistic schedule you’re able to become clear with what actually needs to be accomplished versus what you wish you could accomplish in a perfect world. There are only 24 hours in a day and 7 days in a week, and no matter how many times we try, we cannot stretch time. As unappealing as this may sound, stepping into reality lessens your load in the long run.
3. Ask for Help
Asking for help is not a weakness! Everyone struggles with something and you might be surprised by who you are able to connect with over your hardships. My mom used to tell me this every time I broke down, as an anxious little kid.
From the time I was born, until middle school, I had difficulty sleeping. The darkness and uncertainty of night scared me so much that I was unable to sleep and even made myself feel physically sick at times. I would cry to my mom over and over again, asking what was wrong with me and why I wasn’t “normal.” She would tell me that “everyone has something,” just not everyone has the same thing. It was hard to believe her at the time, but as I’ve gotten older and become more comfortable sharing my story, I’ve met so many humans who experience challenges just like me. Life is hard!
The catalyst for real change in my life was when my mom put me into therapy at the ripe age of 5 years old. Asking for extra help felt embarrassing and shameful at first, but is now something I consider vital to who I am today. I highly recommend therapy to literally every person on this earth because, as I said, life is hard and it doesn’t hurt to have someone to talk to about it.
If you’re not quite ready for therapy, start by confiding in a trusted friend, family member, or doctor. If work truly seems impossible right now ask for an extension or take a few personal days off. This doesn’t mean you have to tell your boss your whole life story, but do treat your mental health the way that you would treat your physical health. While it’s not the norm right now to prioritize your mental health in the workplace, it will ultimately improve the quality of your work.
The conversation around mental health/illness/wellness has been popularized recently, though the fight for complete normalization is far from over. It’s scary to feel out of control in your life—humans crave control—though there are ways to take charge of your life amidst chaos.
With one step at a time and the proper support system, you can conquer the things which feel impossible. Schedule in time for self-care like it’s a work task, prioritize items which actually need to be done, and ask for help when it starts to feel like everything is too much to hold on your own. You are not alone.
Audrey Stanton was born and raised in the Bay Area and is currently based in Los Angeles. She works as a freelance writer and content creator with a focus in sustainable fashion. Audrey is deeply passionate about conscious living and hopes to continue to spread awareness of ethical consumption.