I’ve been depressed the past few days. There are many difficult aspects to depression and one of them is being productive. When you’re depressed, each task requires energy and answering an inbox full of emails is intimidating. Having bipolar 2, I sometimes wish there was a “pause” button I could hit when things get rough. Fortunately and unfortunately, life goes on when you’re depressed. I first started honing strategies to combat depression’s effects on productivity when I was a student. In college, I battled bipolar disorder and polycystic ovarian syndrome. I was fortunate to graduate cum laude with two majors despite my obstacles. All these years later, I also live with Myasthenia Gravis, asthma, and psoriasis. Some of the techniques I learned for working despite depression now help me with my daily physical pain and fatigue. I know there is no “one size fits all” approach to any disease; no two patients’ experiences are exactly alike. But these are a few techniques that have worked for me.
6 Ways To Get Stuff Done When You’re Depressed:
1. Prioritize Tasks: Filter tasks according to urgency. I usually make a “to-do list” every night for the next day. I put 4 **** to tasks that must be finished immediately. 3 *** are for tasks that must be finished the next day. 2 ** means a task must be finished sometime this week. 1 * means it’s due next week. When I’m depressed, I ignore tasks that have two or fewer asterisks. If trying to finish a list is too daunting, highlight 3 things you want to accomplish for one day–just three things.
2. Classify Tasks According to Level of Difficulty: I classify the things I have to do as a 1, 2, or 3 where 1 = easy, 2 = moderately difficult, and 3 = hard. If I’m depressed, I focus on all the 1-level tasks first like showering and eating breakfast. As I cross off 1-level things on my list, I build up enough confidence to tackle 2 and 3-level tasks like responding to emails, writing articles, or preparing lesson plans.
3. Find an Endorphin-Releasing Activity: If you’re able to exercise, exercise is one of the best tools we have in fighting stress and depression. While I continue to take prescribed medications and see my therapist, I do much better when I exercise as I blogged about in 4 Mental Health Benefits of Exercise. Of course, the conundrum is that while exercise helps depression, being depressed can make it harder to exercise. (See my article for Bipolar Out Loud, 6 Ideas: How To Exercise When You’re Depressed.) Physical activity can break the monotony of your routine. Even 15-minutes of cardio can make my difficult situation seem less insurmountable. Exercise releases endorphins, aka “the feel good hormones,” which make me feel better about myself and my life.
4. Schedule an Appointment With Your Therapist ASAP: I try my best to catch my depressive episode at the beginning, before it gets out of hand. (Using bipolar mood charts help me with this.) Of course, it can be hard to do that every time and sometimes I miss. Mental illness, like any illness, can be unpredictable. But, if you’re already well into a depressive episode, seeing a therapist is still a good idea.
5. Give Yourself Credit: You work hard even when others don’t see it. We often don’t give ourselves the credit we deserve. When I’m fighting pain (mental or physical) or fatigue, I give myself “points” whenever I accomplish a task. For example, if I took a shower and had breakfast, I give myself points for both of those tasks. When I’m exercising, instead of saying “twenty more minutes to go,” I think, “I finished 10 minutes! Yay me.”
6. Identify Allies: “Allies” are people who will understand and help us. An ally can be a friend or a family member or a coworker who has a loved one with mental illness. Yesterday, I got an email from a friend and fellow mental health advocate, Mike, asking me to be part of a great project he’s starting and if I’d like to be featured on his website. The email came with some attached questions to fill out for the website. Because Mike is a friend and the project is mental health in nature, I decided to be honest with him. By contrast, I’m not going to respond to a work email by telling my boss, “I’m really depressed right now. Can this wait?” By distinguishing between emails where I had to be professional and emails where I could be less guarded, I felt less stress. Mike’s response to my honest email also made me feel less alone.
My email response:
Hi Mike,I’m interested in collaborating. In fact, I’d love to talk to you on the phone some time…Right now, I am going through some depression. I was in bed almost all day today. I’d like to fill out your attached questions but it won’t happen tomorrow. I will get back to you ASAP. As you know, it’s hard to balance health problems with a job…–Jessica
Hi Jessica,I’m sorry to hear that you are going through a rough time. My cell is below…Please feel free to call whenever and fill out the sheet when the time is right. If you’d like to call this week, I’ll be available after 3pm EST each day. Take care of you.
— Jessica Gimeno
my TEDx Talk below