Working from home with depression can be difficult — but it’s not impossible.
There is a battle waging within me every day.
Some mornings, I wake up at 6:30 am ready to kick ass.
Other days, I lay in bed until 12:30 pm, begrudgingly answering emails and trying to block the sunlight out of my room.
I started really noticing my depression about two years ago, in the summer of 2016. I’d spend days inside, too sad or anxious to leave the house. Every day felt like I was fighting new a battle against my brain.
To the outside world, my life probably looked better than ever. Approaching my last semester of college, I knew I needed to build something to prove that I had the chops to work in content marketing. My brain went into overdrive: mapping out my consulting business, designing a website, creating blog graphics, planning an Instagram feed.
I practiced yoga regularly, stopped drinking and ate the low-calorie meals Instagram nutritionists told me to.
I lost a ton of weight; it felt like I was shrinking. I cried every day. I’d thrown myself into a long-distance relationship that wasn’t working, and, as a result, isolated myself from most of my friends and social obligations. I stopped writing and, truthfully, stopped liking myself.
When my Dad died last year, I went through the same cycle — this time a thousand times worse.
Out of nowhere, I was the most sad I’d ever been in my life. Just like before, I threw myself into my work: going full-time freelance for the first time, working two jobs and planning a move to New York.
Now, I still deal with sadness all the time. It’s the worst on Mondays, but can realistically hit me whenever it decides to. It’s debilitating, knocking out all of the YouTube productivity hacks I’ve lined up for my day. I lose track of time, convince myself that another episode of The West Wing will help and then beat myself up for not getting enough work done.
Working from home is an extraordinarily privilege, one that allows me to create a life for myself and make breakfast whenever I feel like it. But working from home with sadness and depression can be extremely challenging. It’s hard enough to self-regulate your emotions under regular conditions; harder still when you’re alone all day and you can’t see light at the end of the tunnel.
5 Strategies For Working From Home When You’re Sad Or Depressed
1. Talk To Someone
If it seems like the obvious answer, that’s because it is — few crappy things in life get better completely on their own. Sure, life has a natural way of working itself out, but we also have an obligation to be good to ourselves.
When you’re grieving, anxious, depressed, lonely or any combination of the above, you should absolutely talk to someone about it. If you’re still in school, you likely have access to free on-campus counseling. You can also look at sites like ZocDoc, PsychologyToday or MyWellBeing (if you’re in NYC) to find a therapist near you — if you’re low on cash (or health insurance), look for a doctor that offers a sliding-scale payment option.
If you really don’t want to leave the house and talk to someone IRL (though I think you should — more on that later), BetterHelp offers online counseling options at a variety of cost options.
2. Study Yourself
Small task, right? It sounds silly, but understanding yourself and how you work is the most essential element of managing an avalanche of emotion and still keeping your life on track.
I am notoriously honest in my daily agendas, which I use to track how I spend my time (not how I want to spend it).
Some days, it’s three hours of “not shit” right in the middle of a Wednesday.
This helps me understand the hours where my brain really functions and the hours where it’s basically destined to turn to mush. Personally, 3pm – 5pm is a wasteland most of the time; I get the most administrative work and writing done first thing in the morning. Creative work, like editing videos or creating social media graphics, is usually best done at night.
I always have a hard time on Mondays, so I make an extra effort to do things for myself at the start of the week.
Knowing this about myself, I’m able to structure my days more effectively and give myself the space I need to work.
3. Practice Self-Compassion
Earlier this year, I went on tour with Rachel Simmons, a bestselling author who is also one of my two very cool bosses. At every stop, she led the audience in a practice of self-compassion. The process was created by Dr. Kristen Neff and follows three steps:
- Common Humanity
Every time, no matter how busy I was or what Instagram content I needed to record, I made a point to sit down and run through the practice with her. I practiced being kind to myself for all sorts of things: forgetting an important deadline, feeling silly about a boy, not spending enough time with my Dad before he passed.
It was a transformative experience, one that I think will really help you when you’re struggling to get out of bed and kicking yourself for not being strong enough.
Rachel recommends sitting with both feet on the floor and a hand to your chest. Here’s an example of what being compassionate with myself about watching 4 episodes of The West Wing in the middle of a Monday afternoon looks like:
Mindfulness: What’s happening?
Well, I really should have opened my email three hours ago but I keep looking at the number and it makes my chest tight. I feel like I’m not at my best right now. I feel like I can’t stop crying. I feel like I’m being dramatic. I feel guilty that I’m not a better worker. I feel anxious that this is going to mess up my life.
Common Humanity: Does this happen to other people?
I looked at Google Keyword Planner, and it looks like “work from home with depression” is Googled about 1,000 times a month. Maybe I should write a blog about that. Regardless, I’m sure I’m not the only person that feels this way. There are a lot of people on the planet, surely not all of them are crushing it right now.
Self-Kindness: What would I say if this was happening to my best friend?
Hey, chill out! The reason you’ve worked so hard to create this weird little life is so you aren’t bogged down by traditional structure. You always get it done, you’re just a procrastinator who gets sad sometimes. Maybe chill on the Sorkin, though — you know political monologues make you cry.
4. Go Outside
One of the worst things about working from home is, in fact, the “working from home” part. When your bed, TV and Peruvian takeout are all within walking distance, it can be extraordinarily difficult to get your butt in gear and get to work.
About five months into living in New York City, I decided seeing the city on the weekends wasn’t good enough for me and I needed to rent an office. Getting up, out of my room and into the world has a transformative effect on the way I work and, definitely more importantly, the way I feel.
Find what motivates you. For me, it’s interacting with other people and being able to see the Freedom Tower from my desk. For you, it might be a perfect cup of coffee and the sound of windchimes, or the freedom to blast Frank Ocean at 9 a.m.
There is somewhere in this world that you fit in perfectly and will be able to focus and create the things you were called to. Give yourself the time, kindness and space to find it.
5. Create Things For Yourself
Right now, my business is a one man band. In the future, I’d really love for it to involve other people, for it all to look and feel like this blog: pretty, decent, covered in disco balls and full of my creative energy.
I am a project-oriented, flighty person: that’s how my brain works. I come up with ideas, map out the execution of them and then forget they exist for 6 months. (Read: I’m a Sagittarius.)
That means, yes, I’ve had a million ideas for this blog / this brand and know exactly how I’d get them done. I can see videos and blog posts and magazines in my head, but when it comes down to actually creating things, I’m paralyzed in fear and quick to write it off as “too much for me right now.”
To manage that, I force myself to spend an hour each day thinking as exclusively as possible about Pretty Decent. This can mean thinking about the website design, free writing blog posts, surfing Tumblr and Pinterest for photo inspiration, whatever. I have to do it because it makes me feel alive.
That is, essentially, the core of my philosophy here:
Do things that make you feel alive.
Having big plans for your life doesn’t mean you have to be hard on yourself.
It means you have to, somehow, find the time and energy to get shit done. Sometimes this looks like closing the windows and taking a nap when you need to. Chances are, taking that time to regenerate will lead to more productivity down the road — if not, you’ll find it eventually.
There is a rhythm to life that cannot be ignored, squished or forced to fit a rigid schedule. Some things (lots of things, actually) are out of your control. Give yourself the space you need to accept that, and you might find that each day is a little bit easier to handle.