How to Stay Productive When Facing Anxiety and Depression
Anxiety affects 23.4 percent of American women, while depression hits one in eight women in their lifetimes; both occur in women at twice the rates of men, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Anxiety and depression can slow you down equally — many people also have trouble functioning in their daily lives, especially at work, because of these illnesses. “Anxiety and depression can both affect cognitive abilities,” says Dr. Adrienne Meier, a clinical psychologist practicing in Los Angeles and New York City. Dr. Meier compares anxiety and depression to large apps in a smartphone that tend to slow down the phone’s overall speed and function. “We can think of anxiety and depression as apps that are taking up a lot of memory and space in our brain. This bogs down the whole system and results in us processing information more slowly, having difficulty concentrating, and being less productive overall,” Meier says.
If you’re one of those people who occasionally have difficulty checking off your routine tasks, there are solutions, psychologists say. It’s also key to check in with yourself throughout the day, as well as friends and loved ones who can help you through. Consider these psychologist-approved pointers for making it through the work day while keeping your mental health in check.
1. Give yourself an incentive for what you can accomplish. When you’re depressed, and even anxious, the tiniest tasks, even brushing your teeth or showering, can become a huge chore, says Dr. Lindsay Trent, the Co-Founder and Chief Science Officer of the mental wellness app Basis. “Create a structure that rewards your behavior, no matter how small of a task you accomplish,” Dr. Trent says. Start with doing something simple, like the dishes, because you can see the outcome: the sparkling clean pots and pans. “Something like this promotes a sense of mastery and can have a huge impact on your mood,” Dr. Trent adds.
2. Be present with your thoughts. It’s easy to allow your mind to spiral backward or forward in time when you’re struggling with mental health. Mindfulness is key to bringing yourself out of this cycle, according to Dr. Meier. “When you notice your thoughts wandering to the past or the future, gently remind yourself to return to the present to prevent any past-tripping, which is common in depression, or future-tripping, which is common in anxiety,” Dr. Meier says.
3. Use progressive muscle relaxation at a set time every day. “Practicing progressive muscle relaxation, tensing and then releasing each muscle group, can be helpful for chronic tension and stress,” Dr. Trent says. It’s most beneficial if you pick a specific time to use progressive relaxation each day to combat general anxiety. Ideally, it would be best to focus on relaxation during the day, in the waking hours, rather than just when you’re going to sleep, she adds.
4. Incorporate deep breathing and calming music into your routine. Different tactics may work for different people in pacifying anxiety and depression, but utilizing deep breathing techniques on a regular basis can be one trick to calming your body and mind, Dr. Meier says. For other people, music may be more healing. “If your workplace allows it, listening to music or relaxing nature sounds can detract the focus from the negative thoughts or anxiety and allow you to be more present in the moment,” Dr. Meier explains.
5. Have an accountability buddy at work. Dr. Trent recommends checking in with a trusted coworker or even a supervisor at work, whom you can talk to when you’re feeling down and need help getting motivated. You can let the person know exactly what you need when this does happen, but a great initiative is going out for a walk with that accountability buddy at lunchtime, Dr. Trent says. “Exercise always helps improve mental health symptoms, and getting a change of scenery can be a helpful reset in the middle of the day,” Dr. Meier agrees.
6. Set a designated “worry time” for yourself. If you struggle specifically with anxiety, pencil a period of time in your schedule, about 30 to 45 minutes, to address all of your worries and do some problem solving, Dr. Trent suggests. Jot down the things that are making you anxious in a journal or log, likely at the end of the day, a few hours before bed, because your worries will probably build up as the days go on, she explains. The goal is to run out of things to worry about by the end of the exercise. “Most people, by the time they get through the whole list, are able to feel more relaxed,” says Dr. Trent.
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