How To Concentrate On Work When You're Depressed, Because An Inability To Focus Is A Common Symptom
If you've been diagnosed with depression, you've probably been asked at some point whether you're having difficulty concentrating, or whether you've lost interest in things. Both are common symptoms of the mental illness, and both can make work extremely difficult. First and foremost, people with depression should seek proper medical treatment — but mental health experts also recommend several methods if you want to know how to concentrate on work when you're depressed.
The Mental Health Foundation lists both "difficulty concentrating" and "finding it hard to function at work," as symptoms of depression. And it doesn't matter whether you typically enjoy your job — people with depression might also find it hard to "enjoy things that are usually pleasurable or interesting," according to the Foundation. The charity also indicates that over 14 percent of people in the UK experience mental health issues in the workplace, so if you're struggling, you're far from alone.
If your depression is impacting your ability to focus at work, your first step should be speaking to your doctor or psychologist, who might be able to adjust your therapy accordingly. Small tweaks to your work life, however, can supplement your treatment, whether that's discussing your depression with your boss or ensuring you take the entirety of your lunch break. Wondering what you can do to improve your concentration in the office? Keep reading.
1. Speak To Your Boss
Under the Equality Act 2010, people with a long-term mental health condition (a condition which lasts "or is likely to last" over 12 months, as defined by the government) are legally protected against discrimination in the workplace. You're entitled to "reasonable adjustments" from your employer — that could include working flexible hours, or delegating tasks that are too difficult for you to do. An understanding boss should listen to your concerns, and offer solutions that might make it easier for you to concentrate at work.
Though it should be, this isn't feasible for everyone — particularly those who don't have the means to consult a lawyer or can't afford to risk their job should their employer ignore their rights. But if you feel comfortable speaking to them, your manager could help you adjust your work life to accommodate you. It's in their best interests, too: as the Guardian reports, a 2018 study from the London School of Economics found, "Employees who feel able to speak openly about their depression with their managers are more productive at work than those whose bosses avoid talking to them about their condition."
2. Separate Your Professional & Personal Lives
There are very few among us who can honestly declare they've never checked their work emails from the couch. But it's impossible to wind down properly if you never disconnect from work, which can make it even harder to concentrate when you're actually there. "When you leave work, actually leave work," Tom Oxley, lead consultant at Bamboo Mental Health, told the Guardian. "This means turning off your work phone. Like a laptop, we need to switch ourselves off and recharge. It’s particularly vital not to have your work phone near your bed at night, as it interrupts your sleep."
3. Don't Skip Your Breaks
It's common to feel pressure to work through the breaks you're entitled to, or choose to skip lunch because you're worrying about finishing in time — especially if you're struggling to concentrate in the first place. But according to Psychology Today, taking a break can actually increase your productivity, while mental health charity Mind says breaks are essential for those dealing with mental health issues. "Reclaim your lunch break," the charity encourages, recommending you get outside, engage in a group activity (like a team sport), or even just listen to some music to take some time away from your work duties.
4. List Your Tasks For The Day
Mind recommends making a list of your tasks for the day. By breaking your responsibilities down into smaller sections, the work day might feel a bit less overwhelming, while concentrating on smaller, specific tasks can be easier than attempting to focus on an entire project. What's more, Mind suggests making a fresh list before you leave for home, allowing you to switch off once you leave the office instead of stressing about your tasks for the next day.
5. Relax On Your Commute Home
Mind suggests using your journey home to completely disconnect from work, and instead take some leisure time for yourself. If possible, you could cycle or walk home, or even just get off the tube a stop early to get a little fresh air. If you're taking public transport, use the time to read a book, or listen to the podcast all your friends are currently obsessed with. "These little actions can really help you to switch off," Mind says.