Productivity Hacks Don’t Work When You Have Mental Illness
But there are other strategies that can help you get things done
You’re sitting at your desk, unable to do anything but keep sitting as thoughts float like thick clouds through your brain. There’s a looming deadline ahead, but try as you might, you can’t bring yourself to pay attention to the computer screen in front of you. Everything feels dull and gray.
Staying focused for a full day of work is hard enough, but it can be impossibly overwhelming when you feel like your own brain is fighting against you. The fog of depression can sap your energy and creative thinking, while anxiety and post-traumatic stress can impede concentration. For people with mental health issues, popular productivity hacks don’t work. “We all have an emotional cup,” says Robyn Gold, a psychotherapist based in New York City. “When your brain becomes chemically imbalanced, your cup gets overloaded much more quickly and makes it difficult for you to complete daily tasks with efficacy.”
Of course, for many people with depression or anxiety, it’s still possible to be productive at work — particularly if you understand how your mental health is influencing the way you work, and can reconsider the usual advice on how to get things done.
Procrastination is common, but get out of hand for those with mental health struggles. People with PTSD often avoid situations, thoughts, or feelings that trigger traumatic memories. People with depression may put things off because attempting to tackle them sparks thoughts of low self-worth. And people with generalized anxiety disorders may experience heightened worries about things that will go wrong, which can paralyze them from getting started on anything. Patricia Arean, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of Washington, calls these moments “a normal reaction on steroids.”
If a project feels overwhelming for you, try thinking of the smaller picture.
“Our brains are wired to search for things in the environment that are dangerous or might cause us harm,” she says. “There’s nothing wrong with feeling a little depressed if you…