6 Tips for Getting Work Done While Feeling Sad and Hopeless

Eric Maisel Ph.D. (author of Redesign Your Mind) dives into the question of how are we going to cope if sadness is the new normal.

Eric Maisel

KEY POINTS

  • If it feels like you’re sad all the time, it’s okay. These are sad times.
  • Try these six simple coping mechanisms to try to soothe yourself.
  • It’s okay to show up to work or other parts of life feeling sad, but we must continue to show up.

Rethinking Mental HealthSource: Eric Maisel

We have many reasons for feeling sad nowadays. We seem to have a cultural imperative not to feel sad and then a related cultural imperative to call the sadness we experience “depression.” But if we can step outside those cultural imperatives, we come face-to-face with a simple, difficult truth: most people are feeling very sad nowadays.

A significant reason for this deep sadness is that we have lost hope. We have many reasons for having lost hope. Our feelings of hopelessness are not irrational. They are completely rational and, as pundits like to put it, evidence-based. We have lost hope because it seems as if every single thing about life has darkened. Life now comes with much less daylight.

It is hard to have hope for the planet. It is hard to have hope that the pandemic will ever pass. It is hard to have hope for democracy. It is hard to have hope that the massive inequalities and injustices that currently exist will ever be remediated. It is hard to believe in the species.

As a result, we are sad. But we have to continue on while sad, since we are here. How are we supposed to pull that feat off, carrying on while feeling hopeless and sad? It may seem silly to provide “tips” for a challenge this profound, as if we were talking about installing an app or selling a house. Nevertheless, we must start somewhere. Here are six tips for coping in a difficult time:

1. Things are not as they were. Realize that.

With sadness and hopelessness come mental and physical fatigue. This means that we may be sleeping more, or sleeping more fitfully, or not getting as much done as we are used to getting done, or getting exhausted by simple chores, or getting exhausted just thinking about what needs doing. We should not be surprised that we are doing poorly. Things are not as they were. Realize that.

2. Everything has changed. And nothing has changed.

We were always going to live out our lifespan and then die. We were always just energized matter completely assured of passing back into cosmic dust. So, we always had just two choices: to live according to our self-identified life purposes, on the side of the good and opposed to the bad, or to not live that way. Nothing about that imperative has changed. No matter how the world turns, our marching orders remain exactly the same: to do the next right thing. Those efforts were never going to save the world or spare us from dying. They still won’t. But they provide us with a way of living that makes personal sense of our time on earth.

3. “Realizing” is not the same as giving up or giving in.

We stand in that darkness and say, “Okay, I am feeling sad. I am feeling hopeless. I am feeling anxious. But I have some remaining resources and some remaining freedom. Let me look life in the eye, including the work I currently do, and see where and how I can make an effort. The universe doesn’t care whether or not I make that effort, but I do. And I can make that effort.” There is an attitude to adopt that doesn’t change the facts of existence but that changes your facts of existence. It sounds like, “Even though I am bent over, I can stand up.”

4. Be sad. But don’t beat yourself up.

Being sad is one thing. Charging yourself with being sad, as if you’d committed a crime, is a very different thing. You have committed no crime. You have demonstrated no weakness. You have succumbed to no mental illness. It would be supremely unhelpful to blame yourself for your sadness, as if you had failed at something. You are sad because you have reasons for feeling sad.

5. Rethink work, reimagine work, but also work.

Before all this new sadness and hopelessness, you may already have not been enjoying your work very much. The vast majority of polled Americans do not like their work. Their work was already making them sad. So, too, were their limited options. It wasn’t as if, hating your current work, you could snap your fingers and win some work lottery. Now, on top of those abiding realities, you have a new ration of sadness and hopelessness. Well, your options are limited but clear: do the work that you must do, including all the taxing bits of your current work; and try your darnedest to plot a new course, if a new course feels necessary. This sounds like: “I show up; and I also dream and plan.”

6. Seek out comfort and joy.

Is it a comfort to fantasize? Then fantasize. Is it a joy to listen to the old songs? Then listen to the old songs. Do you crave that delicious treat down the block but feel too sad and exhausted to buckle your shoes? Buckle one shoe, then buckle the other. Do you love blue, as I do? Go find a sky blue or an ocean blue and feel less blue. Watch that movie you love, even if you’ve seen it fifty times already. If small comforts were flat-out meaningless, they wouldn’t comfort us. But they do. They answer no questions and solve no riddles. But they can make us smile.

Sadness is with us. We can misuse language and call it a “depression epidemic” and act as if rats were among us spreading a plague. No; we are simply drowning in reasons to feel sad. So, we may need to show up sad, to our work and everywhere else as well. But show up we must.


Redesign Your Mind

The Breakthrough Program for Real Cognitive Change

Your mind is yours to redesign, redecorate and create! The idea that you are what you think has concerned philosophers from Marcus Aurelius to the Buddha. Today, this age-old message is delivered via cognitive-behavioral therapy and CBT techniques. Dr. Maisel moves cognitive change a giant step forward by describing the room that is your mind and how human consciousness is experienced there. Packed with visualization exercises, this accessible guide makes redesigning your mind and changing what you think easy and simple, an upgrade to the CBT method.

Visualization exercises for easy assembly. That room that is your mind is a space that you can decorate, air out, furnish, and turn into a truly congenial place. By practicing these easy-to-understand visualization exercises, you can redesign your mind and change not only what you think but how you think. Each of these techniques address major challenges like depression, anxiety, addiction, procrastination, and loneliness and promote cognitive growth, trauma healing, and fundamental change.

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