Fact of life: being sad at work sucks. We all get in our feelings now and then, but dealing with anything from clinical depression to something more acute (anyone else ever been dumped over Sunday brunch?) is raised to a whole other level when you have to go to work, too. And, you know, pretend everything's normal and you're totally fine.
10 steps for when you're sad at work
Life is going to happen, the good and the bad, and at some point, you'll have to face going into work while part of your life is falling to pieces. Here's how to manage.
1. Accept it.
Today is going to be pretty terrible. Don't try to fight it. Forcing yourself to put on a happy face will only make you more miserable. And it could backfire, stressing you out so much you lash out at everyone around you.
Instead, accept that today is not going to be easy or quick. Then determine how to navigate it as best you can.
You know what helps you most when you're down. Do what you can to incorporate small things that bring you joy into your workday. Wear your favorite shirt or a lucky piece of jewelry. Find a way to pick yourself up right away in the morning, and it could help carry you through the day.
Bring what you can with you, too: a favorite lunch food, a candle or a favorite picture. Got an old stuffed rabbit? We're not going to judge. Put the bunny in your bag.
3. Prioritize your work.
You're not going to be your best today, so skip the Superwoman-like to-do list. Instead, organize your list around only what absolutely needs to get done. Don't be afraid to give yourself a break where you can. You know what items can simmer on the back burner just a little bit longer.
4. Take breaks.
Pushing straight through isn't going to make the day go faster. You'll end up staring into space, watching the clock, doing anything but being productive. Instead, remember to go easy on yourself. For whatever reason, you're feeling sad at work and need to adapt your day accordingly.
Taking small, regular breaks, especially ones that get you up and away from your desk, will help. These will clear your mind, and even the smallest bit of exercise is good for both the body and the brain. And a lap around the office totally counts as exercise.
5. Cry if you need to (privately).
The simplest thing might set you off today. Drop your stapler? Don't be surprised if you want to burst into tears. So find yourself a nice, quiet spot (bathrooms work in a pinch, but a private office is even better), and just let it out.
You might not be able to have a full-on crying session, but letting that overwhelming emotion out even a little bit can get you through the next few hours.
Grab a work friend, take a coffee break or go to lunch, and let it all hang out. Not only is venting good for you, but sharing your sadness is, too. Bringing someone else into the loop can give you a work ally, someone who might be willing to help lighten your load or cover for you on something you just can't handle today.
7. Call off, or leave early.
There's being sad at work, and then there's being unable to function. If what you're going through is simply too much, go ahead and call in sick. Cry, scream and throw things at the wall. Calling off will give you plenty of time to let it out (and clean up after).
If you're at work and you gave it your best, or you've done all you're able to do today, make your excuses and go. You may not have to think up much of an excuse. Even if you don't talk about it, even if you think you're hiding it pretty well, your boss is probably going to know something's up. And you might be surprised by how understanding they are.
8. Be honest.
If you've lost a loved one, then you've already taken time off to attend funeral services, and the office knows why. If that's the case, be prepared for people to ask you how you are and if you need anything. And even more importantly, let yourself be honest in your responses. "It's still really hard. I don't know how useful I'm going to be today" is a valid response in this situation. People are going to understand. You don't have to put a brave face on things when life hits this hard.
If you're sad at work but no one knows, a little honesty still doesn't hurt. If someone reaches out because they can see you're not feeling well, go ahead and let them know as much as you feel comfortable: "I broke up with my partner," "My dog died" or "One of my family members is ill" will let them know where your head is at today.
9. Push yourself, but only a little.
Again, it takes time to deal with sadness. But that doesn't mean work has to be a cross to bear while you're trying to cope. In fact, going to work and staying busy might be just the thing you need to get out of your head and away from your own issues for a while.
If you think of work in this way, as a kind of helpful escape hatch, then your day might get a little easier. Just don't overload yourself or work to a point of exhaustion.
10. Eat, sleep, hydrate.
It's easy to let basic self-care slide during hard times. Yet hard times are when these simple acts become the most important. Like exercise, eating well, getting rest and drinking water are all good for your body and your brain.
You need fuel to get through your day and your sadness. So don't skip lunch. Falling into bad habits will make your recovery that much more difficult.
What if your job is making you sad?
Below are a few signs that your job is making you miserable. The solution to all of these? Brush up the old resume and take action. A paycheck isn't worth your mental health. Find a new, better job, and move on.
• You start dreading Monday morning — on Friday afternoon.
If you can't even enjoy your weekend without the thought of another work week intruding, then your job is definitely bringing you down.
• You call in sick, a lot, even though you always feel better by the end of the day.
Remember when you had issues at school so bad your belly cramped up? But as soon as three o'clock came around, suddenly you felt fine. You weren't the problem — school was. Same with your job.
• You feel like you're surrounded by angry people.
A high-stress and, um, "dynamic" work environment isn't for everyone. It could be quite toxic for you.
• All you do is complain.
Try to pay attention to what you complain about and how much. Constant carping is a neon sign flashing how unhappy you are.
Understanding the difference between sadness and boredom
Sadness is that low feeling you associate with grief, anxiety or stress. It's very often about loss, such as a death, the end of a relationship or even a lost opportunity. You can feel sad about not getting that promotion, for example. That's a kind of grief, too.
Boredom is, in general, a sense of dissatisfaction. If you experience your job as something mindless, repetitive and a waste of your time, then you're probably just bored. "Just" bored doesn't mean you shouldn't pay attention to what you're feeling, of course. Don't be afraid to seek more challenging, stimulating work.
Understanding the difference between sadness and depression
To put it plain: sadness has a source, while depression has triggers. You generally know why you're bummed. Grief, heartache and anxiety are all easily traced to their source. Depression is sneakier, and you can end up feeling down without quite knowing why.
Sadness also passes, with a little time, and it's easy to feel hopeful about being able to work through it. Depression lingers to the point where you can be confused about why you still feel so bad. If you're not sure what's causing you to feel this way or it's becoming all-consuming, you should seek the help of a mental health practitioner.
Being sad at work is a particularly challenging situation. Some days you just can't pretend you're okay, not when it took everything you had just to get to work at all. On those days, deal with your sadness as best you can, and hold onto the fact that you will, soon, feel better.