The urge to procrastinate is very powerful while depressed. For one reason or another, depression is known to sap a person’s will and leave them struggling to complete even the most basic tasks, not out of some sense of perceived laziness, but out of a sheer lack of motivation.
Finding the will to do anything while depressed therefore becomes a very tall order, especially for individuals with more severe symptoms. When things get rough, some days are spent entirely in bed, despite constant internal reminders of basic responsibilities, upcoming deadlines, and many other obligations we all face on a regular basis. However, rather than motivating a person, these fears and reminders can quickly become overwhelming and paralyzing, leaving a person feeling even more reluctant to take so much as a step out of their current state.
Overcoming this anxiety and making any kind of headway on a bad day is astonishingly difficult, yes, but not impossible. There are ways in which you can try to motivate yourself, at least enough to get the most important tasks out of the way.
How Depression Saps Your Energy
There are several factors contributing to how depression can sap your energy and leave you fatigued. Recent reports show that over 90 percent of individuals struggling with major depressive disorder (and potentially other forms of depression) also struggle with emotional and physical fatigue, which can best be described as general tiredness. Feeling tired, slow, or heavy are common trademarks of a depressive episode, alongside general feelings of sadness.
Reasons for why people with depression become easy targets of this overwhelming sense of fatigue might include diet, sleep, antidepressant medication, and general stress. However, fatigue doesn’t need a trigger. While these factors might contribute to the severity and likelihood of emotional as well as physical fatigue, the urge to do nothing can come out of nowhere.
It’s normal not to be enthused about working a job you don’t like or doing basic chores. But fatigue extends past that, to being unable to take a shower, or not wanting to get out of bed. Individuals experiencing fatigue as a symptom of depression may also experience an accompanying set of debilitating negative thoughts, from mild comments about one’s own abilities, to severe suicidal ideation on very difficult days. Overcoming emotional and physical fatigue is often a matter of ‘tricking’ the brain into getting past the initial mental barrier presented by a depressive episode.
Perhaps the most important piece of advice is to start small. Segment your first task, compartmentalize it into individual components and tackle each one separately. Think of a problem as a cake, and deal with it one slice at a time. To further reduce your anxiety, take each slice apart into individual bites, with a little mental fork, or any equivalent mental analogy. By taking your first task and making it as small and simple as possible, you can essentially talk yourself over an ‘action threshold’, a sort of mental stopgap that, once overcome, allows you to begin seamlessly engaging with the rest of your task without major hesitation.
In other words, rather than being paralyzed by the overwhelming nature of everything it seems you need to be doing, focus instead on one thing, and turn it into its simplest first component. A good example is waking up. Some people struggle to get out of bed because the first thing they think once they get to their senses is what they’ve got to do. And sometimes, that list can feel very long and difficult. Stop thinking about the list. Instead, start thinking about a change of underwear. Or some clothing. Think about sitting up to get dressed. Repeat it in your mind until it doesn’t seem that difficult or that scary. Then, count. ‘3, 2, 1, up!” and get up.
You can use the same principle whenever you find yourself unable to start a task for fear of the commitment and challenge that lays ahead. Pick the first step, take a deep breath, and count. Then just get started. Tell yourself to wash a plate or two instead of doing all the dishes. Tell yourself to get started on the first sentence of an essay rather than dreading the final word count.
It could be a song, a podcast, a YouTube video. On days when you truly feel like all motivation has completely escaped you, pick a menial task or a form of basic labor – it could be a chore, or some exercise – and start up a familiar episode of one of your favorite shows, or listen to someone on the Internet, or start your favorite song. If you’re still in bed, refrain from starting the song, video, or podcast, until you’ve at least gotten up and off the mattress, lest you forget to get up and do something while listening.
Distractions can be a great way to drown out the negative thoughts and just focus on the task at hand, regardless of what that task might be. Do the easy, fast chores first – the faster you complete your first task, the better you feel about the rest of the day, and the potential it has to still turn around for the better.
Some people find it easier to get through the bad days when they’ve got little reminders that tell them to get just as single task done. It might be a simple physical goal – like repeating a certain exercise every hour or hitting a daily goal of steps taken or water consumed – or it could be a daily chore, like walking your dog, feeding the cat, or taking care of the garbage. Reminders can be persistent and annoying, but they can also be effective. No matter how bad a day is, it’s important to at least get one thing done within your given 24 hours, even if it’s just the task you programmed your Fitbit for.
Do One Thing
One thing is all it takes to turn a day around, sometimes. It could be as simple as taking a shower or preparing some breakfast, or even just getting up to pull open your curtains. Whenever you find yourself stuck and unable to move forward, paralyzed by anxiety or depression, with no motivation to do anything but stay right where you are, think on what you should be doing and think on which of your respective tasks is the easiest, simplest, and shortest. Then just get it over with as fast as possible. That one thing is often all you need to kickstart your day.