One of the characteristics of depression is a struggle with staying motivated to do anything. Many people with depression struggle with tasks that others take for granted, including matters of personal hygiene and daily chores. Procrastination becomes harder to overcome, and inner thoughts of apathy echo alongside phrases like ‘what’s the point?’
Depression quickly turns into a self-sustaining cycle. A consistently low mood fuels the apathy that leads to doing nothing. The guilt and shame of doing nothing fuels the low mood. Breaking that cycle is one of the hardest things to do when treating depression, and whenever someone relapses back into a depressed state, the shame and anger they feel due to relapsing puts them deeper and deeper in the hole.
Maintaining the motivation to do anything when something like that is hanging over your head might seem impossible, but it’s exactly what you need. Just like the cycle of depression, the cycle for motivation is much the same. Results motivate people. Motivation brings results. But where do you start? And how do you keep things going?
Seek Help and Continue Treatment
First, it’s important to be patient. Regardless of whether you’re diagnosed with depression or are trying to help a friend or family member with depression, patience matters. Sometimes, treatment can feel like a ‘one step forward, two steps back’ dance, and sometimes, after months of slow progress and steady improvement, it might only take on misstep to illicit total hopelessness. Learning to be less hard on yourself and realizing that it takes time to treat depression can smoothen the process a little bit. Focus on the day-by-day.
Be consistent with your treatment. Depending on the cause and kind of depression you’re diagnosed with, your treatment may differ. Antidepressants are often prescribed, but don’t always work for everyone. You may rely on one type of treatment, but it’s better to consider a multimodal approach if possible. Seek out professionals and try alternative treatments such as regular massage therapy, music therapy, and neuromodulation like transcranial magnetic stimulation.
If your psychiatrist asks you to take your medication daily, then you have to take it daily. Antidepressants don’t work only if taken on depressive days but require a consistent schedule to take effect. Half-cycle medication (taking it every day every other week, or two weeks on and two weeks off) can be effective in the case of certain conditions, such as premenstrual dysphoric disorder.
Professional depression treatment is one piece of the puzzle. Getting the help you need for depression takes massive amounts of pressure off you, and can give you the chance you need to lead a more normal and fulfilling life. There are other things you can do to help maintain consistency and stay motivated in life.
Wake Up Faster
Oftentimes, it’s the very beginning of the day that determines how the rest of it will go. If you get a good head start, you’ll likely have a better day. But if your day starts off bad, that feeling might snowball and worsen. Getting out of bed can be hard on some days, so making a habit of getting out of bed faster will make a significant difference in your overall life.
There are several ways to do this. One is to set an alarm, and to practice speed. Don’t hit the snooze button, and don’t roll back over to look at the ceiling. Just grit your teeth and jump out. Focus on a single thought – don’t picture your entire morning routine but start with the most basic thing you’re likely to do right after getting your feet out of bed.
Short, affirmative mantras can help. “Get up and change, you can do it!” Focus only on that first thought, that first task. It’s simple! Slip out of those PJs and grab some underwear.
Open the curtains when you wake up, and let the light flood the room. Placing an alarm clock a few feet from the bed can also effectively get you out of bed, although for some, this might be more anxiety-inducing rather than productive.
A whole day can be a very demanding commitment. And most of the time, when you’re depressed, you’re slowly coming to terms with all the things you’ve got laid out for yourself in that one day, and the thought of doing it all paralyzes you. But if you put all your energy into just a single simple command, you can get yourself out of bed much faster. Out and into some clothes – deal with what comes next once that’s out of the way.
Minimize Your Goals
Depressive thinking kills motivation, especially when fueled by the things that generally make life harder. Putting too much on your plate, for example, is one of those things. Simple is best – and while we don’t all have the ability to simplify our lives, try and reframe the way you think about what lays ahead. Instead of seeing challenges in their entirely, break each obstacle down into individual steps, and focus on each step as you approach it.
Set smaller, relevant goals for yourself. Don’t think of a goal as something to achieve in a year but think of it as something you should achieve in a month, or in two weeks. Make them sizeable, approachable, doable. You’ll get much more done if you do it step-by-step rather than trying to just ‘do it’. This applies to career goals, daily chores, monthly obligations, and personal goals.
Stay Away from Toxicity
Stress is stress, and there are many ways to avoid a lot of what feeds the negativity fueling depressive thinking. Stay away from tabloid media and popular publications – they make money mostly off of publishing attention-grabbing headlines that induce the most emotional response possible. Stay out of politics, if it’s doing more harm than good in your life.
Make a commitment to groom your social network connections, or better yet, cut them out of your life if you can afford to. Some people rely on networks like Facebook to keep in touch with long-lost friends and relatives, or for professional reasons – but if you don’t see a good reason for consuming social media, stay away from it.
Similarly, you can sit down and groom your relationships. Figure out who matters to you and why. And find out who is just sapping your emotional capacity. Friendships that do more to harm you than support you are not worth continuing, especially when they’re one-sided or ultimately toxic. Some stress in life is unavoidable, which is why it’s so important to get rid of the stressors that can be avoided.
Write Things Down
Consistency is important for maintaining anything, including motivation. It’s okay to have slip-ups and hard days, but it’s important to stay on-track. That’s where friends and family help, by convincing you that, even if you spend a few days in a bad place mentally, you can still get back into the swing of things. Another way to improve consistency and avoid feeling bad for dips in emotion is by tracking your progress. You can journal if you feel that expressing yourself is cathartic, but you don’t have to. Another option is to keep a simple log of daily emotions, listing down the times in the day when you felt angry, sad, content, or joyful.
Make note each week of how you felt throughout the day, and think on the progress you’re making, as well as any patterns that might emerge. This way, you can also better identify things that cause you grief in your everyday life and come up with ways to counteract that. Talk to your therapist about how to best start logging your emotions and maintaining progress by keeping track of it all and see if you can incorporate your tracking into your therapy sessions.
Treating depression is about the day-by-day. Take things a day at a time, rather than feeling overwhelmed.