Unfortunately, nearly every person has or will experience symptoms of depression to a certain degree. These symptoms include anhedonia (i.e., loss of interest in formerly pleasurable activities), melancholy, lethargy, changes to your sleep and diet, suicidal thoughts, and apathy. Being inactive can further one’s depressed mood; therefore, how do you motivate yourself when depressed? This article will explain how depression engenders apathy, as well as how to fight against it. Motivating yourself when depressed can occur.
What Does it Mean to Be Depressed?
Before going forward, it’s important to go over some distinctions. There are two forms of depression: clinical depression and colloquial depression. Colloquial depression (AKA, how the average person defines depression) is experiencing deep sadness that lasts a couple of days or even a week. It’s a temporary state of intense melancholy that usually has a clear origin (e.g., “Mei has been acting depressed ever since her job laid her off.”). However, this is somewhat different from clinical depression. Clinical depression doesn’t always have an obvious origin, nor is it fleeting. It disrupts nearly all aspects of a person’s life, including seemingly small tasks, such as getting out of bed or brushing one’s teeth. Additionally, people with clinical depression can feel intense guilt, worthlessness, and even suicidality. If colloquial depression is feeling under the weather, clinical depression is being bedridden with influenza.
It’s also important to address the experience of grief. Similar to melancholy and apathy, grief alone isn’t enough to have clinical depression. If someone close to you dies, it is only natural to experience sorrow, anhedonia, and apathy. Additionally, it’s common to have grief for a breakup, physical trauma, or loss of financial security. This type of grief can last a significant amount of time, and can mimic the symptoms of clinical depression. However, grief and clinical depression differ in their severity, length, and origin. Once again, clinical depression is debilitating, all encompassing, and sometimes independent of a clear cause. Essentially, clinical depression may include grief, but grief doesn’t have to include clinical depression.
If you are reading this article and you believe yourself to have clinical depression, that’s okay. This article works for both clinical and colloquial depression. If you do have clinical depression, however, it is extremely important that you have help from a professional, mental health provider. Clinical depression isn’t something that you can simply “snap yourself out of.” That’s the equivalent of telling someone with dyslexia to simply study more. Clinical depression is complex and severe, which makes it difficult to overcome on one’s own. This article is to help give you the tools to deal with your depressive symptoms, not solve them. In other words, this article is to supplement, not replace, one’s mental health work. Now that there is a clear understanding on whom this article is for, how can you motivate yourself when depressed?
Create Small, Actionable Goals
There’s a chance that you already know healthy activities to do when feeling depressed. For example, going to the gym is an extremely useful tool. However, how do you motivate yourself to take that first step and get out of the door? One useful strategy is to create realistic goals for yourself. If you haven’t been to the gym in over a month, how realistic would it be to have a goal where you go five times a week? Having lofty goals can set you up for feelings of failure, and those feelings tend to fuel depression. Therefore, a small, actionable goal would be to visit the gym once a week, or simply taking a walk outside your house. There may be judgment that your goal is too easy, or too lofty. However, what’s important is that you set a goal that is challenging, while also being feasible. Try to be fair with your expectations. Additionally, this is simply a goal, not your maximum limit. You can still go to the gym two, three, or even five times. The important part is that you made a goal and you were able to complete it. Though this conversation focused on exercise, you can apply small, actionable goals in other ways. Interacting with others, engaging in novel activities, and taking steps to finally clean your room are all ways to incorporate actionable goals. Once again, you likely know ways to improve your mental health; simply motivating yourself can be the challenge.
Proper Diet and Sleep
Food and sleep are key contributors to a person’s physical energy. However, because the mind and body share a strong connection, proper diet and sleep also affect one’s mental energy, and thus, one’s motivation. Though having good meals and sleep seems obvious, this can be difficult to experience with depression. Unfortunately, depression negatively impacts a person’s food and sleep intake, causing them to have either too much or too little of it. Therefore, your first step is to objectively assess how much sleep and food you are getting on a daily basis.
Assessing how much you sleep shouldn’t be too difficult. Simply note when you tend to go to bed, and when you actually get up. Some people spend time on their phones or engage in other distractions before truly going to sleep or leaving their bed. See if that applies to you. Regarding food, reflect on the number of meals you have during the day, as well as any snacks. Additionally, how big or small are these meals? How many calories are you consuming each day? Not only can you check the nutrition label, but you can also download apps to help track your caloric intake.
Once you have an accurate understanding of your sleep and diet, try to take small steps towards a healthy food and sleep intake. The average person needs about 7-9 hours of sleep, and needs to consume around 2,000 calories each day. Each person is unique, and so is their daily allotment. However, sleeping 3 or 12 hours is a sign of concern, just as how consuming 700 or 4,000 calories is. If you find yourself in either the high or low extreme, create small goals to move towards that healthy medium. Slowly cut back or add meals to your diet, while focusing on what you’re eating. Whether you tend to oversleep or undersleep, create good sleep hygiene. If you undersleep, free yourself from electronics before and after you go to bed. Additionally, try to relax by drinking tea, meditating, and engaging in deep breathing activities before you lie down. If you oversleep, avoid hitting snooze and set up multiple alarms. You can also set an alarm on your phone and place it outside arms length before you sleep, which forces you to get out of bed to turn it off. If you find yourself under eating, try picking foods that are denser in calories. Nuts, fish, and protein shakes are fine examples. If you tend to overeat, pay close attention to the content of the food, as well as your portion sizes. Meal prepping is a fantastic way to be cognizant of both. Essentially, take time to plan out and create each meal. Once again, create small, actionable goals for yourself. Trying to add or subtract 4 hours for your sleep routine is too much. Taking small steps will allow you to change your habits.
Lean on Your Social Network
One dangerous aspect of depression is its ability to encourage isolation. Essentially, a person struggling with melancholy might find it pointless, difficult, or unappealing to spend time with others. This isolation only furthers one’s depression, however. Conversely, spending time with others stops the person from ruminating, and allows their negative thoughts to be challenged (e.g., “People do like me.” “I am lovable.”). Engaging with your social network can also lead to time outside of your home. By breaking current patterns, you can break some of your depression. Since there are benefits of leaning on your social network, how can you actually start spending time with others?
Once again, there is no need to have giant goals in the beginning. Trying to hang out with a friend each day can be overwhelming and somewhat unrealistic. Instead, reflect on the different ways in which you can lean on your social network. Sending a text message, or calling a friend for 10 minutes is relatively small and easy. You can reach out with something unobtrusive (e.g., “Hey, what did you end up doing today?”), or you can self-disclose a little of your depression (e.g., “I’m feeling a little down right now. You got time to talk?”). Though the latter can be scary, it can be quite beneficial. People can only help you once they know what the problem is. Therefore, make weekly plans to interact with your social network (e.g., text, phone, hang out), and when you feel comfortable, share with them what you’re going through. You don’t have to give all the details; a small snippet would suffice. Here are a couple of ways in which you can start that conversation.
- “Things have been pretty rough for me. Do you mind if we talk about it?”
- “I think I could use some support right now. I’ve been feeling pretty low.”
- “Do you ever feel pretty sad or depressed? If so, how do you handle it?”
Create A Healthy Reward System
Motivation tends to be low when a person is struggling with depression. However, there are ways to combat apathy. One such way is to create a healthy reward system. Reflect on all the activities that this article has discussed. Though they are beneficial, they can also be challenging. Therefore, reward yourself with something that’s healthy and desirable upon its completion. For instance, after exercising twice during the week, you can reward yourself with your favorite drink from a coffee shop, or by buying yourself something small from Amazon. It’s important to reward good behavior, but only in good ways. In other words, don’t reward your accomplishments with extra hours of sleep, excessive shopping, alcohol, or anything else that’ll do more harm than good to your mental health. Remember, you’re trying to replace unhealthy behaviors with beneficial ones. Going back to creating a healthy reward system, you can create a token economy. Essentially, for every desired behavior, you can reward yourself with a token, chip, or sticker. Similar to an arcade, you can then cash in those chips for prizes of varying costs. For example, you can receive a token for each time your visit the gym. Five tokens can equal your favorite sandwich, 10 equals a pair of movie tickets, and 20 tokens equal a new pair of running shoes. There are multiple ways to reward your actions in a healthy manner. Here are a few more examples.
- Having a bubble bath night with new bath soap and oils.
- Buying tickets to see your favorite artist perform.
- Going out to eat and ordering your favorite meal.
- Having a game night with friends.
- Going to the mall and purchasing one thing.
Depression can be extremely difficult to overcome. After all, several symptoms of depression, like apathy, simply prolong its existence. However, there are ways to motivate yourself when depressed. Creating realistic goals, having proper diet and sleep, leaning on your social network, and establishing a healthy reward system all encourage positive change. Once again, these activities supplement, not replace mental work. If you need assistance in managing your depression, schedule a session with a therapist at www.therapyinphiladelphia.com.