Motivation & Depression


Motivation is literally the desire to do things.  Creating motivation when feeling depressed can be one of the most difficult things a person can do. An episode of depression can be physically, mentally and emotionally draining.  The simplest of tasks seem to take maximum effort, and sometimes even feel impossible. You can feel tired all of the time, have no energy and feel lethargic. It may feel so hard just to eat, make meals, go and do a food shop, or clean up at home, or take showers, or even get out of bed.  You may be able to do things for others but not yourself, ie, you can feed, wash and take care of your baby but you don’t eat properly or wash or do other self care actions.  You may avoid meeting people as you know you would have to make the effort to wash and wear something other than pj’s or a tracksuit.  You may avoid inviting people to your home as you don’t have the energy to clean your home and you don’t want them to see how untidy or dirty it is compared to what it used to be like when you were well. You may also stop doing things you used to enjoy doing.

Motivation has left the building
A simple way to think about it is that when you are feeling mentally strong “motivation precedes action” and when you are depressed “motivation comes during or after action”. When mentally strong you think of doing something and this gives you the drive so you can go do it, when depressed that drive to get up and do something is missing, even though you know you should be doing it, ie I really need to have a shower, brush my hair and have a change of clothes but I just don’t have the energy to do it and sure no-one is going to see me anyway.

Don’t wait to feel motivated to do something as you won’t get it done
Julie Fast author of Get It Done When You’re Depressed states “When you’re depressed, you’re never going to feel motivated. Depression keeps inventing reasons why you can’t do anything, why you should give in to the need to be alone and shut everyone out. If you wait until you feel motivated to do something, you won’t get it done. Trying to change her mindset or mood before taking action doesn’t work. Instead, her outlook begins to improve only after forcing herself to start the day. Michael Yapko author of Breaking the Patterns of Depression emphasizes the critical importance of action because depression is all about inaction, about not doing, avoiding. If you force yourself, you will start to feel better simply by activating your body and mind.

Some people try the wait it out trap, they feel if they just wait until the depression lifts and stay in bed then they will feel better and do everything when it passes, sadly depression does not work like this, you will end up staying in bed indefinitely if you try this approach.

If at first you don’t succeed try, try and try again
There are some ways to help get motivated so why not give them a try, it will be hard at first and remember if at first you don’t succeed try, try and try again, you will get there in the end

♦ Opposite Action – In Dialectical-Behavioral Therapy, Opposite Action is the idea of forcing yourself to do something that you know is good for you. For example, if you want to stay in bed and watch tv all day, when realizing this is your depression speaking, then opposite action would be to get up and go out, as you know it would be a healthier behavior for you to. It’s very much a “just do the opposite of your unhealthy urge” technique.  In CBT, the principle is that your behaviors can create positive changes in your emotions.

♦ Give it 5 minutes – another tip is to try something for 5 minutes, very often the thought of doing something stops us but when we start doing it we find that it is not so bad.  So try it for 5 minutes and then if you are still feeling awful then stop.

♦ Dress Your Bed – Get up and Dress your Bed, you are training your brain that you are finished with your bed for the day and you won’t be going back to it until that night.

♦ Have a wash – The more routine-setting steps you’re able to add on after you get out of bed, the better. Try having a shower, washing your hair and brushing your teeth to help wake you up. You are training your brain you are getting ready for your day and you will feel better.  Knowing you are nice and clean will also help you to get up and leave the house, most people have a tendency to hide away at home from others if they feel dirty or grubby.

♦ Get Dressed – This is a crucial step in separating the bed to the day. Dressing in your comfy tracksuit is still an action but it would be even better to put something on that you feel good in.  Try to avoid putting on something that would stop you leaving your home or that you would be embarrassed if you were seen wearing.  I don’t mean anything fancy or tight, just something that you like and feel comfy in.  Getting dressed decreases the urge to lounge, because again you’re reinforcing your brain that you’re getting ready for something.  If you have children you should also change your them out of their night clothes as well. It is training your brain that staying in bed all day for everyone is not something you are going to do today.

♦ Eat something good for you – it is vital you eat healthily as your brain needs good food just as much as your physical body does.  Eat some porridge for breakfast as it is one of the best food to give you energy, it is filling and you won’t get hungry again too quickly. If you don’t have time or energy yet to do a food shop many supermarkets do home delivery now, although as we all know never do a food shop when hungry as you will most likely end up buying too much and very likely unhealthy foods so always do a food shop after you have eaten and are full.

♦ Clean or tidy something – if your house is dirty or untidy, you don’t have someone to help you and it is getting you down then try and do one item of  light housework, it could be putting a wash on, wiping the kitchen counters. Start with small things so that you get a sense of accomplishment when you have completed it. Aside from the fact that you are doing some exercise and moving around you are doing an action that is a positive one.  Sometimes after accomplishing a task you may get the urge to do more and if you are able to, you (and your baby) are fed, cared for and you are using cleaning as a reason not do to do something else, then carry on.  Focus on what you have done and avoid thinking about what you didn’t do or what needs to be still done, be proud of yourself for accomplishing this task.

♦ Go Outside – sometimes this is easier said than done in rainy Ireland but weather permitting the goal is going outside. Go outside, close the door behind you, and do whatever comes to mind — a walk around the block, down the street, pacing in front of your house, getting in your car and driving to your local shop, and so on. It can be anything or nothing at all, but the goal is to spend at least ten minutes outside before going back in. Once you are comfortable doing this a few times then stay out longer and go further afield.  Daylight is very good for suppressing your sleep hormone so you will more wide awake the more light you get.

♦ Choose One Exercise – Getting your body moving is a good way to start feeling better. Choose an exercise that works for you and your current physical health that your doctor has given you the ok to do: yoga, walking, swimming, etc. Find an exercise you enjoy doing.  A walk 10-20 minutes a day every day will also be very good for both your physical body and your mind.

♦ Make a List of Activities & Goals – Think of activities and goals that you know you have to do and also what you’d enjoy doing and write them down. Include things to do at home and out with people. Try to generate a list of things that includes others and that gives you some time to yourself. The activities can be a mix of productive activities, and hobbies, and self-care. You can read more about making lists of activities and setting goals by clicking here.

♦ See Family and Friends – This one is more about the people than the activity. Being around other supportive and positive people is often helpful for mood improvement. Schedule specific dates and times with friends and family, outside of the house.  If some people are negative or unsupportive or make you feel worse then try and limit your time around them.

♦ Have realistic expectations – If you set up too high expectations for yourself you are only setting yourself up for failure. If you need to make changes or plan goals then start small and work your way up to avoid getting frustrated and feeling defeated. Only set goals and plans that you are capable of doing, putting down to run a marathon when you have never been close to doing one ever before and when you are struggling to get out of bed is not realistic and something you are not capable of achieving at the moment.

♦ Think Nicely and Fairly about Yourself – Be patient with yourself, you are not going to achieve everything you want to at first, recovery will time, mistakes will happen, some days will be better than others.  Think about what you have accomplished and your past successes. Don’t forget about the times you can do and have done well.  Depression and anxiety are great for making you focus on the negative so you need to retrain your brain to think of the things you can do and have done well, think fairly and all the things that you have to be grateful about.

Read more on looking after your Mental Health & Emotional Wellbeing.