When Depression Causes a Lack of Motivation
The lack of motivation that can be caused by depression and other mental illnesses can be debilitating. There are some things that are so important they must be done as soon as possible. But for those who battle depression, the lack of motivation can be an enemy that seems insurmountable at times (Depression Can Drain You of Your Will to Live). Here's what to do when depression causes a lack of motivation.
Lack of Motivation is Common in Depression
The United States Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has established a working definition of mental health recovery that defines recovery as: “a process of change through which individuals improve their health and wellness, live self-directed lives, and strive to reach their full potential.”
You may have noticed all the elements of SAMHSA’s definition of mental health recovery require you to do something. “But,” I protest, “I can’t even get out of bed.” Depression saps motivation so completely, the depressed person can often find herself in the midst of a pile of tasks left undone and plans left unrealized.
Don't Mistake Depression and Lack of Motivation for Laziness
This is often where the depressed person can be, mistakenly, thought of as lazy or apathetic. A depressed person’s lack of motivation is not the same as laziness. When someone is lazy, they don’t want to do work or do unpleasant tasks, even when they have the energy to do so. They may be motivated just fine, they simply don’t want to exert themselves in any way.
The person who is unmotivated due to depression usually wants to work and do other things, but feels as if they can’t. This is a key difference between laziness and depression.
Since we see that becoming motivated even in the depths of our depression, or other mental illness, is a huge part of the mental health recovery process, let’s look at three ways to overcome the depression-caused lack of motivation we might feel.
3 Ways to Beat Depression's Lack of Motivation
1. Identify the Essentials
When you’re depressed and lack motivation, you may need to adjust your ideas about what is essential and what isn’t. Doing the dishes is essential; polishing the faucet isn’t.
2. Break Up Large Tasks Into Smaller, Easier Ones
Okay, so the kitchen needs cleaning. There are dirty dishes everywhere. But it’s such a huge job when we’re depressed that we let it go and it becomes much worse. And this just serves to make our depression worse because we feel lazy and no good. So instead of telling ourselves, “I’ve got to get this whole kitchen cleaned up,” we should break it down and say, the first thing is to unload the dishwasher full of clean dishes. But this is even too much, so we tell ourselves, “okay, the only thing I have to do right now is unload the silverware." This is a job we can usually get ourselves to do because it’s short and easy and requires only a bit of our valuable energy. Once we're done with the silverware, we can leave the kitchen and collapse on the couch until the next time we go to the kitchen for something and break off another small chunk by unloading just the bottom portion of the dishwasher.
By doing things this way, it allows us to at least get started on our immediate tasks. Granted, it takes a bit longer using this method, but it’s better than not doing anything at all.
3. Be Positive about Even the Smallest Victories
In mental health recovery, any small step should be celebrated. Use these victories to encourage and remind yourself that you can indeed overcome one step at a time. You’ll be able to say, “I know I can do it because I’ve done it before.” When depression causes a lack of motivation, know that you can still beat it.
Ehrmantrout, M. (2015, March 18). When Depression Causes a Lack of Motivation, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, June 15 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/recoveringfrommentalillness/2015/03/about-depression-caused-lack-of-motivation
Author: Mike Ehrmantrout
I've suffered from severe anxiety and chronic depression my entire life (even through my whole childhood. I've never had things get easier.
A tip on how debilitating this can be: I am a very intelligent and creative person. I'm an inventor and a writer. I have designed million dollar inventions on paper. Anxiety and depression make it impossible (so far) to actually get my idea off the ground. So I sit (or hide in bed) and watch people eventually invent my ideas and make millions, which of course fuels my depression.
My writing is depressing. I have wrote the beginning to over twenty different novels. Can't finish them. I just can't. It's depressing.
What's worse is the crippling anxiety. Talking to people is a freaking nightmare. People never understand me, and usually always misinterpret what I say.
I just don't know what to do to get the motivation or determination to actually finish something. I have bad acid reflux and irritable bowel, and other things that make it for difficult to take any meds.
I'm so tired of feeling like I'm worthless.
I'm so tired of feeling sad.
I'm so tired of feeling angry.
I'm so tired of being called lazy.
I'm so tired of not finishing what I start.
Most of all, I'm so tired of being so tired all the time.
The physical pain I feel from the depression, the headaches, chest pains, tiredness, fear, anxiety... It's just so much.
I wonder why I was born broken.
I wonder why I was born tainted.
I wonder why I was born unlucky.
Most of all, I wonder why I was born at all.
Nobody cares. Nobody understands. Nobody wants me. Nobody needs me. The world wouldn't notice of I died. Nobody would care (except my daughter, which is my sole reason for living).
In this imperfect world I'm about as imperfect as it gets. But that doesn't have to be bad. I see things differently. I understand things differently. I have much more compassion in me than I see in others. It gets dimmer every day, but it's there.
I don't know where life is going to take me.
I don't know if life will get better.
But the reason I have not and will not kill myself no matter how bad it gets (and it gets so bad), is a few little things I've learned.
1. It can always be worse. Try to tell yourself that when things get bad. It could be worse. And because it could be worse, that makes things seem not so bad.
2. Find something small to cling to, no matter how trivial or stupid. Even just buy a lottery ticket. The hope of winning could just be enough to keep you alive.
3. Try a coloring book. It feels good to finish coloring a picture. It's not much, but any good feelings can have a long lasting positive effect. This is part of setting small goals.
Anyways, I've gone on long enough.
Reading everyone's comments inspired me to contribute whatever this is I'm writing.
To everyone who suffers, please live long and prosper. :)
Just email me link of this page, while writing to me.
This is my story, and I feel a bit relaxed to know that I am not alone. So, please do let me know if you have/discover something helpful to get out of this mindset.
Also, while writing this, I feel that maybe I am just writing this to get attention and I crave for it. Like I am just trying to let people feel sorry for me in a certain sense. So, do let me know if you relate to the last part as well.
I have just come across your post from January. I hope you are in a happier space than you were back then. You are very brave to share so openly. I admire your courage. Hold on to the pleasure of completing the coloring in. Enjoy the colors. Enjoy the process. Enjoy the finished product - perhaps even display the pictures when each is complete. I imagine you coloring and being engaged in doing so. There is a real positive in this for you. I venture to suggest that you may be able to feel some gratitude and feel some appreciation for the coloring. Gratitude for the colors. Gratitude for the coloring. Might there be another way to bring colors into your home? This is your anchor to the positive. You describe yourself as tainted. Please be kinder to yourself. If you had another organ, perhaps your spleen, that wasn't working properly you would not judge it in the same harsh way. We have brains that do things differently chemically. Please be tender with yourself. You deserve that.
Having just found this link to HealthyPlace while looking for support to get myself out of despair I encourage you to keep 'talking' with your fingers on the keyboard. The end of your post included suggestions to others and a positive message. That was a major plus for me and likely to others as well.
Like you I have had life-long struggles with depression and anxiety but have made it to 67 years of age. Reading your shared thoughts produced a wave of empathy and I immediately wanted to send you some thoughts. My energy has come up a little so that I actually think I can tackle doing the dishes now. That is a tiny miracle in itself. Thank you for your part in that! Look after yourself TJR!
As for motivation, I’m in the same boat. I have no motivation. My house is a mess and I don’t care. My parents pay my bills. I don’t work hard to find a job. Nothing interests me. I have no hobbies. I understand feeling lost. I’m just wondering around a messy house. I do love my dog. Having him helps. I have a wonderful family. I don’t know what I’d do with out them.
Anyway, back to you. You’ve got big things coming up in your life. You’ll be driving soon! Then graduation, then college. Do you have a friend you can talk to? Do you have anything you like to do? Bury yourself in that sometimes. It helps. I hope things get better for you! Feel free to email me to talk anytime.
1) Negotiate with yourself to do a stupidly tiny amount. Say the garden needs tidying. You look out the window and feel overwhelmed. No way can you tackle it. So - look at one weed. Say, okay, today I will go and pull out that one weed and come back in again. That seems do-able, so you go outside. You pull your one weed. Now you can go back indoors. But guess what? Ten minutes, even twenty minutes later you find you're still pulling weeds. Something has been triggered in you by pulling that one weed and more becomes possible. It was the getting started that was the problem. The mental belief that you couldn't do it. Try not to say 'what's the point of pulling one weed?', or washing one dish, etc. Just 'feel the apathy and do it anyway'. One weed, one dish... Laugh at yourself if you can. Be silly. Be defiant! Wash one sock! If you can't face going to the shops, just put on your shoes and sit back down again, (but sheer habit will probably take over once you've got that far and you'll grab your bag and your keys and head for the door).
2) Give up. You need to do something but everything in you says you can't do it. This sets up a huge amount of resistence. You can neither do the thing nor feel okay about not doing it. When you say, okay, I'm letting myself off the hook here. I'm not going to do it. Not today, anyway. This releases the resistence. Then forget about it. Often, as if all you needed was for someone to say 'it's okay if you can't', even if you have to say it to yourself. Once you have permission not to, you'll often find that later in the day you suddenly feel you can do it after all.
Hope some of this helps anyone else who happens along.
One big thing I can relate to is the fact that physical issues/pain makes it just so much harder. When my body is willing, my mind is on the fritz. When my mind is cooperating and I feel I could tackle anything I put my mind to, my body goes on strike. What's even worse is when the two collides and just as your feeling like your back on track, everything just derails again and it gets harder and harder each time to get back the courage, let alone motivation, to try again. I know exactly how you feel when you say you don't care about anything anymore. The feeling is absolutely overwhelming when someone starts in with the "but your not doing anything right now in any case" ... which is completely untrue ... because I am doing something at that point in time, trying to keep my head above water while my mind is doing everything it can to find a way to drown. The family being negative and critical I have reasoned as they're way of trying to help, yet for me that's not helping. I need someone to help me and support me actively instead of standing passively on the sidelines, trying to goad me into action through emotional blackmail or reverse psychology. No, people can't do things for me, but I can't do it alone and the kind of support that my family tends to give, as well intended and caring as it may be, still leaves me feeling utterly and completely alone and helpless.