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When Depression Causes a Lack of Motivation

When depression causes a lack of motivation, tasks seem insurmountable. You can beat it, though. Read what to do 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.” Lack of motivation is a well known symptom or sub-symptom of depression. This article discusses how to battle thisThis 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.

You can visit Mike on Google+, Instagram and Twitter.

69 thoughts on “When Depression Causes a Lack of Motivation”

  1. I’ve suffered from depression for many years. I stay home most of the time. There’s no problem cleaning my living space or taking care of my 2 cats. My problem is hygiene. I’ll be going along fine for a few weeks, being really clean and polished, and then suddenly I say, “Oh, what’s the use. This is so boring.” Then, I won’t shower or brush my teeth for a week. Then, slowly the ability comes back. This is so annoying. I hate being this way, but can’t seem to overcome it.

  2. I have been feeling major depression for 2 years. I still find it hard to function and I can’t work. I want to know if recovery is possible

    1. I honestly don’t think it is. But that could be my depression talking. Every time I think I’m getting better (and I’m over the moon ecstatic about it), I relapse. I have no hope for the future.

    2. Michele and Devorah, there is always hope – if you choose it. Reach out for support and be compassionate toward yourself. Depression is very hard to deal with (I’m in the process of recovery right now) but it does not have to be a life sentence. I have no idea of your particular circumstances so all I can say is that you need to hold on to hope and then take small baby steps toward healing.

  3. I suffer from depression. I got married 6 days ago. The month before things started going down. 1st my nephew was hospitalize and we almost lost him. 2nd everyone didn’t want to pay. 3rd 6 hours before the wedding the elder had to cancel due to death, and my cousin whom I looked up too, call and said that she prayed and holy spirit allow her to come, note this; she was in charge of the wedding reception. My wedding reception was a complete fail bc she had everything…my cake everything. I was so down, my honeymoon I spent so much time crying. My husband understood and comfort me a lot. I didn’t get any pressure from him. I feel so bad as of now.

    1. I think it’s great that you have a caring supportive husband. Sometimes that makes all the difference in the world. I wish you had a better experience on the day that is important. Have you ever considered renewing your vows? Maybe that would be helpful to create a new memory to replace the old one.You could have as many or as few people as you want. Maybe you can just have people who support you and love you attend. Maybe you and your husband could go somewhere to make a fond memory. I hope everything works out for you. You have to understand that there are people who love and support you. I hope you feel better.

  4. I have been dealing with this, and the accompanying guilt for the last 3 years; switching medications, joining a yoga class and participating in NAMI (Nat’l Alliance for Mental Illness) helps so very much. Please consider any of these! NAMI is free of charge, operates everywhere in the US and was the first thing I reached out to when I didn’t have health insurance, severely depressed and very low on income. THEY WERE ANGELS. Just google NAMI. Please consider it!

  5. The above really makes sense. Actually today I have spent 3 hours renewing old plants for new home grown ones. I have just started taking propranalol and wonder if they gave me the much needed motivation I didn’t have before? Thank you for this site. Cheers, Carol

  6. Renita, I do the same thing. But I MAKE myself invite someone critical (like my mother), over. It makes me at least get it presentable and pushes me, where I wouldn’t on my own.
    Beth, during depressive episodes, I tend to over spend and use retail therapy as temporary comfort. I get paid every two weeks. Every pay is different, but I know the baseline amount. I give every dollar a place to go. All my bills are written down and assigned before their due date to the paycheck closest to it. For example, I got paid 10th & 24th of april. April 10th paid all bills due 11th-25th and the 24th will pay all bills due 26th-may 2nd…etc etc. To start forcing myself to save, I have automatic deposit of an affordable amount to a credit union with the worst hours ever and no ATM card. It’s a pain to go there, and so the money stays. I was procrastinating my bills to avoid feeling more depressed, but was getting behind and getting snowballed. So this worked for me. I have a dated chart with vertical payday columns and horizontal bill rows. I hope this helps.

  7. I find that a good way for me to break up chores into small bits is do it while watching tv. When the commercials come on, I jump up and do something. You can do just about anything for 3-4 min at a time. I try to see how much I can accomplish during each break.

  8. My apartment becomes one big giant mess when I’m depressed because all I want to do is sleep and even when I’m not particularly depressed I’d rather be doing something else than cleaning. But recently my apartment manager left me a note that said he needed access to my suite the following morning. I started to sob thinking how am I ever going to get this place cleaned up before tomorrow morning as it was already early evening. I was also struggling with a knee injury. I was afraid my manager would become upset with me if he saw my mess and I didn’t want to get evicted or anything so after I composed myself I made a very large pot of coffee and went at it cleaning what I could before I became so overwhelmed that I had to stop then I set my alarm and rested for 15 minutes and repeated this process through out the night and well into the morning. Sometimes all I could do was clean a couple of dishes or vacuum a small patch floor before I had to rest. It certainly wasn’t cleaned to perfection but at least when I was finished the following morning it looked more like the average persons manageable mess. I was barely able to focus the next day at work and as soon as I got home I went straight to bed

    1. Congratulations, you did it. I feel overwhelmed when I have a big task to accomplish, breaking it down to smaller tasks works great for me. I feel better as I complete each task. Maybe you could make a list of the tasks you need to do, and put a check mark as you complete each one.

  9. I agree with what you are saying but what if the lack of motivation is due to anhedonia brought on by antipsychotic medication?

  10. Dealing with finances seems so overwhelming when
    I’m depressed. I can’t be the only one. What are
    Some suggestions about maintaining my finances
    My whole thought pattern revolves around
    “I’ll do it tomorrow…really I will.” And then I don’t.

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