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How to Get Motivated When Depressed: Practical Steps to Finding Your Drive

When you are depressed, one of the symptoms that most interfere with daily life is a lack of motivation. Depression means individuals have no motivation to do things they once loved or even basic things like work or hygiene. Thankfully, there are ways you can learn how to get motivated when depressed so that you can overcome low motivation, energy levels, and interest in activities.

how to get motivated when depressed

How to Get Motivated When Depressed

Finding motivation when depressed can be done with the following practical steps:

Step 1: Setting Realistic Goals

Start by setting realistic goals. Setting achievable goals is a great way to find motivation to keep going as you complete each goal.

If you are struggling to find motivation while depressed, don’t list a series of goals that include deep cleaning your house, washing the car inside and out, and making a four-course meal.

Instead, set small things like:

  • Cleaning the cat box
  • Emptying the dishwasher
  • Checking the mail
  • Sending one work email
  • Buying groceries
  • Turning off the TV and being outside for ten minutes

The more you set small goals and achieve them, the more likely you are to continue pursuing equally small but achievable goals throughout the day. Eventually, this increases your motivation and energy to do more.

Step 2: Establishing a Routine

Establishing a routine is essential not just when you are feeling depressed but throughout your life.

The reason for this is that willpower is like a muscle, and we have limited amounts of it. We have to grow our daily capacity for willpower just as we do our energy levels and muscular strength. With a routine, you take away a high number of decisions that you would otherwise have to make each day, decisions that require willpower, like what to eat, what to wear, or what to do.

When you have a routine, even if you are depressed, you will find that you:

  • Get up at the same time
  • Put on the clothes you always wear
  • Make and eat the healthy breakfast you normally prepare
  • Do certain work you regularly do
  • Go to meetings or classes
  • Exercise

Many of these things are done on autopilot if you have a routine, which means you don’t have to think about them, and yet when you reflect on your day, no matter how depressed you are, you’ll find that you have naturally improved your drive and your motivation to do more.

Step 3: Engaging in Physical Activity

You can figure out how to get motivated when depressed by engaging in physical activity. If you can, do small things every day that help you be a little bit more active, like:

  • Taking the stairs instead of the elevator at your office
  • Parking in the back of a parking lot and walking a bit extra
  • Standing up to stretch your legs if you have been seated for too long
  • Going for a walk for just 10 minutes each day
  • Doing gentle yoga or Tai Chi

Movement helps to create energy, and energy can help you to feel motivated. The more you are able to incorporate small acts of physical activity into your routine, the higher the release of certain neurochemicals will be, which will naturally boost your mood.

how to get motivated when depressed

Step 4: Seeking Social Support

It’s important to reach out to friends, family, colleagues, or even a helpline if you are struggling to find motivation. But how do you communicate your needs and struggles? 

Connecting can be hard when you are feeling depressed, but keeping in close contact can help you feel happier and more motivated. How you choose to communicate and socialize is up to you. The more connected you are, the better your benefits. 

  • Make plans, make time to talk, and set plans.
  • Connect every day with family or someone you trust, whether that is a fixed family time where everyone talks or shares, a casual weekly activity with a club, or going to events.
  • Talking on the phone, exchanging emails or texts can
  • Connect with your interests, like going to classes or events in your community or even on a nature hike where you might exchange a few words with other people on the trail.
  • Reach out–sharing your thoughts can really help, even if that is an old friend or professional.

Step 5: Practicing Mindfulness and Meditation

If you are struggling to find motivation when depressed, mindfulness and meditation can be a very effective tool for managing your depressive thoughts.

Many people struggling with depression or similar negative emotions try to push them away, avoid them, or mask them through things like self-medication. But mindfulness and meditation can place you in a different frame of mind where you focus on acknowledging and accepting all of your emotions, even the depressed ones

Another reason people struggle with figuring out how to find motivation when depressed is because their thoughts are constantly bouncing between rumination about the past or fear over the future. Mindfulness and meditation help you bring your attention back to the present, focusing on things within your control, like your breathing.

To try a quick meditation or mindfulness lesson, do the following:

  1. Sit, stand, or lie down in a comfortable but dignified position.
  2. Pay attention to your thoughts, letting them come and go without trying to change or control them.
  3. Listen to the sounds in your space.
  4. Notice the sensations of breathing or the feel of your clothes against your skin.
  5. Take in the smell of the space and the temperature of the air.
  6. Whenever your mind wanders to depressed thoughts or fears, bring it back to these things.

Mindfulness allows you to become more aware of the stream of thoughts or emotions that you regularly experience and train your mind to realize that these don’t have control over your actions or who you are. In effect, you can find motivation when depressed by productively figuring out if you are getting caught up in your own thoughts and, if you are, pivoting away from that.

Step 6: Focusing on Self-Care

While a routine and structure throughout the day can combat feelings of being overwhelmed, focusing on self-care can increase your self-compassion, especially when you are feeling low.

Self-care can mean doing something for yourself, like turning off your phone, putting on a face mask, listening to music to boost your mood, or watching one of your favorite movies. Self-care can extend to socialization, exercise, good sleep, or nutritious food.

Step 7: Finding Joy in Small Activities

When you are depressed, it can seem impossible to be happy. Life feels like it is closing in on you, and you can hardly breathe. However, finding joy in small activities can offer an incremental way to 

For example:

Alice has a family of squirrels who live in the tree outside her front door. She has interacted with them and left food for them under the tree for several months. When she is struggling with how to find motivation when depressed, feeling no drive to do anything, she grabs a handful of nuts and leaves them under the tree. Then she sits on her front porch and waits, watching the squirrels as they run up and down the tree stealing a nut. 

In the example of Alice above, something as simple as sitting and watching a squirrel provides joy, and it doesn’t overcome her depression, but it doesn’t have to. 

The act of finding joy in small activities can lead to subsequent motivation, like going for a short walk because she is already outside with shoes on and then seeking social support by texting a friend while on her walk. 

how to get motivated when depressed

Professional Help

In some cases, you might still find it hard to figure out how to motivate yourself when you are depressed. If you do all of these things and you are still struggling, it’s important to seek professional help. Therapy and medication may be the answer to managing your depression. If you are struggling, don’t wait to seek help as a foundational step after which these tips can be applied.

Summing Up

Overall, there are several key strategies for finding motivation when you are depressed. It’s important that you create a routine, find joy in small things, stay active, and reach out for help when you need it, whether that’s socialization or professional help. Implement these practical steps and prioritize your mental health when you are struggling so that you can figure out how to get motivated when depressed.

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