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September 17, 2014
by Cathy England, MA

Managing Motivation When Dealing with Depression

September 17, 2014 04:55 by Cathy England, MA  [About the Author]

It's Not Always a Lack of Motivation

Having a bout of depression in whatever form that takes, can take a toll on a person’s level of motivation.  Sometimes it is not even a lack of motivation, the individual may want very much to get things accomplished, to mark things off of a list, or to meet a deadline.  However, depression often makes even the smallest task or responsibility seem impossible.  Individuals with depression sometimes feel like they are worthless as a result and this can keep the cycle of depression going on for much longer than it needs to.

Reasons for Depression

The Mayo Clinic (n.d.) cites several causes for depression, among them brain chemistry, biology, or traumatic or stressful events.  They also indicate that one of the main features in depression is a lack of interest in things that were once pleasurable or enjoyable.  There are a number of types of depressive episodes, but fatigue and lack of energy are often prevalent in most episodes.  Another behavior that can be typical in the middle of a depressive episode is reluctance to comply with mental health treatment and self-care (Burns, Westra, Trockel, and Fisher, 2013).  This is also a behavior that can make it difficult to recover from a major depressive episode. Smith (n.d.) indicates that this lack of activity or motivation does not mean that a person does not realize that things need to be done, but that often just cannot find the will to get things accomplished.  With that in mind, there are some coping mechanisms and small steps that can be taken to make these things seem less overwhelming.

Warning Signs of Depression Episodes

  • Look for warning signs-Sometimes when depression is a recurring event, there are signs that an episode may be coming.  Tracking your moods can help identify times of the year that may be problematic, or can show patterns that suggest depression may be looming. Having knowledge of this information can help you to prepare ahead of time. For example, if the winter months are typically difficult, it may be a good idea to avoid scheduling too many obligations during those months.
  • Prioritize-Not everything has to be done. Some things can and will wait. Making lists of things that have to be done vs. things that can be postponed or even cancelled will make tasks less overwhelming. Things that need to be done might be taking medications, getting a child up and ready for school, or going to work. Dishes in the sink can often wait for a little bit.
  •  Do not isolate-It is common during a depressive episode to want to shut out the world. There are a number of reasons for this. Sometimes there are feelings that others do not want to be bothered with someone who is depressed, or the thought of the energy that it takes to socialize is unappealing. However, in many instances there are people who want to help where they can, and if some tasks can be handed off to those people, it can be helpful. It is also often a mood booster to have a supportive person to talk to in those really down times.
  • Break it Down-Taking a large task and breaking it down into steps can help to get things accomplished. When thinking that the entire house needs to be cleaned, it is easy to just crawl back into bed and give up on all of it.  However, if that huge task is broken down into its component parts which can be done over the course of a day or two, it is less daunting.
  • Deflect the Negative-Some people may offer all types of advice about how this will pass. Or tell you that you just need to get up and take a walk. Listen to what is true. Surround yourself with people who understand that you are not “just being lazy”, and try to ignore everyone else. The lack of energy that is common in depression is real. Try to accept that.
  • Celebrate the Victories-If you get a shower, congratulate yourself. If you manage to get out for a short walk, pat yourself on the back. It is okay to take pride in the smallest of accomplishments during depression, because none of those things come easy.

Be Kind To Yourself

A major depressive episode can last for days, weeks, and even months.  However, early intervention with therapy or medication can abbreviate those episodes. So be sure to get help if you are not already following a treatment plan. Reach out to your support system, including counselors and doctors if your treatment plan is not working. Be kind to yourself and practice good self-care techniques. It is never a good idea to push too hard if you can avoid it. Remember that episodes do not last forever, and that eventually you will get things accomplished.


Burns, D., Westra, H., Trockel, M., & Fisher, A. (2013). Motivation and changes in depression. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 37(2), 368-379.

Mayo Clinic (n.d.). Depression (Major Depressive Disorder). Retrieved from

Smith, B. (n.d.).  Depression and Motivation. Retrieved from

About the Author

Cathy England, MA Cathy England, MA

Cathy holds a Master’s degree in Psychology and has 13 years of work experience in counseling and social work. Cathy is an advocate for mental health awareness and enjoys educating people about mental health and the ways that it impacts people and communities. Most of her experience has been in work with court dependent or delinquent adolescents and their families. Cathy has also worked as a volunteer as a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) for children under court supervision.

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