How To Get Motivated When Depressed 2023? 10 Ways To Try

Tayler Hackett

Updated on - Written by
Medically reviewed by Kathy Shattler, MS, RDN

how to get motivated when depressed

Depression is a widespread mental health disorder affecting approximately 264 million individuals worldwide, according to the World Health Organization.[1] Symptoms of depression include persistent sadness, lack of interest in activities, changes in appetite and sleep patterns, fatigue, and difficulty concentrating. A diminished interest or pleasure in activities is one of the most common symptoms of depression,[2] making it challenging to find the motivation to complete even basic tasks.

However, there are ways to overcome this lack of motivation when dealing with depression. This article examines the connection between motivation and depression, offering helpful tips on how to get motivated when depressed by engaging in supportive activities such as exercise, setting small achievable goals, and seeking professional help.

How To Find Motivation When Depressed

  1. Practice Self-Care
  2. Set Small and Achievable Goals
  3. Use Positive Affirmations
  4. Surround Yourself With Supportive People
  5. Practice Gratitude
  6. Get Moving
  7. Create A Routine
  8. Set Realistic Expectations
  9. Reward Yourself
  10. Seek Professional Help

Key Takeaways

  • Depression affects approximately 264 million individuals worldwide, according to the World Health Organization.[1] They also estimated that poor mental health cost the world economy approximately $2.5-8.5 trillion per year in poor health and reduced productivity in 2010,[3] a cost projected to double by 2030.
  • One possible contribution to reduced productivity is the lack of motivation experienced with depression.
  • Symptoms of depression, such as fatigue, low-self esteem, and hopelessness, can make it challenging to get motivated. At the same time, dysfunction of the reward pathways within the brain can impact the neurophysiology of motivation and pleasure.
  • Finding motivation when depressed is possible; coping skills that focus on self-care, goal setting, social support, exercise, and seeking professional help can all assist with the lack of motivation experienced with depression.

The Connection Between Motivation And Depression

Depression is a complex and multifactorial condition that can significantly impact an individual’s overall well-being. There are many theories as to what causes depression, and there is still no concrete evidence that points to one specific cause. However, one view that is particularly useful for understanding the lack of motivation with depression is that it is triggered by an imbalance of neurotransmitters within the brain, such as serotonin and dopamine.[4]

Research has shown that these chemicals affect how the brain processes information and affects an individual’s ability to function; in depression, this imbalance can disrupt the brain’s reward system,[5] leading to a lack of motivation and feelings of pleasure, known as anhedonia.

Anhedonia[6] is one of the most common symptoms of depression, which refers to the reduced ability to experience pleasure from typically enjoyable activities. Depressed people may struggle to enjoy activities they previously found enjoyable and may lose motivation when trying to complete projects. This reduced ability to experience pleasure can further exacerbate feelings of sadness, isolation, and hopelessness, creating a vicious cycle of negative emotions that can be difficult to break.

Research suggests that anhedonia can be linked to changes in brain activity and reduced dopamine levels,[7] which are neurotransmitters involved in the brain’s reward system. Dopamine is responsible for the feelings of pleasure and satisfaction individuals experience when engaging in rewarding activities. However, reduced dopamine levels associated with depression can cause an individual to feel less pleasure and satisfaction from these activities, leading to the lack of motivation and feelings of hopelessness commonly experienced during depression.

Symptoms Of Depression And Motivational Habits

Depression is a diagnosable mental illness that is formally known as major depressive disorder, the symptoms of which can lead to a lack of motivation.

This can be due to factors such as:

Depression can make it challenging to find the energy to do things you once enjoyed, such as exercising, socializing, or even getting out of bed in the morning. It can also make completing tasks such as cleaning, working, or losing weight difficult. It is essential to understand that a lack of motivation is not a personal failure or weakness. It is a symptom of depression, and addressing the underlying mental health issue is essential to overcoming it.

However, there are ways in which you can begin to motivate yourself to do things you need to do or enjoy, which will help you to manage your symptoms and improve your well-being.

10 Tips To Get Motivated When Depressed

Practice Self-Care

how to get motivated when depressed

Taking care of yourself when depressed is challenging, most likely due to low mood affecting the frontal lobes of the brain,[9] which makes day-to-day tasks more difficult. 

However, self-care is essential when you are feeling depressed. Taking care of your physical and emotional needs can help improve your mood and increase your motivation. 

Some self-care practices you can try include: 

  • Getting enough sleep. 
  • Eating a healthy, balanced diet. 
  • Practicing mindfulness or meditation. 
  • Engaging in relaxation techniques, such as yoga or deep breathing exercises.
  • Avoiding drugs and alcohol. 
  • Spending time in nature. 
  • Doing something you enjoy, such as reading, listening to music, or bathing.
  • Supplementing with 1-2 grams of omega-3 fatty acids[10] per day in addition to your diet.

Set Small And Achievable Goals

how to get motivated when depressed

Due to the way depression affects the brain, it can be challenging to plan, prioritize and follow your usual routine. Furthermore, when you are feeling depressed, it can be challenging to tackle large tasks. However, research has found that setting small and achievable goals can help alleviate feelings of depression and helplessness[11] by helping you build momentum and increase your motivation levels. 

To do this, try breaking down larger tasks into smaller ones and celebrating your accomplishments. For example, if you want to clean your entire house, break it down into smaller tasks, such as cleaning one room at a time. If you want to lose weight, start by setting a small goal, such as walking for ten minutes daily.

Use Positive Affirmations

how to get motivated when depressed

Recent research[12] within positive psychology has found that positive affirmations and intention setting can help you change negative thought patterns and increase your motivation. Repeating positive affirmations to yourself throughout the day helps shift your mindset, especially if they are intentional and specific to your situation.

For example, you can repeat affirmations such as “I am worthy and capable,” “I am making progress,” or “I can do this.” Write them down and place them somewhere you will often see them, such as on your bathroom mirror or computer desktop.

Surround Yourself With Supportive People

how to get motivated when depressed

Research has found[13] that people who feel they have strong, supportive relationships have a 63% reduction in the risk of depression. Surrounding yourself with positive people that you feel understand your struggles can help you feel less alone, alleviate depression and increase your motivation. If possible, spend time with friends and family members who can provide emotional support and encouragement. You could also consider joining a support group or seeking therapy. In addition, talking to others going through similar experiences can help you feel understood and provide new perspectives on your situation.

Practice Gratitude

how to get motivated when depressed

Practicing gratitude can help you shift your focus from negative thoughts to positive ones. Take a few minutes each day to reflect on things you are grateful for. It can be as simple as a warm cup of coffee, a kind gesture from a friend, or cuddling your pet. When using social media, it can also be helpful to avoid negativity and engage with uplifting content that focuses on gratitude.

Get Moving

how to get motivated when depressed

Although depression can be physically draining, exercise is an excellent way to boost your mood and increase motivation. It releases feel-good hormones such as endorphins, a natural chemical that can improve mood and energy levels. Research has found[14] that for mild depression, exercise can be just as beneficial as medication and psychotherapy and that for severe and moderate depression, it is highly effective in addition to traditional treatment.

Even a small amount of physical activity can make a big difference in your feelings. If you struggle to get motivated to exercise, start with something simple like walking around your neighborhood. You can also try an activity you enjoy, such as dancing, swimming, or playing a sport. Remember, the goal is to move your body and improve your mood, so choose an activity that feels good.

Create A Routine

how to get motivated when depressed

People with depression often feel overwhelmed, especially when struggling with daily responsibilities. If you find yourself struggling to complete the simplest tasks, creating a daily routine can help you establish structure and build momentum. For example, having a set schedule for daily tasks like waking up, exercising, eating meals, and going to bed can be a good way to get back on track.

A routine can also help you prioritize tasks and make it easier to get things done. Try writing a routine on paper or use scheduling apps to set reminders for your everyday life tasks.

Set Realistic Expectations

how to get motivated when depressed

It is essential to set realistic expectations for yourself when you are feeling depressed and want to feel motivated. You may not be able to accomplish everything you want immediately, especially if you are trying to tackle a large project. Try to break down a big task into smaller, manageable goals and celebrate your accomplishments, no matter how small they may seem. Setting yourself goals that you know you currently have the capacity to achieve will help increase your self-confidence and help to improve symptoms of low motivation.

Reward Yourself

how to get motivated when depressed

Rewarding yourself for accomplishing tasks can increase your motivation levels. When you complete a task, give yourself a small reward, such as watching an episode of your favorite TV show or taking a relaxing bath. Rewarding yourself is releasing an empowering emotional state.

Seek Professional Help

how to get motivated when depressed

If you are struggling with major depression and lack motivation, it is wise to seek professional help. A mental health professional such as a licensed therapist can help you develop effective coping skills and provide the support you need to overcome a major depressive episode. You may also benefit from taking medication to treat your depression, which you should discuss with your healthcare provider.

If you are in a major depressive episode and thinking of suicide, call the national suicide prevention lifeline at 988 or 911. It is also helpful to join a depression support group.

The Bottom Line

Getting motivated when you are feeling depressed can be a challenge, but it is not impossible. Remember to practice self-care, set small and achievable goals, use positive affirmations, surround yourself with supportive people, and seek professional help when needed. It is also important to be patient with yourself and celebrate your accomplishments along the way. You can overcome your lack of motivation by taking small steps and start living a more fulfilling life.

+ 14 sources

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Tayler Hackett

Medically reviewed by:

Kathy Shattler

Tayler Hackett is a certified mental health specialist with over ten years of experience in psychotherapy, psychology, and wellbeing. She understands the challenges those living with mental health conditions face and the best approaches to support them. Alongside her clinical work, Tayler has spent over a decade honing her academic and healthcare writing skills, allowing her to craft engaging, informative, and evidence-based content that helps individuals understand the complexities of mental health and the latest developments in health care, psychotherapy and neuroscience. Whether exploring the impact of trauma on the brain, the efficacy of different therapies, or the latest research findings, Tayler is committed to delivering content that empowers readers with knowledge and resources to improve their mental well-being. With her unique blend of practical experience and writing expertise, she is a trusted source of information for anyone seeking to understand mental health better and improve their wellbeing.

Medically reviewed by:

Kathy Shattler

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