3 Tips to Remain Productive When Struggling with Depression

Corey Nielsen, LCSW on Dec 16, 2022 in Mood and Feelings

To be formally diagnosed with depressive disorder, a person must have experienced a depressive episode lasting longer than two weeks. Symptoms of a depressive episode include:

  • Loss of interest or loss of pleasure in all activities
  • Change in appetite or weight
  • Sleep disturbance
  • Feeling agitated or feeling slowed down
  • Fatigue
  • Feelings of low self-worth, guilt, or burdensomeness
  • Difficulty concentrating or making decisions
  • Suicidal thoughts or intentions (The National Institute of Mental Health)

It is easy to see why depression negatively impacts motivation — each and every one of these symptoms could make daily functioning more difficult! Combined, they can make even the simplest of tasks feel nearly impossible to complete. One of the biggest challenges with having depression is that it is a cyclical illness — the more depressed we feel, the less we typically feel like doing. And the less we do, the more depressed we tend to feel. Fortunately, there are strategies that can make it possible to move forward — even when we feel stuck in the mud.

Three Strategies for Remaining Productive When Depressed

Acceptance

Depression is a serious mental health disorder that can make even basic day-to-day functioning nearly impossible. Yet, we often expect ourselves to be as content or productive as when we’re at our best — and even blame or shame ourselves when we’re not! We wouldn’t judge ourselves for not being able to complete a physical task when we’re ill or injured, yet it’s common to do so when we’re struggling with our mental health. It’s important to realize not only that depression presents significant barriers to productivity but also that a) it isn’t permanent, b) that everyone struggles at times, and c) that it's okay not to be at our best 100% of the time.

Consistency Beats Motivation

We often think that we need to "feel motivated" to begin or complete a task (to be fair, activity is generally more fun and productive when we are motivated!). In reality, motivation comes and goes, and we engage in numerous activities every day that we’re not necessarily motivated to do — such as paying bills, brushing our teeth, or tying our shoes. Depression tricks us into convincing ourselves we "should" be motivated to engage in healthy tasks, but often just getting started on a task allows us to make progress and feel a sense of accomplishment — both of which can improve our mood.

Smaller Steps, Smaller Stress

When we’re depressed, simple tasks such as getting out of bed or having a conversation can feel nearly impossible. The last thing we want to do is tackle a mile-long to-do list. Instead, focus on one task at a time. If it's helpful, break that task up into smaller, manageable tasks. For example, instead of focusing on a house that needs cleaning, identify one room you can start with and one task within that room ("I’m going to wash the dishes — I’ll start with just the glassware."). This allows us to make progress and feel a sense of accomplishment as opposed to taking on too much and feeling inadequate. Again — when simply getting out of bed can feel insurmountable — acknowledge your small victories!

Remember, being productive while depressed can feel nearly impossible. But by accepting the difficulties that depression presents, challenging beliefs around motivation/taking consistent action, and taking on smaller, manageable goals, we can make progress, feel a sense of accomplishment, and improve our mood — even when depression seems to want us to do the opposite.

If you found this article helpful and would like professional help working through symptoms of depression, I’m a licensed mental health therapist who specializes in depression. You can contact me on our site or by email at [email protected]

Corey Nielsen is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in Fort Collins, CO.
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