How to Get Stuff Done When you are Feeling Depressed
A therapist once told me that I have, “a high tolerance for depression.” I wish I’d asked her what she meant; at the time I assumed that she was saying I was accustomed to feeling depressed because I was surrounded by family members suffering from mental health issues. Perhaps she meant that depression was normalized in my family. I suppose I'll never know why she said it, I think I didn't want to ask her because I didn't really want to know.
The truth is that I do feel depressed on occasion. I’ve been seeing therapists regularly for many years to heal my childhood traumas. I've turned out to be a highly functioning, hardworking and caring adult. Becoming a mother has brought a lot to the surface from my difficult childhood. Sometimes I don't feel like doing the things I need to do. Especially when there are big and uncertain changes happening in the wider world.
Recently, I’ve been struck with a distinct lack of motivation or energy for doing much, particularly the daily chores to maintain my family life. My last blog post was about how we get motivation from self-care. I've found that even with increased self-care, that alone doesn’t always bring the motivation I hope for. Sometimes I need more.
The good news is that you can do what needs to be done, even when you don't want to. Here are some ideas that help me when I need to get stuff done, but I'm not feeling it.
Notice your warning signs.
We all have habits that we either take up or stop when we start to feel depressed. I exercise less, and eat more. It gets harder to fall asleep. I stop meditating. I don’t reach out to friends. Basically all the things that I need to do to feel well, physically and mentally, I stop doing. What are your signs? If you can notice them it will help in you to stay mentally strong. The first step is to notice, to become aware. With practice you will be able to notice and make a different choice about how you respond to your thoughts.
Put your energy where you have influence.
In The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey writes: "proactive people focus their time and energy on things they can control. The problems, challenges, and opportunities we face fall into two areas--Circle of Concern and Circle of Influence." When you start to get overwhelmed by the world, take a step back and remind yourself to focus on the things you can take action on. This practice will help you use your limited energy wisely. The good news, for those of us on the KonMari journey, is that creating the home environment we want is largely under our control.
Interrupt your negative thought cycle.
Once you are aware of your negative thoughts, take action. The mindfulness practice of R.A.I.N is key. Recognize the negative thought as it occurs, Allow it to be as it is, Investigate how your body feels and Nurture yourself with acceptance and kindness.
Don’t wait to feel motivated.
When you feel down, the motivation you are hoping for is not going to magically show up. You have to force yourself to take action, to do the thing you don’t want to do. Tune out that voice that tells you to keep sitting on the couch. Turn on positive, high-energy music to get moving. Remind yourself that you’ll feel better once you've accomplished the task. Celebrate each accomplishment.
Shrink your to-do list, then start with the easiest thing.
Your “to do list” is probably too long. Look at what has to get done today, and what can wait. Get rid of everything that is non-essential. Do the easiest thing first. Learn to say, "no" to additional invitations and responsibilities, even the ones you want to say, "yes" to. It is important to be realistic about what you are capable of doing so you don't overwhelm yourself.
Take decision making out of the equation.
Write up a weekly schedule and set up each day in advance. Establish your routine and don’t question it when you are feeling down. If you are doing the KonMari Method, you can schedule an hour a week to the do small subcategories to keep up with your progress.
Treat yourself with loving-kindness.
Talk to yourself as you would to a dear friend. Be as kind to yourself as you would be to them. The more loving you are to yourself, the more able you’ll be able to do. And more importantly, you'll feel better. Treat yourself with loving-kindness, and you'll forgive yourself for not getting everything done.