overcome depression get motivated

How to Get Motivated When You’re Depressed

Natalie Buchwald, LMHCSelf Care

By Natalie Buchwald, LMHC | Last Updated: May 22nd, 2023
Reviewed by Steven Buchwald

If you suffer from depression, you know it can affect your mood and motivation any time of the year. For some of us, the holiday season is especially tough. We might feel lonely or overwhelmed, or just not as festive as we think we should be.

If you’re feeling depressed this season, here are some useful tips to help you get motivated and on top of things, now and year-round.

1. Acknowledge Your Depression

Depression affects people differently, but it’s more than just feeling sad or down once in a while. The mental, emotional, and behavioral effects go far deeper and are more intense than sadness or a bad mood.

You may routinely experience feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness, along with lethargy and fatigue. Any of these can make doing the things you need to do seem completely beyond your power.

To overcome the sense of helplessness and get your motivation back on track, the first step is acknowledging that this sticky feeling of depression has become a companion in your life. You cannot get back to being motivated and pretend the feeling of depression is not there.

2. Feel the Feeling but Don’t Identify with It

The first step is self-awareness. Instead of trying to bury your emotions or resist your symptoms, let them rise to the surface and hear them out.

Go deep into the emotion and greet it as you would a good friend, with compassion and curiosity.

Remember that you are not your depression. Don’t identify with this temporary emotion.

You are not depressed, you feel depressed.  

Be aware of depression, the feeling and it’s associated thoughts and sensations. Pay attention to what it’s trying to tell you.

What does it feel like?

What sensations are associated with it?

Does it have reoccurring thoughts patterns?

There is much to learn by entering into a conversion with this depressed part and learning what it is about, what triggers it and how it truly feels like for you to be in that place.

3. Be Active, Take Cold Showers, Socialize and Be Kind

It’s counter-intuitive, but one of the best ways to get motivated when you are feeling depressed is to do the things you probably least want to do: Take actions.

a) Move your Body

Even just a walk around the neighborhood will do you good. Exercise makes us breathe more deeply, filling our lungs with brain-clearing oxygen. It also causes our bodies to release endorphins, the “feel-good” hormone. Walking just 30-35 minutes three to five days a week has been shown to improve the effects of depression.

b)Take Cold Showers

Cold showers (or ice baths) are like a visceral cup of coffee. They get us energized and ready to take on the day. There is strong evidence that exposure to cold activates numerous brain functions that help alleviate depression. Wim Hof has popularized ice bath as a wellbeing practice that promotes physical recovery and alleviate anxiety, depression and gut problems.

c) See People

Socializing with people turns our attention outward and activates our curiosity and empathy. Talking, laughing, sharing a meal—all of these can have positive effects on our bodies and mood. Helping others also has positive benefits that can help with depression, providing a sense of usefulness and purpose.

d) Be Kind

Helping others has positive benefits that can help with depression, providing a sense of usefulness and purpose. When we are kind and helpful to others, a sense of wellbeing often overcomes us.

Let your inner light shine and enjoy the natural good feeling that is born out of giving a helping hand. You can be kind and helpful to your loved ones, your friends, your coworkers or your classmates. You could also volunteer with a non-profit. There are plenty of volunteer opportunities around the holidays. Check out NewYorkCares.Org for volunteer needs.

It might be hard to get started, but each accomplishment will give you a boost as you work toward the next.

Action begets more actions and propel you toward an energizing virtuous cycle.

Start by making a list of things you need to do, and savor the sense of achievement as you tick them off one by one—and don’t forget to build in a few rewards now and then. Include activities in your to-do-list that bring you joy too. And feel a double sense of pleasure out of having simultaneously been kind to yourself and knocked another item off your list.

4. Break Larger Goals into Smaller Steps and Set Realistic Goals

Although it’s important to stay active, you don’t want to put more on your plate than you can handle. This is especially so during the holidays, when it’s easy to become overwhelmed and anxious.

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” as the Chinese proverb goes. Break larger goals into bite size piece. Take it one step at a time.

It can be daunting to contemplate all that needs to be done to accomplish one larger goal.

Just focus on one task.

When performing one task, focus singlehandedly on it at the exception of everything else. Turn off your phone. Eliminate distractions that might get in the way. “Just do it” as the iconic Nike tagline goes.

When we focus on one small achievable task, we get it done. All those small tasks add up and eventually get you to the completion of a larger goal.

These small accomplishments feel good and get us back on track toward more life in our lives and more pep in our step.

Just keep going. One step at a time.

5. Get Help

You probably have a lot to take care of this time of year. If you’re dealing with depression, the extra obligations that come with the holidays can be stressful, or even paralyzing. You can stay on top of those feelings, however, and position yourself to do the things you need to do.

A therapist can help you manage your depression, stay focused and on track. They can help you reconnect with the beliefs and goals at the core of your motivation. Manhattan Mental Health Counseling offers online therapy sessions for people anywhere in the world.