How to Activate Yourself When You Feel Depressed
Occasionally, you might find yourself in a loop where you stop doing anything so you don’t feel any worse. However, by doing nothing, you also avoid feeling any better. This kind of behavior is typical of depression. So how can you activate yourself when you feel depressed and apathetic?
It’s a real challenge, but it’s possible, especially if you ask for the necessary help. One technique that can help is the programming of pleasant activities, framed within therapies such as behavioral activation therapy.
In this article, we’re going to focus on the behavioral part. Nevertheless, the importance of working on your most deeply rooted thoughts, beliefs, and emotions shouldn’t be forgotten. Cognitive therapy can help in this regard. As a matter of fact, if you don’t work on your cognitive and emotional parts, working on the behavioral part alone won’t work. So how do you do it?
Deactivation or lack of energy
Firstly, it’s necessary to understand that direct exposure to certain aversive situations can often generate extremely intense discomfort, especially if, at the same time, you also lose elements that contributed to your emotional well-being.
In this context, you might choose not to expose yourself to anything, sticking to activities that are essential or that require less effort or simply doing nothing. This is perfectly understandable as you’re suffering and don’t want to do anything (apathy). Or, you might be afraid of doing something and suffering again. Hence, you practice experiential avoidance.
You’ve learned that, in order not to feel worse, you must minimize your exposure, opting for a conservative and saving policy in all senses. This is speaking from a psychological point of view, in which apathy, depression, and intense sadness appear and take over.
However, there can also be organic causes for a lack of energy. For example, not having rested well, living through an intensely stressful time, or suffering from certain kinds of illness.
“Apathy sets in when our passion for the future is miscarried.”
The depression loop
If you’re suffering from depression and are completely inactive and don’t want to do anything, we speak of the ‘depression loop’. In other words, you close in on yourself.
Although, in the short term, doing nothing could be a ‘functional solution’ (doing nothing means nothing bad can happen), in the long term it implies the impossibility of doing things that make you happy. So, how can you escape from this loop?
How to activate yourself when you feel depressed
When it comes to learning how to activate yourself when you feel low (and lack energy), you must assume that the behaviors you’re performing and the context in which they occur play a crucial role.
The field of behavioral activation therapy has discovered that quality of life needs to be improved in these cases.
Behavioral activation: how it can help
Behavioral activation seeks to help you achieve two fundamental tasks:
- Understand the environmental sources of your discomfort.
- Locate those behaviors that maintain or even worsen your suffering.
Often, your discomfort is more linked to a specific situation than to something inside your body. Nevertheless, this isn’t always so and each individual case must be analyzed.
If it is so, and as long as there’s no other basic psychopathology or other condition that explains the discomfort, it should be considered a normal or expected response to a certain context, and not an illness.
Behavioral activation: what are your goals?
Behavioral activation pursues a series of objectives, such as:
- Increasing pleasurable activities that you value.
- Blocking avoidance of such activities.
- Recovering your social interactions.
- Learning to be active from the sidelines, taking into account your own emotional state.
How to activate yourself
1. Start small
You don’t need to go crazy and start filling every hour of every day with things to do. Start gradually. Don’t push yourself too hard. In fact, if you can do just one activity a day, that’s fine. The idea is to gradually increase them.
2. Choose activities that make practical sense
Nor should you simply focus on doing random pleasant activities just to try and keep busy. The idea is to choose functional activities, with a practical meaning for you, according to your own individual needs.
For example, going to buy bread, running that errand you’ve been putting off, ordering a book, going for a walk. They don’t have to be activities that motivate you 100 percent. After all, if you’re feeling depressed, you won’t enjoy them at first anyway. However, everything will come eventually. Your initial goal is activation.
3. To start with, don’t become obsessed with enjoying yourself
As we mentioned earlier, to start with, don’t become obsessed with choosing 100 percent pleasurable activities or force yourself to enjoy them. You probably won’t enjoy them to start with, and it’s not even what you want at the moment. The goal is to activate yourself and escape your state of apathy as it’s this that’s feeding your loop of depression.
“Apathy is one of the characteristic responses of any living organism when it is subjected to stimuli too intense or too complicated to cope with. The cure for apathy is comprehension.”
-John Dos Passos-
4. Make a record
Choose to make a record of the activities you do daily and also the emotional state they generate in you. This will help you relate to what’s happening to you in your life.
In addition, this record will allow you to organize your day-to-day and your new routine and start to feel useful and active. Write down the activities that you intend to do (be realistic, to avoid frustration), and then write down the ones you’re doing and your emotional state. This exercise will also help you monitor your own progress.
5. Understand why you’re avoiding certain activities
When you feel depressed, you avoid doing things. However, keep in mind that the strategies you use to avoid doing pleasurable activities are actually a ‘secondary problem’. Knowing the reasons why you’re avoiding plans and activities will allow you to realize that what you’re doing isn’t conducive to feeling better.
6. Set short-term goals
Another idea for activating yourself when you feel down is to set yourself short-term goals, dividing the activities into simple steps. This will help you reduce the demands of what you expect from the activity.
Put your objectives in writing. When you’ve completed them, write what you did to complete them, and cross out the tasks to give you feedback.
7. If you don’t know where to start, try different activities
If you don’t know what you want to do or what goals might work for you, you can try options that you think might be suitable. Either because most people enjoy them or because you found them pleasurable in the past.
You’re facing a time when you have to use willpower and determination to get going. Therefore, try not to select activities for which you need to make a lot of preparation if you don’t enjoy the process. For instance, some of us enjoy preparing for a trip but others find it really difficult right up to the moment they get on the plane. Understand yourself.
Get active to regain your sense of well-being
It isn’t easy to get active when you’re feeling depressed and apathetic, but with psychological help, social support, and trust in yourself, you can get out of the distressing zone you tend to settle in when you’re feeling apathetic.
One way of checking if you’re succeeding will be that, over time, you’ll be able to observe the relationships between your actions and their consequences in your daily life. More particularly, the consequences that have a really significant effect on your emotional well-being.
Remember, the idea is to set goals according to your objectives and needs, not to wait until you’re well enough to do all the activities that you think you’ll enjoy. The same thing happens with apathy as with almost all states: they tend to feed on themselves, inviting you to adopt attitudes toward the world that make them the protagonists. Fortunately, you usually have enough control to decline the temptation.
“Happiness is the meaning and purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence.”
All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.
- Barraca, J. & Pérez-Álvarez, M. (2015). Activación conductual para el tratamiento de la depresión.
- Ferster, C.N. (1973). A functional analysis of depression.
- Lewinsohn, P.M. (1974). A behavioral approach to depression.