Motivation and Depression: What’s the Connection?

Depression is a common mental disorder. It is estimated that 15.7 million adults in the United States, or about 6.7 percent, experienced at least one major depressive episode in 2014.

Symptoms of depression can range from mild to severe. They can be chronic, or they can occur as one-time episodes caused by traumatic life events such as a death or illness in the family, the ending of a marriage, or financial difficulty.

Symptoms of depression include:

  • reduced interest in activities that are normally pleasurable
  • insomnia or increased need for sleep
  • lack of appetite or an increased need to eat, leading to either weight loss or gain
  • restlessness, irritability, or lack of energy and fatigue
  • trouble concentrating and attending to usual tasks
  • poor self-image
  • suicidal thoughts

If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts, you should seek help right away. Contact your doctor or call 911.

Tips to get and stay motivated

If the thought of doing anything seems overwhelming, start small. Set small, manageable goals. As you meet these goals, you can start adding more on top of them until you ultimately achieve all of your goals. Here are some suggestions to get you started.

  1. Get out of bed and out of pajamas

The simple act of getting up is a good first victory of the day. Leave a few sticky notes with positive affirmations where you can see them, such as: “Yes, you can do it,” “Every long journey starts with one step,” or “Never give up!” Your brain digests whatever thoughts you create, so feed it positive ones.

  1. Go for a walk

Exercise helps your body release endorphins, the feel-good hormones. Exercising for at least 35 minutes a day, five days a week, can improve symptoms of mild to moderate depression. It may also help treat more severe forms of depression. In another study, four weeks of aerobic training were found to improve symptoms of depression.

  1. Get your hands dirty in order to get a mood lift

According to a study with mice, a certain type of bacteria found in dirt (Mycobacterium vaccae) may enhance the production of serotonin. Serotonin, in turn, helps decrease the symptoms of depression.

Bacteria found in fermented foods, such as yogurt, can also enhance moods by reducing anxiety and potentially improving symptoms of depression.

  1. Don’t overschedule

If you can only accomplish one or two tasks, that’s fine. Congratulate yourself for every task or goal you complete, no matter how small. That will help improve your confidence and sense of motivation.

  1. Avoid negativity

Whether it’s reading the news or surfing the internet, talking to people who leave you feeling drained and negative, or revisiting sad topics, they can all have an impact on your mood and motivation. Instead, focus on feelings of gratitude. Read uplifting content and surround yourself with positive people.

  1. Stick to a routine

Write down your routine, stick it on the wall or somewhere you will see it, and use check marks when you have completed tasks. The sense of having accomplished daily tasks will promote a sense of well-being and inspire you to aim higher each day.

You could also keep a journal as part of your routine. Journals are a good place to dispose of negative thoughts and make room for the positive.

  1. Socialize

Choose positive relationships and encouraging people to socialize with and when you feel up for it, give volunteering a chance. Helping someone in need will improve your mood and increase your motivation to get out of bed the next day.

  1. Create a support network

Have a support network on standby for when your motivation runs out and you feel overwhelmed. Choose people you feel comfortable talking to and who can help provide encouragement.

  1. Get enough sleep

Depression can be physically draining. Sleeping too much or too little affects your mood. Aim for eight hours a day.

Depression and motivation

Lack of motivation is a symptom of depression, but it may be caused by something else. For example, you may lack motivation if you are having difficulties coping with an issue in your life or if you are experiencing something that affects your self-confidence.

If depression is responsible for your lack of motivation, you may find that your level of motivation is directly related to how depressed you are feeling. If you or a loved one is feeling a lack of motivation due to depression, there are ways to help improve the situation.

It may seem hard at first, but persistence will help feed the growing sense of motivation, and you will find that over time it becomes easier to get up and do things.

Seek help

When to seek help

If your mood and motivation do not improve, talk to your doctor. If you are already taking medication, your doctor might reassess your treatment.

Treatment for depression might include a combination of psychotherapy and medication. Medications may include:

  • selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors
  • serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors
  • norepinephrine-dopamine reuptake inhibitors
  • tricyclic antidepressants
  • monoamine oxidase inhibitors

Some antidepressants might increase your risk of suicidal thoughts. If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, please call the Nation Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 right away and get in touch with your doctor as soon as possible.


If you or a loved one is suffering from depression, you may have difficulty feeling motivated. Psychotherapy and medication may help, but you can also practice some self-help techniques:

  • celebrate small victories
  • do your best to think positively
  • routines can help you feel motivated
  • take things one step at a time, and don’t try to do more than you’re able to

If your lack of motivation is affecting your daily life and your attempts to increase your motivation have not worked, contact your doctor. They are there to help.


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