Living with depression and anxiety is not without its challenges. The past few weeks have not been very productive for me. Basically, all of 2021 hasn’t been very productive for me.

I’ve been in a slump, I’ve been exhausted, I’ve been fighting the raging ebb and flow of hormones that come each month on top of my normal problems with depression.

Some days, my emotions just get the best of me. Depression, I find, is one of the strongest culprits in this regard, and it prevents me from getting things done.

However, after having lived with depression for over half my life, I’ve been able to develop a few ways to go easy on myself during a depressive episode, while also managing to keep my life and daily routines afloat.

It isn’t easy, but I get things done and keep my life moving forward while depressed.

Why It’s Hard to Get Things Done When Depressed

Living with depression and anxiety makes it hard to get things done because depression literally causes physical changes in the brain.

On a “normal” day, or for a mentally healthy person, it might be relatively easy to move through a routine and get things done. Whether that means;

  • cleaning your house,
  • running errands,
  • practicing good hygiene,
  • or knocking out that big project at work.

A “normally” functioning brain will not impede your ability to complete tasks. However, the depressed brain is much different. Research shows that the depressed brain tends to have less gray matter volume (also called GMV) in the prefrontal cortex and hippocampus areas.

This is important because this essentially means that these areas of the brain, which control important functions like the ability to plan, think critically, and control emotions, are weaker in a depressed person than they are in a healthy person.

As a result, many people with depression experience:

  • Loss of motivation
  • Guilt
  • A sense of hopelessness
  • Difficulty in thinking clearly
  • Trouble sleeping (either sleeping too much or not enough)

Such disruptions to mood and physical health make it incredibly challenging to care about most things, let alone doing the laundry or being chipper at work. If you’d like to learn more about this facet of depression, I highly recommend watching this TED Talk by Dr. Helen Mayberg.

I struggle regularly with many of the depression symptoms listed above. Many days, I don’t care about doing the dishes or starting work on time, but I know I need to do those things so that I can maintain a sense of stability in my life. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy for me.

However, I’ve found a few ways to keep getting things done, even when I’m in the midst of a depressive episode.

Living with Depression and Anxiety: 5 Tips to Get Things Done

The key to getting things done when living with depression and anxiety is to try not to focus on the emotion (or, often, the lack of emotion) you’re feeling during a depressive episode.

This is much easier said than done, but with some practice, you can get to a place where you can more or less autopilot yourself through the days in your life when your depression is inhibiting your ability to feel motivated.

Here are some tips that help me, personally, continue to get things done when I’m depressed:

Tip 1: I remember: “This too shall pass”

One thought that brings me great comfort during a depressive episode, sometimes just long enough to get myself out of bed, is the quote, “This too shall pass.”

This phrase has been attributed to different sources throughout history, and I’m not exactly sure where it originates from, but it’s one of those quotes that, simple and vague as it may be, seems to express one of the few-but-great truths of life that we can all relate to at one time or another.

I remind myself, even though I may feel terrible and as nothing will ever be okay again, this feeling will pass, and I will feel better eventually, even if I can’t see that horizon yet.

Just knowing that the depression will eventually subside helps me keep going in my daily routine. For me at least, when I come out of my depression I want my life to be running as normally as possible. I can achieve this by doing some of the normal things I do when I’m not depressed, even if I don’t feel like it.

Tip 2. I work through one thing at a time

I don’t have to feel motivated, I don’t have to enjoy doing it. I just try to get myself to work through one task each day. Maybe it’s just making the bed. Maybe it’s running one load of dishes through the dishwasher.

I just make it a goal to get one thing done on this day so that there will be one less thing to do tomorrow, or whenever my depression subsides.

Oftentimes, I find that making myself do one simple thing makes me feel a little bit better, which will give me the tiny bit of motivation I need to do something else, and then maybe something else.

It doesn’t always spark this chain of motivation, but it doesn’t’ hurt to try.

Tip 3. No negative self-talk allowed

I feel some often try to push themselves out of a depressive episode and into a productive day by practicing tough love on themselves.

I know it’s not uncommon for me to say things to myself like,

  • “Stop being a baby,”
  • “Don’t be a little bitch,”
  • “Shut up and stop whining,” etc.

Now, maybe that’s just me, but I highly doubt it.

When I’m going through a depressive episode, I set a strict no-negative-self-talk rule for myself. I already feel terrible, making myself feel worse is not going to help me get anything done.

I take this time to give myself a break and accept that maybe I’m feeling a little weak, and sad, and helpless. It’s okay to feel that way, I remind myself these are just feelings. And, as terrible as they may feel, I can feel them and not feel bad about feeling them.

I try to focus on positive self-talk. I say things in my head or to myself out loud like,

  • “I’m having a rough day but I can make it through this,”
  • “I’m feeling down but it’s okay to ride it out,”
  • “I don’t have to feel amazing all the time. It’s okay to feel bad sometimes.”

Whatever helps me feel better.

Tip 4. Practice being kind to yourself

I’ve written a whole post on this topic, so I’ll include a link to that here if you’d like to read more about self-kindness.

I remind myself I deserve the same kindness and understanding that I show to my friends and family when they’re going through a rough time.

I don’t have to treat myself any differently.

Tip 5. I go outside

Research suggests spending just 20 minutes outside can help lower your blood pressure, heart rate, and stress, while also improving your mental health.

If possible, I try to get outside somewhere where I can see a lot of greenery, as studies suggest this is the most beneficial way to use the outdoors to improve mental health.

I’m lucky enough to live in the Bay Area of California, where it’s sunny with mild weather the majority of the year. However, if you live somewhere that often gets a lot of rain and/or cloud cover, you could try an alternative option to getting outdoors such as using a light therapy lamp.

These lamps act as man-made alternatives to getting natural sunlight and can help lessen the mood-based symptoms common in depression.

What kind of help can you get for depression?

Living with depression and anxiety over extended periods of time can significantly impact your ability to get things done in your daily life. While this lack of productivity might not seem like a big deal at first, the truth is that all those little chores and errands pile up. If I let my depression get too strong a hold on me, to the point where I stop taking care of my home, job, and self, it’s significantly harder to get out of my funk.

While these tips can help you be somewhat productive during a depressive episode, it’s important that you speak with a professional healthcare provider if you experience regular, intense, or ongoing depression.

If you or someone you know is struggling with depression and you are worried for their safety, you can contact the Substance Abuse And Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)’s national helpline at 1–800–622-HELP (4357).

DISCLAIMER: I am not a nutritionist, physical trainer, or fitness nor mental health professional of any kind. All thoughts expressed in this content come from my personal opinions and experiences only.

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