Home improvement commercials accomplish what they set out to do: Inspire us to take action. The ads conjure that sweet feeling of productivity, when you end the day with the “good tired” feeling.
(These commercials are also an honest reminder that I’ll probably never personally install a new toilet or paint a house in an afternoon.)
“Get up and do something.” It’s a message I understand, and one that’s hard to argue with. And it’s the same concept doctors and therapists try to instill in depressed patients. During my first experience with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), I was instructed to make a list of things I felt I could accomplish in a day. Because I was dealing with severe depression, I was told to start small – showering, eating and interacting with at least one human. My doctor didn’t count, but the guy pumping my gas did! Check, check, check.
Because the inertia of depression can make seemingly basic daily functions feel impossible, being able to check them off your to-do list inspires confidence. After all, don’t we always feel better when we’ve accomplished something?
And over time, this increased confidence led to higher energy and a self-esteem boost. I felt stronger, and I was able to complete larger goals and function at a higher level.
Why Productivity Helps Depression
When we’re depressed, we often don’t have the motivation to be productive and our already-skewed perspective can make us feel worthless. This is why it’s so important to get something – anything – done.
Completing a task, large or small, reintroduces feelings of self-worth and reframes our mindset. It’s important to note that productivity doesn’t have to come in the form of scaling a mountain or writing the great American novel. It’s about making decisions and taking actions.
And when we’re depressed, the best actions are often the ones that involve taking care of ourselves. Today, you might be isolating yourself and skipping self-care, but tomorrow is an opportunity to get out of bed, take a walk or finish a small project at work. Self-esteem is another casualty of depression, but socializing with supportive friends or family can remind you why you’re loved.
If you’re having trouble motivating, consider breaking large tasks into smaller pieces. For example, when I’m overwhelmed by the thought of working out every morning – something I need to do to keep depression at bay – I remind myself that it’s one hour out of 24. Or, when I’m struggling to write an article, I take it one section at a time. Which leads me to …
Anything You Do is Enough
There’s a common refrain in my mind: “You’re not doing enough.”
This thought pops into my head more than I’d like to admit. I believe it stems from a combination of a perfectionist personality and a brain susceptible to depression. Even on the days when I complete everything and then some on my to-do list, I find myself saying, “But you could have done more.”
This negative self-talk has been known to paralyze me. I’ve sometimes wondered “What’s the point of getting started if it’s never enough?”
But starting is enough. As a wise friend recently reminded me, “Whatever you do each day is enough.” That sentiment is especially true when you’re depressed. The smallest obstacles can yield big results in the form of confidence and further motivation.
Recently, I struggled with my writing schedule, and my healthy eating habits went off the rails. I was angry and upset about it. I immediately blamed myself for not being productive. It snowballed to the point where I was sending angry emojis to my husband. I’m not proud to say I was emoji-ally abusive to my husband.
I had to rein it in. If I continued down the irrational path I was on, I’d never get anything done, I’d continue to be upset and I would run out of emojis. So I gave myself a break. I put the writing aside and read a book. I added another mile to my run (getting sweaty = accomplished). I realized I needed to calm down and focus.
And sometimes, that’s all you need to accomplish in a day.