How to Get Motivated When Depressed and Frustrated

Feeling down?You’re not alone.According to the National Institute of Mental Health, over 16 million adults over age 18 had a major depressive episode in the United States in 2016 alone.((National Institute of Mental Health: Major Depression))And that doesn’t include the more common forms of depression and frustration that consume most of us on an all-too-regular basis.In this article, we’re going to look into the reasons why you may feel depressed and frustrated and how to get motivated when depressed.

First, are you really depressed?

The signs and symptoms of depression on legion.Depression can create feelings of apathy, discontent, hopeless, sadness and guilt.Depressive episodes can affect your sleep cycles, leading to restlessness, insomnia or excessive sleepiness.Behaviorally, in a depressive state, individuals experience more frustration and agitation.Depression can influence your appetite (in either direction), your cognitive functioning (lack of focus), and your level of energy (fatigue).Okay, so let’s say you’re saying, “Check, check, and check.”What’s next? Let’s explore some of the potential reasons why we get depressed.

7 common reasons for depression and frustration

Scan this list with an open mind and see which ones resonate with you. Often there are multiple factors that trigger our emotional states.

  • Repressed rage: When we are de-pressed, we are pushing down other emotions and feelings. The most common emotion that we push out of our awareness is anger and rage.
  • Unacknowledged envy: For many of us, envy silently eats away at our motivation each day. When we’re not conscious of our envy, it can quickly lead to depression.
  • Unmet basic needs: Abraham Maslow found that we all have basic human needs for safety, belonging, and self-esteem. When we don’t meet these needs sufficiently, we become neurotic. Depression and anxiety are common forms of neurosis.((Scott Jeffrey: Decoding Maslow’s Human Needs to Understand Your Behavior and Psychological Development))
  • Life circumstances: If you’re going through a divorce or the loss of a loved one, depression and sadness is a common experience.
  • Something doesn’t go your way: You want something to happen—a promotion, a date, etc.—but it doesn’t happen. These circumstances often trigger frustration and can lead to depression.
  • Repressed desires: When we don’t get what we want, we get frustrated. When we don’t even acknowledge what we want, we get depressed. Sometimes these desires are reasonable; other times, they are tyrannical.
  • Living out of alignment: Perhaps you’ve made choices that defy who you are. Or, you’re behaving in ways that go against your personal core values. Making poor decisions and living out of accord with our values, is a sure path to depression and discontent.

What’s next? How do you get motivated when you’re depressed?

The standard approach: What not to do

When most people feel depressed, they try to “push through it.”In a culture that has a bias toward happiness, we believe depression is a bad thing. If we have depression, we need to change it right away.And how do we go about changing it? By using brute force—pushing ourselves to do that which we don’t want to do.But here’s the most valuable lesson anyone can learn about their subconscious mind:What we resist, persists.What does this mean?Resisting depression or frustration will not only prolong its existence; it may even make it stronger. So, when we try to motivate ourselves through sheer will, we are feeding the very monster we’re trying to overcome.

The alternative approach: Self-awareness

Instead of trying to push through depression, learn from it. It’s there for a reason; a part of you is trying to tell you something.Do you know what it’s trying to tell you?Many times, just getting clarity on the source of the depression can reduce it if not release it entirely.This approach is powerful, but there are two good reasons we don’t take it:

  1. It can be uncomfortable to face the truth behind our depression and frustration. And we often do what we can to avoid discomfort.
  2. The source of our depression and frustration isn’t always obvious. Without sufficient self-awareness skills, we may not be fully conscious of the cause of depression.

3 powerful approaches to overcoming depression

Martin Seligman is considered the father of positive psychology. Early in his career, he specialized in studying depression.In his groundbreaking book, Learned Optimism, Seligman highlights that depression is a form of learned helplessness. Learned helplessness occurs when a problem appears:

  • Personal
  • Permanent
  • Pervasive

When these three Ps are present, we feel hopeless and get depressed. The methods that follow are designed to help shift you out of the feeling that your problems are personal, permanent, and everywhere.I’ve come to appreciate the power of taking a multi-dimensional approach to things like depression. Different methods will work for different people, and at different times, so experiment until you find what works for you.These approaches fall into three categories: mental, emotional, and physical.

Emotional strategies for depression

If you’re aware of your depression and what’s causing it, you can try going deeper into the emotion itself.Remember, depression is just a state. You’re not the depression itself.Try to find the “center” of the depression, and you may realize that it has none. Then, the depression will disappear on its own.Alternatively, you can express your depression and frustration. Go into a private space, like the bathroom, and talk to the depressed part in the mirror. See what it wants and needs. Often, merely allowing this sad part to express itself can resolve the depression.

Mental strategies for depression

You can also try a meditation technique. Access what’s called the Observing Mind—the part of you that can observe or witness your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Use this Observing Mind to simply watch the depression.By observing your depression, it creates “distance” between you and this depressive part. And with this distance often comes a different perspective about your life circumstances.Alternatively, go on Youtube.com and watch a few videos of individuals living in environments that have significantly fewer opportunities than you have. This contrast may reduce the perceived importance of the causes of your depression and frustration, allowing you to shift to a new mental state.

Physical strategies for depression

Some of the most powerful things we can do to shift out of depression and into a more empowered state are physical.Here’s a list of things you can try:

  • Take a cold shower. Evidence continues to show that exposure to cold activates numerous brain functions that help alleviate depression.
  • Exercise. Numerous studies show that exercise helps reduce depression by increasing endorphins and getting us out of heads.((Prim Care Companion J Clin Psychiatry: The Benefits of Exercise for the Clinically Depressed)) Exercise for a minimum of 30 minutes or more at least 3 to 5 times each week. What exercise? It doesn’t matter. Just move! The key is to find something you enjoy doing.
  • Trauma release exercises. Depression and chronic fatigue is often a result of emotions like anger, fear, and sadness getting stored in the body. Trauma release exercises((TRE: Tension & Trauma Releasing Exercises)) are designed to release these stored emotions.
  • Do something outrageous. Similar to taking a cold shower, try doing something outrageous—anything that “breaks your patterns,” as they say in neuro-linguistic programming. Push-ups, jumping jacks, or jumping rope can work. You can even try putting your head out the passenger window in a car.
  • Be mindful of what you eat and drink. When we’re depressed, we often seek to feel better by consuming foods and drinks that only add to the depression. Sugar and alcohol consumption will likely prolong your misery. Instead, eat foods that help fight depression.
  • Avoid social media. Research continues to link social media usage with an increase in depression and anxiety. This study, for instance, shows that the more people use Facebook, the worse they feel.((Harvard Business Review: A New, More Rigorous Study Confirms: The More You Use Facebook, the Worse You Feel))
  • Ground yourself. A grounding technique as simple as walking barefoot on the earth for 20 minutes once or twice a day can have a tremendous effect on our emotional wellbeing. How? Grounding is an easy way get out of our head and into our body. The more rooted we are in our body, the less rumination we experience, which can break the cycle of depression.

The best long-term methods to optimism

All of the above strategies can help you overcome depression and frustration, but the best long-term approaches to getting motivated in the face of depression are to develop your strengths and cultivate gratitude.

Playing to your strengths

Seligman and others developed a free assessment to highlight your signature strengths. His research suggests that the best way to ensure happiness in the present is to develop yourself and play to your strengths as much as you can.((Martin E. P. Seligman: Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment))

Cultivating gratitude

Depression is largely the result of our minds fixating on what we don’t have. Gratitude is an expression of the opposite: by being grateful, we are acknowledging all of the things we have right now.There’s significant evidence that maintaining a gratitude journal where you highlight three things that you’re grateful for each day can have a measurable impact on your wellbeing within 30 days.((Greater Good Magazine: How Gratitude Changes You and Your Brain))

Final thoughts

So how do you get motivated when depressed or frustrated?Remember, what you resist, persists. Trying to motivate yourself in the face of depression can potentially make the depression stronger.Instead, accept what you’re feeling right now. But at the same time, you’re not what your feelings.Depression and frustration may be experiences in you, but they are not what you are.Understanding the real source of your depression can be infinitely more helpful than trying to “push through it.” Then, focus on things you can do to foster a more empowering emotional state right now.Approach depression with the physical, emotional and mental strategies highlighted above and your motivation will naturally arise in due time.