While prescribing yourself fun activities to counter to feelings of depression sounds about as likely as prescribing yourself a steak dinner to best an upset stomach, doctors say that forcing yourself to do things can help a lot when you’re feeling down.
Withdrawing from responsibilities and activities you enjoy can seem like the best course of action when in the midst of the lethargy and low mood of depression, but while staying at home with the covers over your head may seem like the most sensible course of action when you feel so down, forcing yourself into motion is actually the only thing that will interrupt a negative spiral of inactivity and ever worsening mood, energy levels and guilt.
Why is staying inactive such a bad idea?
Missing Out on Pleasure
When you feel depressed you may feel like you lack the energy, motivation or desire to get up and do much at all, so when opportunities for fun activities arise – like seeing friends or family, going to the movies, paying sports etc. – you don’t feel like going or feel like you don’t have the energy to go or you can’t face people right now; and so you stay home.
By staying home you miss the opportunity to have an enjoyable experience and to feel pleasure and to get energized and become more available to future opportunities for fun and enjoyment. Instead, you stay at home and feel no joy or energy or fun, and you become just a little bit more entrenched in a negative spiral of lethargy of action and corresponding depression of mood.
Failing to Take Care of Responsibilities
When you feel depressed and lack energy and motivation it’s easy to step back from making decisions and even from taking care of regular everyday tasks at work or around the house – sometimes it’s just easier to bypass the mess in the living room or the taxes that need doing and head to bed for a nap.
Unfortunately, those responsibilities and tasks we neglect have a nasty habit of building on us, and the evidence and reminders (the growing mess in the kitchen, the bill reminders from creditors, emails from unhappy colleagues etc.) of our neglect only make us feel worse, as we feel guilt over our failures and as the prospect of digging out of the hole we’re in seems ever more difficult as the days go by.
How Getting into Action Can Help You to Start Feeling Better
There is no magic cure for depression and you can’t expect a single walk in the park to reverse such a debilitating illness, however, the more you force yourself into action the more you do to fight against the depression that pulls you down.
“We can nudge ourselves to do something… even though we feel like just sitting there instead. This temporary increase in activity helps stimulate the left frontal cortex, which in turn boosts mood and leads to a bit of reduction in depressive symptoms, which then makes it a little easier to initiate more activity, and so on. In other words, by simply engaging in activity–any activity–we can change the brain in a way that helps reverse depression.” ~ Dr. Stephen S. Ilardi1
It won’t happen immediately, but in time, as you incorporate more pleasure into your life and meet ever more of your responsibilities - the enjoyment, energy and satisfaction you pull from these activities can go a long way to reversing that downward spiral of depression and to restoring a more positive mental outlook.
Here are 5 meaningful ways that just getting off the couch or out of bed and doing something positive, no matter how small that activity is, helps to get you out of that negative downward spiral of depression...
5 Ways Activity Can Better Feelings of Depression:
Activity Gives You Something Else to Focus on
When you sit at home inactive you are left with little for stimulation or focus other than your unhealthy ruminative thoughts. When you engage in a purposeful activity you are forced to focus on something other than yourself, if even for a short while.
Activity Can Bring Pleasure
You may not think that taking the dog for a walk will do much for your mood, but sometimes it’s hard to fight against the subtle enjoyments of seeing your dog’s happy wagging tail and the smiles of your neighbors you pass and the crisp evening air and so on.
Just do it, because it won’t make you feel worse and it may well bring you some small pleasures.
Activity Can Bring Satisfaction
There is no joy or satisfaction to be found in observing your obligations mount or go unfulfilled. You may not feel at all like taking on a task, but the truth is, not doing it is going to feel worse in the end, so you might as well buckle down and force yourself to take care of something that needs doing.
The important thing here is to keep things manageable. If the whole house is a disaster area, then the idea of tackling that big job can be just too daunting, so break it down into much smaller bits that are easily achievable. Don’t try to clean the whole house at once – just do one job now, say clean the dishes, and then commit to doing one more tomorrow, for example, cleaning the bathroom.
Your purposeful activity brings you focus, you feel satisfaction for getting something that’s been nagging at you completed and you have a plan to continue with fulfilling your obligations. Now, instead of feeling guilt and dread when looking at your dirty house, you can feel satisfaction and hope…all from just washing the dishes and making a plan to do one more thing!
Activity Can Energize You
While you may feel far too tired to drag yourself out to do something fun or to accomplish something that needs doing, the fatigue of depression is actually worsened by laying around doing nothing and actually reversed by getting out and doing something active – and once you have a little more energy you may just feel like you’re ready to do something else that will bring you even more energy!2
Activity Can Get Your Endorphins Going
Any type of activity that gets your heart rate pumping can lead to an endorphin release and the feel-good benefits of exercise. Moderate exercise is a proven depression beater that also reduces immune chemicals associated with depression.3
So don’t wait until you feel like getting out and doing something – when you’re depressed that day may never come, instead force yourself into action and into doing things you enjoy and things that need doing, and you will soon start reaping the benefits in mood and happiness.
Start small but make a list of a couple of fun activities and a couple activities that need doing and make a commitment to complete these activities over the next few days. It’s important to start off with things that, although you don’t want to do, you know you can manage with reasonable effort.
- Don’t start off by deciding to paint the whole house, start off by deciding to water the flowers
- Don’t start off by deciding to attend the all-day company picnic, start off by committing to spending a few minutes today going for a walk, or reading a book
As you start adding activity to your routine, increase it as you’re able, one manageable step at a time - one manageable day at a time. You can do it and you will feel better for it.
Not sure where to get started? Here’s a list of ideas for you to think about trying.
- Read a book, do a crossword, play computer games
- Take a bath, do your nails, get a hair cut
- Go for a walk around the block
- Do yoga
- Play a musical instrument
- Put on some music you like
- Watch a movie, take some time to watch the sunset or look at the stars
- Go out for a meal with a friend, go to the movies with a friend, go to a sporting event
- Paint or draw or do something else artistic
- Go swimming or go to the beach and sunbathe
- Go shopping for a new outfit
- Go for a walk and get an ice cream cone
- Get more involved with your hobbies, whatever they may be
- Cook yourself a good meal
- Go for a short bike ride, or go for a hike on a nature trail
- Clean the house,
- Wash the dishes
- Catch up on a work project
- Pay some bills
- Answer a few emails
Do whatever you enjoy and whatever needs doing! The point isn’t to stress too much about what you should do, and just get out and do anything…it’s all in the doing.
Page last updated 07/07/2015