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5 Tips for Overcoming Depression Exhaustion

Managing Depression

November 11, 2022

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Illustration by Brittany England

Illustration by Brittany England

by Maya Capasso

•••••

Kendra Kubala, PsyD

Medically Reviewed

•••••

•••••

by Maya Capasso

•••••

Kendra Kubala, PsyD

Medically Reviewed

•••••

•••••

Fatigue is a common symptom of depression. Some helpful ways to combat it can include realistic goal setting, positive self-talk, and even doing the opposite of what you might think.

Over the past few weeks, my depression has been kicking me in the butt. I recently moved to a new place and quit my part-time job to pursue freelance writing full-time — both exciting but stressful events in my life.

I started to notice that I was snoozing my alarm more and more. All I want to do is lie in bed and stare at the wall, not get up every day and live my life. That’s where the shame starts creeping in. I wonder, “why can’t I get up and work like everyone else? What is wrong with me?”

The truth is, there is nothing wrong with me. I am among the 21 million adults in the United States who experience depression. Research suggests that more than 90% of people living with depression cope with fatigue and exhaustion due to major depressive disorder.

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5 actionable tips to help you get your energy back

Here are some strategies that helped me get out of the exhaustion cycle and get back into my life. First, you need to focus on actually letting your body relax. Next, I’ll talk about the tools I use to get myself off the couch and out of my slump.

1. If you need rest, let yourself rest

If you’ve been through a stressful event recently and feel exhausted and unmotivated, you may be experiencing burnout. In this case, the best thing you can do for yourself is to give yourself the time and space to rest. If you try to push through by working hard and taxing yourself, you can become more tired and depressed.

Similarly, remember that depression is a disability. You may not be able to work 8-hour days. You may be unable to spend the whole day doing chores, errands, and housework. Know that it is entirely OK, and you deserve access to accommodations.

That being said, rest is indeed a luxury for many people in our society. For some of us, if we take a day off, we don’t get paid and can’t afford to pay our bills. If you’re in a state of financial crisis, it may not be realistic for you to rest for an extended period right now.

If you find yourself in a situation like this, you can still integrate rest into your day-to-day schedule. Try to find 30 minutes to watch a delightful episode of your favorite TV show, or even 5 minutes in the morning to meditate.

2. Set smaller, achievable goals

For those of us who are stuck in a cycle of fatigue where we find ourselves trapped in bed, setting time aside to relax probably won’t help. In these moments, we need tools to help us get up and take our lives back.

A significant first step can include small, achievable goals. Rather than scheduling out your entire day with a complex to-do list, focus on one thing, like taking a shower. If taking a shower feels like too much, set a goal of washing your face. You’re taking a step forward when you set goals you know you can achieve that cause minimal stress. And when you cross it off your list, you’ll get a boost of pride knowing you did what you set out to do.

3. Opposite action

Part of the trouble with the cycle of depression and fatigue is that it causes people to feel stuck. One way to approach this is by doing the opposite of what your brain tells you to do. When you’re feeling terrible and don’t want to move from the couch, do the opposite. Get up and move. That could look like taking a walk around the block, playing music and dancing around the room, or even stretching your muscles for 10 minutes.

You can use the opposite action in many ways. At night, when I desperately want to stay awake in hopes of postponing the next day, I make a point of getting ready for bed and lying down even when that’s the last thing I want to do. I often fall asleep immediately and am less tired the next day.

If you keep canceling plans or ignoring your friends’ texts, maybe it’s time to reach out and set up some low key plans. While depression may make you want to isolate, interacting with people you love can help improve energy levels and boost your mood.

4. Be kind to yourself

One of the most critical pieces is to be kind to yourself. Use positive self-talk to remind yourself that you’re not lazy. You’re struggling with a mental health condition.

Be easy on yourself and try not to reprimand yourself if you can’t meet a goal. Every day with depression is different, which means that tomorrow, you have another chance to try again.

5. Reach out to your health care provider

If all else fails, it might be time to reach out to your therapist, psychiatrist, or preferred health care provider for additional help. A professional perspective can help you figure out if something else is contributing to the issue or point you towards some other solutions.

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What causes depression fatigue?

You are not exhausted all the time because you’re doing something wrong. You have a mental health condition. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, depression is considered a psychiatric disability, and it interferes with your ability to complete daily tasks and activities. Here are some reasons you may be experiencing fatigue due to depression.

  • Stress. If you’re undergoing stressful life situations, you might know that stress can sometimes make your depression symptoms worse. High stress situations are tiring for everyone, so it makes sense that stress coupled with depression can be utterly exhausting.
  • Unhealthy sleep hygiene and eating habits. For those struggling with depression, establishing healthy sleeping and eating habits can be tricky. Undereating, overeating, and a lack of sleep can all negatively impact energy levels.
  • Medication side effects. Taking the proper medication for your depression can benefit your mental health. But be sure to pay attention to the side effects. Many depression medications can contributed to exhaustion and lethargy.

The stigma doesn’t help

The stigma around depression in our society really hammers on the fatigue aspect of the condition. One of the biggest challenges for me when it comes to coping with my exhaustion is the shame that comes with it. Our capitalist society expects everyone to value productivity over personal needs.

Remember: You are not lazy. You are coping with genuine pain, and exhaustion is your body telling you to step back because life feels like too much right now. If you’re struggling with the shame that comes with your fatigue, I highly recommend reading the book “Laziness Does Not Exist” by social psychologist, Dr. Devon Price.

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The bottom line

If you struggle with exhaustion as a symptom of depression, you’re not alone. If you need rest, you deserve to rest. There is no shame in taking time to let your body relax. That being said, taking action is essential when you notice you’re stuck in a cycle of depressive fatigue.

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About the author

Maya Capasso

Maya (she/they) is a professional freelance writer and cold pitch coach. Her writing is featured in TransLash News & Narrative, HorrorPress, the Episodes Newsletter, and more. They’re passionate about mental health advocacy and social justice. She manages the Accessible Cold Pitch blog and email newsletter to help freelancers connect with their ideal clients. You can follow her on Twitter or Instagram.

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