How To Increase Motivation When Experiencing Depression-Related Apathy

Medically reviewed by Paige Henry
Updated February 20, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
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While it is not an official clinical diagnosis, depression-related apathy can significantly impact daily functioning. Apathy often involves poor concentration, low self-esteem, lack of emotion, low mood, tiredness, loss of interest, feeling unmotivated, and rejecting social connections. 

The emotional indifference and lack of motivation associated with apathy can make it challenging to motivate yourself to make changes, which may keep you in a cycle of depression and difficulty caring for your mental or physical health. To understand this phenomenon, it can be helpful to identify the cause of the apathy and treat the underlying mental health condition. In some cases, professional support can be valuable. 

Cope with apathy depression

Determining the causes and symptoms of depression 

While apathy is not listed as a mental health condition in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), apathetic feelings are a symptom of several mental health conditions, including but not limited to depressive disorders, anxiety disorders, and brain disorders. 

According to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Directors Association, feelings of apathy are a symptom of decreased cognitive function and delirium. It is also a common symptom of Alzheimer's disease. 

In some cases, apathy syndrome appears when life events—such as a significant loss in the family or a divorce—cause extreme emotional distress. Having apathy is a way for the mind to defend itself from that distress by suppressing complicated feelings, so you can move forward and attempt to distract yourself. However, suppressing emotions and experiencing apathy may have physical health consequences.  

Studies suggest that apathy can look different and have varied characteristics depending on the cause. Because of these differences, healthcare professionals in clinical practice may be mindful of the individual's medical history and mental health concerns when diagnosing or treating apathy.

How to find motivation when experiencing apathy

There may be ways to regain motivation, including lifestyle changes that you can consider for reducing apathy, including the following. 

Get out of bed 

People experiencing depression might experience the urge to stay in bed the entire day, skip work, or ignore personal responsibilities. It could be challenging, but consider taking one or two steps out of bed. Once you're up, go to the kitchen and drink a glass of water. You can also consider other tasks you might be able to complete while you're there. However, try not to pressure yourself too much, as it could worsen symptoms. Doing a minor task or making small progress can be better than making no progress. 

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Make your bed each morning 

Even if you feel unmotivated to complete housework or cleaning, making your bed each morning may help you feel that your space is cleaner. Studies show that people in messy homes often have higher levels of cortisol (the stress hormone), so keeping your home clean could reduce symptoms of apathy.  

Go outside 

Sitting outside or going for a walk may increase your motivation levels. Sunshine may boost your mood and exercise the endorphin levels in your brain. In addition, the sun is a source of vitamin D. If you live in a cloudy, dark, or cold environment, your depression may be worsened by a lack of light or a vitamin D deficiency. In these cases, taking a vitamin D supplement and spending time in the sun or with a sun lamp can be beneficial. 

Track your success 

Success and confidence can initiate a positive cycle. At the end of each day, write down three ways you were successful that day. These three successes might involve getting dressed, making your bed, and cooking dinner.

Create a routine 

It may be easier to stick to routines when they've become habits in your daily life. Habits are actions you take without thinking. Try to create habits for your morning and evening to help you maintain a healthy level of self-care.

Don't withdraw from friends and family members 

When you feel apathetic, seeing others can be challenging. However, spending time with positive people who make you laugh could improve your mood. It may help to confide in the people closest to you about your feelings of apathy for support. 

Eat healthy food

Some people experiencing depression feel indifferent to eating. However, depriving your body of nutrients might not improve your mood. If you struggle to eat a full meal, focus on eating healthy snacks throughout the day. You might put them in a snack cart for easy reach. 

Get enough sleep 

Studies suggest that unhealthy sleep patterns, including not getting enough sleep, can have an adverse effect on mood. A lack of sleep can exacerbate your feelings of apathy and reduce motivation due to exhaustion or a lack of mental clarity. 

Talk to a therapist 

Some individuals may be affected by apathy for extended periods, and even with the above lifestyle changes, it can be difficult for them to move on. In these situations, the apathy may be related to a mental health condition. When living with a mental health condition like depression or anxiety, it can be challenging to perform daily tasks. You may benefit from speaking to a therapist to address these areas. 

Cope with apathy depression

Counseling options 

Feelings of apathy can interfere with daily life, but professional support may be an option for managing these feelings. Through understanding your symptoms, your therapist can help you build up your repertoire of coping skills to include methods you can try at home to improve motivation. In some cases, a therapist may refer you to a medical doctor, like a psychiatrist, for medication management if you're looking for medication to help you get motivated. 

If you struggle with motivation to leave home, it can be challenging to get support. In these cases, online therapy through a platform like BetterHelp can help you discover the root cause of the apathy and depression from home. Through an online program, you can choose between phone, video, and live chat options and match with a therapist experienced in treating common mental health concerns like depression, which may cause apathy. 

Peer-reviewed studies have shown that online therapy can effectively treat depression and similar mental health concerns that can produce apathy as a symptom. By using the techniques used in therapy to redirect your thoughts, you can re-engage with your interests and feel motivated again. Online therapy can be effective and convenient; you can speak to a counselor from the comfort of your home at any time. 

Takeaway

Depression-related apathy or apathy on its own can be challenging and cause difficulties with motivation. Trying a few lifestyle changes, like eating healthy and sleeping well, may help you start to make changes. However, you're not alone if you're struggling to cope independently. A therapist can offer compassionate guidance as you work through this often temporary symptom.

Depression is treatable, and you're not alone

The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.
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