How to Get Something Done When You’re Feeling Down

How to Get Something Done When You’re Feeling Down

via the HBR by Alice Boyes

Summary: When people are depressed their energy, activity, and mood levels decrease in a spiral. The lower energy you feel, the less you do, the worse you feel emotionally, and the cycle continues. Being productive can help interrupt that negative spiral and turn it around. The author offers five strategies for how to break the cycle and move forward: 1) As a general rule, try to have one source of accomplishment and one source of pleasure in each of your mornings, afternoons, and evenings. 2) Find the sweet spot between not working enough and expecting too much of yourself. 3) Alternate between easy, medium, and hard tasks. 4) Cultivate a deep-work habit to reduce your need for self-control. 5) Consider getting treatment for your mental health.

Over the past two years, I’ve slogged through many, many unsuccessful rounds of fertility treatments trying to have a second child. To say the stress and grief from this has affected my mood and anxiety levels would be an understatement. It’s been hard not to plunge into a deep depression, and I’ve felt depressed for periods. Yet I’ve managed to stay reasonably functional and productive. How? Using tips from my psychology training that I’ve outlined here.

If you’re depressed, your number one job is to look after yourself. Productivity is secondary to your mental health. However, learning how to be productive when you’re feeling down can help with depression recovery. If your first reaction to this topic is that it feels like extra pressure, stick with me while I explain how and why being productive can help with depression.

All emotions have an evolved purpose. Sad, depressed, apathetic emotions cause us to pause, withdraw, and reflect deeply. This has self-protective aspects. Sometimes it’s wise to cocoon away from danger. Sometimes it’s wise to question what we find meaning in and not to keep plowing ahead doing the same things. But in depression, this self-protective, withdrawn, low-energy mode essentially gets stuck “on,” and becomes unhelpful. Instead of depressed feelings signaling the need to question whether what we’re doing with our lives is meaningful enough, everything starts to feel meaningless. Emotions are a signaling system. They help let you know when you’re safe versus in danger or heading in the right or the wrong direction. However, when they become prolonged, they lose their effectiveness as signals.

When people are depressed their energy, activity, and mood levels decrease in a spiral. The lower energy you feel, the less you do, the worse you feel emotionally, and the cycle continues. Being productive can help interrupt that negative spiral and turn it around. Here’s where to start.

1. Schedule daily sources of accomplishment and pleasure.

For mood health, we need two types of activities: those that provide a sense of accomplishment and those that provide pleasure. A well-researched therapy for depression called “Behavioral Activation” is based on this principle.

As a general rule, try to have one source of accomplishment and one source of pleasure in each of your mornings, afternoons, and evenings. These can be very simple. For example, a source of pleasure could be sitting in a sunny window to drink your morning coffee. A sense of accomplishment could come from a workout, vacuuming under your bed, or a work task.

Some people find it helpful to schedule activities in advance so they can more easily hit the recommendation of one pleasure activity and one mastery activity, per morning, afternoon, and evening. (You would end up with six per day — three for pleasure, and three for a sense of accomplishment.)

If you’re depressed, the pleasure you get from activities will typically be muted compared to normal. So, it may be a little harder to identify activities you would enjoy. This is another reason to schedule in advance. Start by brainstorming a list of the activities that provide either pleasure or a sense of mastery or accomplishment for you. Ask someone who knows you well to help if you feel stuck.

This tip benefits productivity in direct and indirect ways. Activities that provide a sense of mastery or accomplishment are productive, and the structure of this approach will benefit your biological rhythms and your mood…

… keep reading the full & original article HERE