Lack of Motivation? Depression Could Be the Cause

If you're experiencing a lack of motivation to do what you enjoy, it's one of several signs of depression or other mood disorders.

lack of motivation

Are you feeling hard-pressed every morning to get out of bed? Your lack of motivation could be rooted in depression. There are ways to get back on track, as our post discusses.

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You have lack of motivation to participate in the things you love. You feel hopeless. You’re fatigued, unable to sleep well or concentrate. As a result, your relationships at home and work suffer. If you’re bogged down by a lack of motivation, don’t just chalk it up to boredom or a momentary feeling of being “down in the dumps.” It may be one of a number of signs you have depression, and, if it persists, it may adversely affect your overall health.

Fortunately, there’s plenty you can do to reverse your mood’s downward spiral, counter a lack of motivation, and regain your mojo. And, it may involve a little help from your friends and family.

Lack of Motivation? These Are Your Warning Signs

There are countless pathways to depression. A biochemical imbalance. A loss of a loved one. A relationship upset. A loss of structure due to retirement or loss of employment.

According to the National Institutes of Health, in 2016 nearly 7 percent of all U.S. adults experienced a major depressive episode, defined as a period of at least two weeks of having depressed mood, loss of interest or pleasure, and other symptoms.

Depression can manifest differently from person to person, but in general, you should be alert for these common warning signs:

  • Feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, regret, or worthlessness
  • Feeling as if you’re a burden to your family or friends
  • Concentration problems; decreased mental sharpness
  • Changes in appetite
  • Increased irritability, anger, or aggressiveness
  • Changes in sleep habits (increased or decreased sleep; difficulty falling or staying asleep)
  • Impulsive/escapist behavior (gambling, spending too much time at work, or “overdoing” recreational pursuits)
  • Suicidal thoughts

People with depression often exhibit a lack of motivation to engage in normally pleasurable activities, such as their favorite hobbies, or sex. They may become increasingly isolated and avoid social engagements, such as outings with their loved ones. A lack of social engagement has been associated with an increased risk of cognitive decline.

Depression can affect more than your mood and relationships. It can worsen chronic pain conditions, have adverse effects on sexual function, and cause sleep disorders.

Is a Lack of Motivation Bad-Habit-Forming?

Importantly, if you’re depressed, you might develop a lack of motivation to take care of yourself and follow good lifestyle habits, such as eating a healthful diet and exercising regularly. You might turn to alcohol, tobacco, or drugs to cope with your depression.

All of these factors may explain, in part, why research supports a link between depression and an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, heart attack, and stroke.

Considering all of these potential ramifications of depression, experts such as the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommend that all adults be screened for depression in a primary care setting equipped to provide follow-up care. Your primary care physician can refer you to more specialized care, if necessary.

So, if you haven’t already, talk to your doctor about your lack of motivation and loss of interest in the things you enjoy, and ask about screening for depression. Just be open to discussing your mood and the variety of strategies that can help you reclaim your life.

Hold the Pills

When you seek treatment for depression, don’t expect to be given a medication and then sent on your way. Many mental health professionals emphasize non-drug approaches—namely lifestyle changes such as staying physically, socially, and intellectually active—as the foundation of treatment.

If you have a lack of motivation to get out and get moving, invite a friend or loved one to exercise with you. You can help each other adhere to a regular exercise routine, even on those days when you don’t feel like it. (See our posts The Benefits of Walking and Yoga for Beginners.)

Involving someone in your physical activity regimen also keeps you socially engaged and, in the right circumstances, can challenge you intellectually as well.

Furthermore, consider counseling strategies like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), in which you’re asked about your emotions, thoughts, beliefs, and behavioral choices in an attempt to identify negative thoughts or behaviors and replace them with positive ones.

As part of CBT, you might take part in meditative approaches, such as prayer, yoga, tai chi, and mindfulness training, in which you sit quietly, focus on your breath, and stay aware of the present moment. With the help of CBT, many people acquire the skills to combat depression over time.

Medication Options

If non-drug strategies fail to provide sufficient improvements in your depression symptoms, your physician may prescribe an antidepressant medication. Drugs known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors—paroxetine (Paxil) and sertraline (Zoloft) are examples—and serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors, such as duloxetine (Cymbalta) and venlafaxine (Effexor), can be effective tools you can use to function better and counter depression.

The medications may cause drowsiness, dry mouth, nausea, and other side effects. And, keep in mind that you might need to use the medications for several weeks before you see improvements. You may have to try more than one antidepressant to find the one that works for you.


This article was originally published in 2018. It is regularly updated. 

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