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How to Get Something Done When You’re Feeling Down

By | Alice Boyes | hbr.org

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.

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 But in depression, this self-protective, withdrawn, low-energy mode essentially gets stuck “on,” and becomes unhelpful.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.

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