You may (or may not) know the feeling. Those days when you wake up and struggle to get out of bed. It’s not that you don’t have anything to do – in fact, the chores may be piling up. But all you can seem to think is: “I don't want to do anything”. Along with the lack of motivation, you feel more irritable and fatigued than usual, and you may even beat yourself up for feeling like this.
I’ve been there. I know that the struggle with motivation is real and uphill. And I know that it can affect everyone; even those of us who are usually active. So, what can be done about it?
Low motivation and lack of energy can be caused by different things. Knowing the source of your lethargy is important, especially since certain forms of demotivation are linked to depression.
One of the distinctive symptoms of depression is something called anhedonia. This is the inability to find pleasure or enjoyment, even in activities that we would normally love. Anhedonia can interfere with self-care and leave you feeling empty and demotivated.
Learn how to tackle lethargic feelings
However, not all demotivation is a symptom of depression. So, how can you tell apathy from something more serious, like anhedonia? Generally speaking, if the mood lasts more than two weeks and you see no improvement, it might be a sign of a mental health issue like depression. Since anhedonia may have a neurobiological basis, it’s best to get a professional diagnosis so you can be referred to a specialist.
After being exposed to stress for a long time, both mind and body can shut down, leading to what’s known as burnout. And, during burnout, feeling like you don't want to do anything can be a regular occurrence.
A common misunderstanding is that burnout is only work-related, but that’s not true. The stress of the pandemic has taken its psychological toll of many, and has even led to a new expression being coined: Covid burnout. This is characterized by a sense of feeling overwhelmed, low-level anxiety and a lack of motivation.
Burnout is often a sign that some important needs are not being met. If you’re going through this, you need time to recover, honour your needs, and make changes to your daily routine until you get your usual energy levels back.
Whether the low mood is the result of burnout or something else, there are other useful steps you can take to cope better with the 'I don't want to do anything' feeling.
Have you noticed how sometimes, the more you try to ignore an emotion, the stronger it becomes? This is because emotions are more than just feelings: they carry a message that wants to be heard.
The same can happen if you try to fight your 'I don't want to do anything' mood. Low energy and low motivation are important messages you need to pay attention to. If you ignore them, or push yourself to stay busy, the messages may become louder and stay with you for longer.
“Use your 'I don't want to do anything' mood as an opportunity to take a break, and don’t feel guilty about it, because obviously you need it in order to get back to your usual self.”
So, if you don’t feel like doing anything, accept that this is your reality – today. But notice that I wrote 'today'. Because here’s the caveat: acceptance is a good strategy if you see your demotivation as a temporary setback, but it’s not a wild card to complacency. In other words, don’t use acceptance as an excuse for long-term self-pity or self-sabotage.
If a dear friend told you they didn’t feel like doing anything, what would you say to them? Chances are you would be kind, understanding and compassionate. Is that how you’re treating yourself, or are you doing the opposite?
We often treat ourselves worse than we treat our loved ones, but this double standard can be damaging to our mental and emotional health. So, why not extend your ability to feel compassion to yourself?
Related: How to be your own best friend
Maybe you’ve gone through a lot in the past few months. Maybe you’ve had to adapt to a new job, lost a job, or had to move homes. It’s normal to feel unsettled or mentally exhausted. Acknowledge what you’ve achieved so far, acknowledge your struggles, and the fact that ups and downs are a part of life.
Use your 'I don't want to do anything' mood as an opportunity to take a break – and don’t feel guilty about it, because obviously you need it in order to get back to your usual self.
There’s no recipe as to what 'me time' should include; what matters is that it works for you. It could be anything from taking a whole day off to simply rest and relax, or having a nice bath and curling up in bed with a book or a movie.
'Take a break' may be the message that this mood carries, or it may be the first step towards figuring out what the message is. Either way, 'me time' will take some pressure off so you can see things from a more balanced perspective.
Soak up some 'me time' shutterstock/Breslavtsec Oleg
It’s easy to fall into a rut of feeling “meh” and letting days merge into one. To avoid that, it could be helpful to keep track of how your moods, ideally in writing. You can start by describing your feelings more specifically. You may feel like doing nothing, but what emotions are attached to this? Is it anger, frustration, sadness or something else? Defining our feelings is the first step in learning how to manage them.
“It’s easy to fall into a rut of feeling 'meh' and letting days merge into one. To avoid that, it could be helpful to keep track of how your moods, ideally in writing.”
You should also try journaling. Keeping a written account of your feelings can help you detect patterns or spot the things that could be making you feel worse. This is all important to help you stay away from what’s not helping and move towards motivating or inspiring activities and routines. Here are six different journaling techniques that you can try.
When you don't want to do anything, planning for the future can be overwhelming. But staying stuck in the present will do little to improve your mood and energy levels. Ideally, you want to keep an eye on the future in a way that feels manageable. This is important, because having a vision for the future is essential to motivation: as humans, we’re created to make plans and be involved in projects.
You can try to choose a few actions that require planning, like going for a hike or an overnight camping trip, redecorating a room in your house, or preparing your favourite meal. When you’re demotivated, doing any of these things may feel like too much, but the key is choosing something you’d normally enjoy – or have always wanted to do – and visualizing the entire experience. Picture each step, how it will make you feel, create momentum through visualization, and then make the plans needed to make it happen.
This is something I do when I feel like I don't want to do anything. I find a comfy spot, put a few drops of my favourite essential oil in a burner, and I make a list of 50 things that make me feel good. If you’re thinking that coming up with 50 things is a stretch … you’re right! But that’s part of the exercise, because that will keep your brain focused on positive topics for quite a while.
I like this exercise for two reasons:
Positive emotions underpin psychological well-being, and can also prepare you to cope better with adverse life events.
When you feel down, thinking that nobody is there for you or that no one understands you can make things worse. You may not want to 'bother' friends or family, or you may think that they won’t have a solution to your problems, so what’s the point, anyway?
But again, this is a matter of treating yourself like you’d treat your loved ones, so seek the comfort you need. This is valuable, even if you don’t get a magical solution that makes everything right. Studies have shown that sharing our concerns can help reduce emotional pain and become less reactive to negative events.
If you’re stuck in 'I don't want to do anything' mood, remember that this too shall pass. Take this as an opportunity to rest and practise self-compassion, trying some of the suggestions listed in this article. With a bit of patience, you’ll hopefully overcome this and be back to your usual self. However, if you don't seen improvements in your apathy and lethargy, do seek help from a medical professional (advice below). •
Main image: shutterstock/amenic181
If you're experiencing any of the signs of depression make sure to reach out to your local mental health services. In the US, you can also contact the National Suicide Prevention Hotline for free and confidential support. Use Lifeline Chat or call 1-800-273-TALK (8255). In the UK, call 116 123 to talk to Samaritans, or email: [email protected] for a reply within 24 hours. You can also text “SHOUT” to 85258 to contact the Shout Crisis Text Line, or text “YM” if you are under 19.
Are you a happiness.com member?
Join free now and:
■ enjoy our happiness magazine
■ share and support in our happiness forum
■ Develop with free online Academy classes
A social sciences graduate with a keen interest in languages, communication, and personal development strategies. Dee loves exercising, being out in nature, and discovering warm and sunny places where she can escape the winter.
From boosting your mood to lowering stress, the power of kindness is real. In fact, science shows the benefits of being kind are greater for the
The coronavirus pandemic put a stop to embracing friends and family. But the power of a hug should never been underestimated. With National Hugging
Shadow work involves examining our personality flaws in an attempt to understand ourselves better. It's tough work but hugely beneficial.
Join the conversation
You are posting as a guest. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.
There are no comments to display.