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  • Q&A with Australian Health Practitioners

    How do I motivate myself while suffering depression?

    Over the last 6 years I have lost 25kg & was weight training & running about 50km p/w until about 18mths ago when I fell into a deep depression. I am also going through menopause.

    I have booked a holiday to Europe in 8 months, I'm hoping this will kick me to loose about 8kg & fit back into my clothes. I used running to get rid of enormous stress that I was under and now I don't want to run or even gym as all this reminds me of the stress I was under but I also know that exercise is the best thing for my depression.

    How can I change that thought pattern, my psychologist tells me I just have to keep telling myself to “just do it”, that hasn't worked for the last 3mths. I also don't want the pain my body used to go through (i know that was a good pain) but I know at the beginning that will happen.
  • Find a professional to answer your question

  • Nicholas Karam

    Exercise Physiologist

    Specialist treatment for injury rehabilitation, management of diabetes, weight management, corporate health View Profile


    Your scenario is not uncommon. Firstly, motivation is an important topic for indviduals wanting to participate in Physical Activity (PA) with or without depression. There is no denying that your depression will/is impacting on your motivation levels.

    However, there are postivies in your favour as well. You have a history of participating in PA (and achieiving GREAT results!) and you also at a good stage in terms of willingness to change your current PA pattern.

    Motiviation comes in two forms: Extrinsic & Intrinsic. I suggest that you physically list down all your current extrinsic & instrinic motivations and keep this with you when you are going through the thought process of ‘getting started today’. Also, take advantage when you are having a ‘good’ day/period and try to start at one of these points. Another idea would be to start with a training partner - someone who is reliable, that will not offend you if they push you and is at a similar level physically.

    Unfortunately, have been inactive (or less active) for 18months you will feel some ‘pain’ at the start. The obvious thing is to minimise this by not going ‘too hard too soon’. Work your way back slowly…maybe use a rating system and don't push more than 6-7 / 10 for the first 6 weeks or so. If you go too hard too soon this will have a negative effect.

    All the best!

  • 2


    Brendan McMahon


    Brendan McMahon is a Brisbane based psychologist who has been working in the counselling and psychotherapy field since 1999. He has experience in both hospital … View Profile

    Generally speaking, when trying to motivate yourself when having depression it can be very difficult, one of the key symptoms of depression is a thing called Anhedonia, which roughly speaking means you lose pleasure in things you used to enjoy. It can therefore be very, very hard to get motivated when you’re experiencing that because it seems like all the joy out of things you used to enjoy are gone. One way you can help with motivation is to remind yourself of the benefits that you used to get from doing certain activities and the possible gains that you might get. Sometimes when you go to exercise, it might be useful to break it down into manageable chunks, not thinking that you have to do everything all at once.

    A good starting point you might find it useful to keep a thought diary about what’s going on in your own mind, what are some of the thoughts that come up that might be preventing you from getting to do some exercise and getting yourself motivated? Sit down and ask yourself what sort of evidence there is to support some of the thoughts that you've had, and then, are there any possible alternative explanations for what’s going on in your own mind.

    It might also be useful to make a list of pros and cons of doing exercise. You may notice that when you look at the list the pros side actually outweighs the cons.

  • Monica Schweickle

    Clinical Psychologist, Psychologist

    Monica is a caring clinical psychologist with an interest in recovery from addictions, low self-esteem, social phobia, generalised anxiety disorder, perfectionism, post-traumatic stress disorder, child … View Profile

    It's so important to remember that during an episode of depression, your natural “zest” or motivation is diminished. So expecting yourself to be able to get up and perform at your level of fitness before depression could be problematic. The sense of “failure” at not achieving at your previous level of exercise can keep you feeling down and disappointed. That is, it is important to set achievable, realistic goals that reflect your abilities whilst you're depressed, and gradually work up to bigger goals to get back to where you were before. You could try setting a very small goal, one you know you can achieve in a one-week time frame, like “run for 5 minutes around the block this week” rather than “run 25km this week”. Even though such a goal might seem very small, the idea is you're building small successes and improving confidence gradually, rather than feeling repeatedly disappointed.
    A self-compassionate attitude in the way you speak to yourself about exercise, and rewarding yourself for even small gains, can greatly assist motivation too. Good luck,

  • 2


    Karen Amos

    Counsellor, Personal Trainer

    Walk and Talk is just what you need to begin living a life that you love. I'm Karen Amos and at Walk and Talk Australia … View Profile

    Hi there,
    Monica, Brendan and Nicholas have done a great job of looking at motivation and ways in which you can find your get up and go.  

    You mentioned in your question that you are going through menopause.  Have you had your levels of cortisol, oestrogen, progesterone and thryoid checked?  Each of these hormones are critical in maintaining your balance.  They also might explain why you have no ‘oompf’.  A book that may interest you is “The Hormone Cure” by Dr Sara Gottfried - you can find it on Amazon or ebook on iTunes.  There is a quiz you can take to see if your symptoms point to hormone imbalance.  

    I offer this not as a simple solution to ‘blame it on being hormonal’ but rather to add to the whole picture of what might be going on inside for you.  I am no expert at all on the subject of hormones, but I have worked with a number of clients going through menopause and thyroid issues, that present to me with depression.  When we begin to uncover what is happening in their body as well as their mind, then we can work out what needs a ‘Walk and Talk’ treatment and what needs and endocronologist.

    All the best and I hope you find something among our answers that helps you find your mojo again.

    Kindly - Karen

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