How to Motivate Yourself to Workout if You’re Depressed

As anyone with depression can tell you, there is a no force more powerful than the ever-present darkness which looms over your head during an episode.

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Photo Credit: Jenny Hill on Unsplash

It can suck all trace of motivation from you. Leaving you, at times, even unable to get out of bed in the morning.

But life doesn’t stop for depression and your goals and dreams along with it, so if you’re trying to stick to a regular workout– or anything else– you’ll need to know how to get yourself moving even when you’re down.

The ironic thing is exercise has been shown to help quite a bit with depressive symptoms. But if you can’t get yourself to go workout, it’s not much use.

And that’s really the struggle with depression when it comes to motivation. We all procrastinate, that’s perfectly normal. But depression intensifies this and magnifies it several times over, becoming something much more than just procrastination.

But it is possible, with the right process, to make it far more likely that you’ll be able to push yourself up to workout.

And every time you get yourself going it becomes easier, not just because working out makes you feel a bit better but because you remember how it made you feel– and that memory is a powerful motivator that can pierce through the darkness like a lighthouse.

It is very hard to explain to people who have never known serious depression or anxiety the sheer continuous intensity of it. There is no off switch.

– Matt Haig

Here are some tips for motivating yourself to workout if you’re depressed.

Start super small

Starting small is probably the most important point of all because of how depression works.

When depressed, not meeting your expectations can send you spiraling into a pattern of self-doubt and self-blame that is very difficult to get out of.

Instead, set very small and easily attainable goals– like doing ten push-ups, jogging once around your corner, or walking up and down a flight of steps once– that will then motivate and encourage you to do more.

And don’t worry about starting small slowing your progress. Like the inventor that asked for one grain of rice to double for each chessboard square, if you build on each sequential step then very quickly you’ll be wherever you want to go in your workout and fitness goals.

Don’t worry about doing it every day, just condition a routine

You don’t have to do something every day to make it a habit. I know when most hear that it’s a pretty big relief.

The truth is what matters far more is that you’re consistent, not perfect.


Three days a week, five days a week, whatever you deem your ideal schedule, just work on sticking to it as best as you can.

If you’re working out M-W-F but miss Friday, work out Saturday. It won’t hurt you in the long-run and it will have allowed you to maintain the habit.

Hold yourself accountable

Creating a system of accountability allows you not only to see your progress but it motivates you to stick to it, if for no reason other than knowing how you’ll feel if you don’t.

This can be something as simple as a checklist you mark off for each day you do your particular workout task. Really nothing crazy is necessary, just that you stick to it each week, review it, and celebrate your progress as you go as best you can.

Get professional help

Another form of accountability, getting professional help can be useful for the same reasons.

However, professional help offers the added benefit of having someone outside yourself to give you a sense of perspective and push you when you really aren’t feeling it.

Whether it’s a mental health professional you see regularly, a personal trainer, or someone else, a professional can be right there in your ear regularly encouraging you and helping you stick to your goals, offering additional advice in their area of expertise as well that can help along the way.

Reward yourself systematically

Depression is often a sequence of progressively more damaging thought patterns.

Like a spiral staircase that leads to darkness, you need to set up blockades and detours that allow you to change your pattern from a downward trajectory to upward– or at least level yourself out until the storm settles and you’re able to walk back to the surface and get some good ol’ sunlight.

By creating a system for rewarding yourself you can do just that by changing the dialogue– at least to some degree– from constantly reflecting on what you haven’t done and aren’t doing to what you have done and where you’re going (somewhere positive).


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