Too Depressed to Work? Here’s How to Find Motivation to Work When You’re Depressed

May 23, 2024

Written by Colter Bloxom, LPC
Colter is a licensed psychotherapist and the owner and founder of Thrive Therapy. He specializes in the treatment of anxiety, OCD, anxiety, identity issues, and more.

One of the hardest parts of living with major depressive disorder is the way it drains you of all motivation and energy. Depression, especially in its most severe forms, tends to make its way into every corner of your life. After developing depression, it can feel almost impossible to get motivated for anything, including work. 

How to get motivated to work when you’re depressed is a challenge that can feel overwhelming and, at times, even unconquerable. Unfortunately, for most of us, work is a cornerstone of life. Most people need to work for their livelihoods, and, if you’re lucky, you may gain purpose and meaning from your work as well.

If you feel too depressed to work, then read on — in this article, I’ll lay out 5 steps to feel more motivated when you’re depressed at work.

If you’re battling the effects of depression at work and in the rest of your life, then our mental health intensive outpatient program (IOP) in Phoenix, AZ can help. Learn more!

How to get motivated when you’re depressed at work

Finding the motivation to work can be a challenge on the best days, and major depressive disorder can make that lack of motivation even more intense. When left unaddressed, workplace depression can keep you from being as successful — and, more importantly, happy — as you could be at work.

I’m a licensed therapist, and here are 5 things that I’d recommend to my clients when combatting a lack of motivation at work due to depression.

Remember self-care is about the basics

People are always talking about self-care, but try to remember that the most effective self-care is just about meeting your basic mental and physical needs. Self-care shouldn’t be complicated, and it doesn’t need to feel like a chore. Time-consuming self-care tasks can feel like just another insurmountable task on your list, especially when you have severe depression.

Forget about the elaborate self-care activities for now, and get back to basics. For example, are you eating enough and getting enough nutrients? How about your sleep? How much are you moving your body every day? Have you seen the sun in the past few days?

These things may seem basic, but they make a big difference in your mood and motivation and help to build positive mental health. By prioritizing basic self-care like restful sleep, nutritious meals, and simple physical activity, you can start to take the first steps to combat depression and find some motivation to work.

Reward yourself

Rewards are a basic component of learning theory and behavior change, and used in the right way, can be used to motivate yourself when you’re feeling the effects of depression or other mental health disorders at work. 

Regardless of mental health conditions like depression, there may be some things in life that you continue to feel excited about. For example, is it a vacation? Is it quality time with your partner or family? Do you feel excited about tangible rewards, like a piece of clothing you’ve longed for or a sweet treat at the end of the week?

Identify what it is that motivates you, and use those things as rewards for reaching specific goals at work. 

This may not be helpful for more severe depression or when you’re too depressed to work at all,  but for mild or moderate depression that makes it difficult to feel motivated, it can help keep you going.

How to get motivated when depressed

Focus on the big picture

The everyday “to-do list” at work can start to become redundant and annoying, even when you’re in the best of moods. When you’re going through a depressive episode, these seemingly unimportant tasks can become so cumbersome that you just can’t be bothered. 

If you're dealing with depression at work, instead of trying to motivate yourself to take on individual tasks, move toward focusing on the bigger picture. What are your overarching goals at work or life in general, and how do the tiny, individual tasks (that often feel like “busy work”) help you achieve them?

For example, maybe you’re having a hard time gathering motivation to finish a report. Depression at work makes you even less motivated. You just can’t find it in yourself to care about this boring task.

But let’s say you’re going on vacation soon. You may not be motivated to complete the report, but you’re motivated to be worry-free on your vacation. You’re motivated to be able to enjoy your time on vacation with your family without dreading the report that’s waiting for you when you return to the office.

If you can’t find the motivation to work, but are still able to find enjoyment or inspiration in other areas of life, then it can be helpful to focus on your overarching values and goals. Focus on the bigger picture, and what work allows you to have — not on the work itself.

Ask for accommodations

Depression is a common but serious mental illness. In many cases, it’s legally protected as a disability under the American Disabilities Act (ADA). This means that people with depression are entitled to workplace accommodations to help them be as effective and successful as possible at work.

In practice, getting ADA accommodations for depression can be a complex issue, and reports show that over 40% of people don’t feel comfortable talking about their mental health, like depression, at work. Whether or not to disclose your depression diagnosis at work is a personal choice that you should consider seriously.

But in a supportive workplace, asking for accommodations for depression can make a big difference. For example, you may be able to work from home on days when commuting to the office feels too overwhelming, or take some time away to prioritize intensive treatment (like an intensive outpatient program). This may not increase your motivation at work, but can make it easier to work despite the effects of depression.

Get depression treatment

If you have no motivation to work due to depression or other mental health issues, then these tips may help, but at the end of the day, you’ll have to address the underlying problem — depression symptoms — to see a difference. Often, the job isn’t the problem. You may even have loved your job before depression took the enjoyment away.

Depression robs the pleasure from everything in life, including work. So while you can use the above tips to try to gather some motivation — and they may be helpful — until you get depression treatment, you may not be able to feel motivated for anything at all. 

Fortunately, there are many effective treatment methods for depression available to us today, including individual therapy and antidepressant medication. If you are experiencing severe depression (or another mental illness), and aren’t able to work because of depression symptoms, then a more intensive treatment – like a mental health IOP — can be helpful. 


Depression can cause a serious lack of motivation that can affect your ability to succeed at work. You can follow these tips to feel more motivated, but if you feel too depressed to work, then you need professional mental health treatment. Depression is nothing to be ashamed of, but ignoring it isn’t likely to make it go away.

At Thrive Phoenix, our expansive team of therapists offers a wide range of therapeutic modalities and expertise to help you overcome depression, get your motivation back, and get back to your life. Our intensive outpatient program can support even those with treatment-resistant depression or more severe symptoms.

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