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The Lethargy Cycle of Depression

Understand the different factors that contribute to depression and take steps to feel better.

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Depression is a mood disorder that is characterised by a persistent feeling of sadness that can last for a long period of time. It is a serious mental health condition that can occur without any apparent reason and can interfere with your daily functioning. 

This is what depression looks like:

  • Intense sadness that lasts for 2 weeks or longer
  • Loss of interest in activities you previously enjoyed
  • Fatigue/tiredness or a lack of energy and enthusiasm
  • Persistent negative thoughts about oneself, others and the world
  • Withdrawal from social situations
  • Physical symptoms, such as muscles pains, loss of appetite, and/or disrupted sleep patterns

Have you observed such changes within yourself? If so, you might also notice that you have become less energetic. You might no longer make an effort to go out or hang out with friends, and you may also have stopped carrying out activities that make you feel engaged and happy. 

Depression can create drastic changes in your life by affecting the way you think, feel and behave. More often than not, it is these drastic changes that interfere with recovery and make depression worse.  For instance, if you experience reduced energy levels or lack of motivation, you are less likely to interact with others. You might even choose not to go to work and might avoid daily responsibilities or any other important tasks. 

When you stop engaging in activities that you find enjoyable, you will notice a dip in your experience of positive emotions. This can further fuel pre-existing depressive symptoms – creating a vicious cycle that can be very hard to break. This is known as the Lethargy Cycle of Depression.

As you continue neglecting your tasks, they may pile up; you might then end up feeling overwhelmed with the number of things on your plate. Because of this, you may experience feelings of guilt or disappointment for not being able to complete work on time. This further makes depressive symptoms worse.

As depression gets worse, you might start feeling negative emotions more frequently and intensely. And this, in turn, affects your general functioning. Sleep gets disturbed, too – research has shown that the more negative emotions you experience, the more you dream. Since dreaming occurs in the REM stage of sleep – where one does not experience deep sleep – you are more likely to end up feeling tired and lethargic. Moreover, not getting deep sleep can interfere with the strengthening of cells – a process that is critical for your immune system to function properly. This, in turn, can make you more vulnerable to illness and disease over time.

How to break the lethargy cycle

One of the first areas to address when it comes to the treatment of depression is breaking this cycle of lethargy and low mood. The good news is that even though it is hard, it is possible to break the lethargy cycle of depression.

Experts suggest that one way to reverse this cycle of depression is to gradually increase your engagement in pleasurable and purposeful activities. Pleasurable activities include activities that give you a sense of joy, such as watching your favourite movie, reading a book, eating a tasty meal or even talking to a friend on the phone. Purposeful activities are those that can help you experience a sense of accomplishment, such as cooking a meal, decluttering a space in your house or completing an assignment. 

Plan for these 2 types of activities in your day. When you spend time engaging with these activities, you will begin to feel better. You will start experiencing positive emotions as well as a sense of mastery and accomplishment. These feelings will contribute to a sense of confidence and can also increase your motivation and energy levels. Resultantly, you will feel better about things in general and will be able to keep depressive symptoms at bay.

In other words, in order to feel better, you need to do something. This can be especially hard as you begin your recovery journey – which is why it is recommended that you start small. An important thing to keep in mind is that change takes time and requires patience. You may not begin to feel better immediately, but over time, you will notice a difference in how you feel. 

References

Using The Cycle of Depression. (2014, October 01). Retrieved from https://www.clinical-depression.co.uk/dlp/understanding-depression/using-the-cycle-of-depression/

(n.d.). Retrieved from https://study.com/academy/lesson/what-is-lethargy-definition-causes-symptoms.html

(n.d.). Retrieved from https://healthywa.wa.gov.au/Articles/A_E/Depression-reversing-the-vicious-cycle

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