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Am I Depressed or Lazy? Knowing the Difference

How to know if it is depression or laziness?


Laziness is often correlated with depression, but the two are very different things. Depression is a mental health issue that can cause low energy, apathy, little motivation, and hopelessness, all of which may look like laziness. Laziness, on the other hand, is defined as an unwillingness to expend energy on a task you are physically capable of doing. However, laziness is often a sign of deeper issues. This article explores why you might be struggling to get work done, and it’s not because you’re lazy.

Have you ever been called lazy? Or maybe you look around at everything your peers are accomplishing and wonder why you aren’t able to produce the same work. Maybe you lay in bed long after the alarm has gone off trying to find the energy to get up and start your day. 

In our society, the term “lazy” is thrown around as the ultimate insult; it is an attack on our core personality. But what is it really?

Researchers define laziness as a lack of motivation despite the physical or mental ability to do so. Researchers have found that it is caused by “ideas and emotions, and is not caused by work or poor physical condition”. Laziness is not

  • Exhaustion 
  • Physical inability 
  • Mental inability
  • Procrastination 
  • Idleness

Although laziness is closely linked to procrastination and idleness, they’re not the same thing. Idleness is a simple state of inactivity: it is neutral and does not connote lack of work. Sundays can and often should be idle. Procrastination is unnecessarily delaying work, whereas laziness is being unwilling to exert effort. They may be present at the same time, but have different functions. 

Does it sound like you might be lazy? Don’t be so sure; many researchers believe that laziness is a sign of an underlying condition. It is not a personality trait or decision but rather a symptom. 

One such underlying condition is depression. Depression causes fatigue in 90% of the people it affects. Fatigue is closely connected to feelings and perceptions of being lazy. However, depression and laziness are not the same thing. You can put enough willpower to overcome laziness, but you can’t force depression to leave you. 

You might be wondering, am I depressed or lazy? To answer that question, let's first understand what depression is

What is Depression?

Depression is a mental health disorder, as defined in the Diagnostic Statistical Manual (DSM-5) used by licensed therapists across the country. It is very real and relatively common; around 21 million US adults experience depression a year. 

Symptoms of depression include: 

  • Feeling a deep sadness or emptiness
  • Low mood 
  • Lack of energy 
  • Loss of pleasure in previously enjoyed activities
  • Feeling hopeless 
  • Low self-esteem and self-worth
  • Frequent need to cry
  • Changes in eating or sleeping patterns
  • Weight fluctuations
  • Brain fog or slowed thoughts and speech
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Thoughts of suicide and death 

Not every symptom has to be present to receive a depression diagnosis. You might have noticed that laziness is not a listed symptom, so does that mean that laziness is a sign of depression? Does depression make you lazy? 

It’s not quite as simple as a yes or a no. Depression can cause extreme fatigue, brain fog, difficulty concentrating, and feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness. All of these together will make it very hard to get work done. To the outside world, you may look lazy, especially if your depression is not diagnosed.  

Depression and laziness are closely linked, but depression usually causes laziness. Even then, many therapists caution against calling it “laziness”, because it’s not a personal attack on your work ethic or personality. It would be more accurate to say depression diminishes your ability to get work done at an appropriate pace. 

You may be able to muscle through depression for a while and fool everyone (including yourself) that you’re okay. However, without treatment, depression can fester. The best way to stop feeling lazy and unmotivated is to address the underlying depression.

Am I depressed or lazy?

Now that we understand what depression is and what laziness is, we can dive into the question “Am I depressed or just lazy?” 

This can be a tricky question to answer, but here are some questions to consider to help you figure out why you feel lazy and unmotivated. 

  • When do you notice feeling lazy? Laziness will be present when faced with an unpleasant task, such as work. Depression will be present all the time. 
  • Do you find joy in other things? You might be lazy with work, but still jump at the opportunity to do something fun. However, depression saps the joy out of even pleasurable activities. 
  • Are you feeling overwhelmed, stressed, or overly concerned with other people’s perceptions of me?  Remember that laziness is a purposeful lack of effort, and feeling overwhelmed and stressed is usually a result of too much going on.
  • Do you have self-deprecating thoughts? Laziness does not always spring from or produce negative self-talk, but depression does. 
  • When you come up against a roadblock in your work, how do you respond? Do you feel the need to cry, take a nap, or give up? Depression can make it hard to take setbacks in stride. 
  • Does it feel like your thoughts are moving slowly or you can’t concentrate? Laziness does not impede on your quality of work the way depression, with its brain fog and slow-moving thoughts, does. 
  • What do you do after you finish work? Laziness might prompt you to go back to doing something enjoyable, but depression will leave you feeling completely drained. You might feel the need to take a nap, do nothing, or scroll on your phone after finishing even easy tasks. 

This is not a complete list! You might be experiencing no motivation but aren’t depressed. This does not automatically mean you are lazy! There are plenty of other legitimate reasons you might be lazy.

Other reasons you might be feeling lazy

Many therapists and professionals believe that laziness is always a symptom of a greater physical and mental health issue. You might be feeling lazy if:

  1. You Value Link: Value linking is a newer theory in motivational psychology that has shown people are more motivated and less likely to procrastinate when they are completing a task that aligns with their values. Many people are able to turn off their desire to value links and complete meaningless tasks. However, some people are more motivated by their values and struggle with doing anything that does not align with them. If you find yourself working hard on only the projects you feel passionately about, only to struggle to find the energy to complete tasks that don’t align with your values, you might be a value linker
  2. You have underlying mental health concerns: Depression isn’t the only mental health issue that correlates with perceived laziness. ADHD, anxiety, or learning disorders have been known to cause lack of motivation and laziness. However, in these situations you are not truly lazy: you are struggling with a symptom of your mental health issue. In these cases you might not be lazy, you might be overstimulated, burnt out, distracted, or physically unwell. 
  3. You have an underlying physical health problem: One of the most common symptoms of chronic health problems is fatigue, which can look awfully like laziness. If you have an autoimmune disorder, are disabled, or experience any other physical health problem, you may lack the physical means to be as productive as your peers. This is not laziness, but rather a lack of physical energy and ability.
  4. You’re chronically stressed: You might be burnt out, suffering adrenal fatigue, or are just stressed. High levels of stress have been known to cause fatigue, and if you’re stressed for long enough you may become stuck in an active state of anxiety known as fight or flight. Here your nervous system goes on high alert, quickly burning through your energy stores and being unable to replenish them. A result may be what looks like laziness. But is it really? If a candle burns through all its wax, you don’t get mad at the candle for not being lit. If your body has no more energy to expend, you can’t force it to create more out of nothing. 

If you’re feeling lazy, try not to view it as a personal failure. It is a sign that something in your life is not set up to best serve you. This might be a health condition, in which case reaching out to your doctor or a mental health professional is recommended. Or, it might be a lifestyle change you can make. Consider: 

  • Do you feel fulfilled by your job?
  • Are you meeting your physical needs? (Sleeping well, eating healthy, getting enough exercise, water, and sunlight)
  • Do you feel fulfilled socially?
  • Are you engaging in meaningful hobbies? 
  • Do you have a routine that gives you energy? 
  • Are you in a place you feel safe?

Laziness can stem from a negative answer to any one of these questions. However, even in the case of non-health issues, laziness is not a mere personality issue. You are not lazy. Situations in your life are causing you to act lazy as a defense mechanism. The cure, then, is to adjust your life so you no longer feel the need to act lazy. 

Of course, sometimes this is not possible without addressing health issues. Contact a therapist to learn more.

Motion before motivation: How to break free from laziness

A saying in therapy, particularly Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), is “Motion before motivation”. This means that although many of us want to have motivation before we act, we often have to act before we gain motivation. For example, to have energy for work, we have to get up and spend time on a fulfilling morning routine. 

Motivation does not come out of nowhere, and we often have to get the ball rolling to accumulate more. 

Note that this does not always apply to people with mental health conditions, such as anxiety, depression, substance abuse, and learning or developmental disorders. These are tips you can use to help you stop feeling lazy and unmotivated, but they are not a replacement for mental health therapy. 

Here are some coping mechanisms you can use in your day-to-day life to beat laziness:

  1. Have a morning routine: Wake up and put your feet on the floor as soon as you can. Get outside, drink water, and eat food before you really start your day. You don’t have to get up early or work out if it’s not your style, instead find something that works for you. 
  2. Journal: Specifically, when do you feel motivated? Where does that motivation come from? What stops you from feeling motivated? Identify patterns in your own motivation. 
  3. Accountability: Not working is easier; that’s just the truth. Having an accountability buddy to help you stay focused and on time with your work can help you rely less on laziness. 
  4. Meet your physical needs: If you don’t sleep well, you won’t be as productive. If you aren’t getting the right nutrients, your brain will feel foggy. If you’re not engaging in mild to moderate exercise every now and then, you won’t be at your peak performance. If you’re not drinking water, focusing will be difficult. Before you slap the label of “lazy” on yourself, drink water, eat food, and go for a walk. Come back and see if the work is any easier. 
  5. Reward yourself: Working isn’t always fun, so of course your brain wants to chase the higher dopamine (the happy brain chemical) of social media, hobbies, and even doing nothing. To help make productivity seem more appealing to your brain, work towards something. Plan a fun activity in the evening or work towards a big money purchase. You’re doing hard work every day you’re alive: reward yourself!
  6. Cut down on social media: Having the internet at our fingertips is a great power, and also a great way to decrease your attention span. Science has shown that decreased social media use increases attention span. Try blocking your social media apps from morning to evening when you’re off work. There’s nothing wrong with hoping on the apps to catch up with friends and be entertained, but doing so excessively can make you more prone to laziness.

To overcome laziness, you have to get to the core root of your issue. For some people, this means consulting a therapist or family doctor. For others, it means a lifestyle change. Often, it means doing both. It will take some trial and error, but the result will be a clearer mind, steady motivation, and feeling accomplished in your work.

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Frequently Asked Questions

 Depression can impact motivation and energy levels, making it more challenging to complete daily tasks or engage in activities. However, it's important to remember that laziness is not the defining characteristic of depression. It's a complex mental health condition that affects various aspects of a person's life, including their motivation. Understanding and compassion are key when discussing the relationship between depression and laziness.

 While lack of motivation and decreased energy are common symptoms of depression, it's important to approach this with empathy and avoid labeling it as laziness. Depression affects individuals differently, and not everyone with depression will experience the same symptoms. Laziness, in the traditional sense of the word, does not accurately capture the challenges faced by those with depression. Instead, it's more helpful to view it as a symptom of the condition rather than a character flaw.

 Overcoming depression and its impact on motivation is a journey that requires professional help and self-care. Seeking assistance from a therapist can provide valuable support and tailored strategies for managing depression symptoms. Therapists at Lifebulb are highly qualified professionals who can help clients on their journey toward recovery and provide guidance specific to individual needs and goals.

In addition to therapy, implementing self-care practices can aid in overcoming depression and restoring motivation. Engaging in regular physical exercise, maintaining a balanced diet, ensuring adequate sleep, and connecting with a supportive network of friends or family can contribute to overall well-being. Patience, self-compassion, and celebrating small victories are also essential during the recovery process.

 Rather than focusing on stopping laziness, it's more effective to address the underlying factors contributing to a lack of motivation. Taking proactive steps, such as seeking professional help and implementing self-care strategies, can gradually restore motivation and overcome depression.

By setting achievable goals, breaking them down into smaller tasks, and acknowledging progress, individuals can reclaim a sense of purpose and accomplishment. Remember, it's important to be patient with yourself and celebrate every effort made towards overcoming depression. You're not alone in this journey, and with the right support, you can overcome laziness and live a brighter life.

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