‘Am I Just Lazy?’

The thin line between laziness and poor mental health — and how to tackle it.

So what is the answer then, for that person who doesn’t move at the same pace? For whom doing anything seems to be hard? Who never seems motivated or interested in anything?

When I started grappling with my own mental health, I remember becoming distinctly aware of the notion that one should just “buck up”, and get on with things — that that was the only “real” way out of depression. “Just do more stuff,” came the advice. Perhaps this is the obvious argument in a world where we are all driven to do more, when we see someone who doesn’t seem driven anywhere. “Doing more” seems like the obvious counter. That absolutely does not work for someone who is depressed; having commitments, activities and routine can certainly help prevent depression and keep things moving. But in a low, just pummelling yourself with the guilt associated with not doing anything will really do very little for you. So is that person being lazy, or are they actually depressed?

Mental health is such a complex issue, and I have written many times about depression and how to handle it. The only possible way I have noticed that we can differentiate between laziness and an actual problem comes when that person is out of the worst part of the cycle. Most people I know with depression aren’t content to keep on suffering — in my opinion, it’s pretty hard to be okay with being depressed. Obviously they’re unhappy — low moods are part of depression — but they also want to know that there’s another option and much of the time, unless they are really truly in the lowest part of the cycle, they want potentially to work towards a better place. At the lowest point, this isn’t something that can even be imagined. If someone is suicidal, they aren’t thinking about changing their depression, they’re thinking about what would give relief, most quickly. Because depression is painful.

Laziness, on the other hand, is something else entirely. And the lazy person doesn’t really seem to mind quite so much — it isn’t painful to them to be that way. It’s easy. And easy is what they’re going for.

So, firstly: engage in some direct self reflection

It’s pretty hard to outwardly tell the difference sometimes between laziness and depression, even for ourselves. Only you, as an individual, can ask yourself for the truth and face your own reality. Are you dealing with a mental health problem, or have you always shown a tendency towards laziness? Most people don’t become lazy overnight. So think back: how likely were you to finish things in school? Or keep up hobbies? How often do you see projects or ideas through to completion, or keep on working at something until you feel you’ve achieved something tangible? Are you looking for the first opportunity to shift into a new shiny activity? Or are you always picking up new hobbies? Are you someone who leaves things unfinished?

If none of this sounds like you but lately things have been getting darker, harder to deal with, and the world seems a bit more grey than it should, you might well be experiencing low mood and potentially even depression. In which case, you need to start by understanding that, and how to take care of yourself in that mode.

Set the baseline and break it down into achievable parts

We’ve all got to eat healthy, exercise and sleep, in order to have the energy to do things we want or need to do. So it’s time to set the baseline: when should you be getting into bed each night? How can you ensure that you do that? Do you need to create a nighttime routine? What about in the morning? I’m personally quite a light sleeper, so one alarm and I’m up. But you need to learn how to make mornings work for you. That doesn’t mean cramming in an entire second life before work, the way many productivity blogs advise. I personally do do that, I’ll be honest; but I love mornings. If you are not a morning person, then work with it, not against it.

Consider taking up meditation. Find a type of exercise that works for you, that you actually enjoy. Take these things one step at a time and practice some self-compassion as you experiment. Take note of what works, and what definitely doesn’t work — literally write it down.

Figure out where your focus should be

Values. They’re everything. I wrote about this recently, because I think the process of figuring out your core values is really important. Often laziness comes from an inability to focus on what you need to do — things feel overwhelming perhaps, or there’s so much to get done that you feel paralysed. But taking a breath and a step back is really important. Figure out what should be holding your attention — where your values truly lie. From here, there’s a much better chance you will be able to get moving again. It’s the fog of laziness and an inability to prioritise that can become easy stopping points.

It’s time: Face your fears

Sometimes ‘laziness’ is actually just ‘fear’ in disguise. Like, you’re afraid to commit to doing something you might fail at.

I know what that’s like. Intimately. And living that way isn’t great. It’s a pretty good way to subject yourself to constant unease and guilt. Because ultimately only we can decide to bite the bullet and commit to doing the thing that scares us most. And if it’s living life the way you really want to, it comes down to this:

Will you be okay to die wondering?

Ultimately, what will my life look like, when I look back on it? The idea that I might get old and die without having ever tried was more terrifying than any of my objections — than any other fear my mind could conjure up. I needed to write. I needed to try and to know my own currency.

So…

Do one thing first

Just one thing that will move you in the direction of your values. Making the conscious effort to stop sitting around or finding excuses to do whatever is easiest is going to be the tough first step. Put down the game, stop Instagramming, don’t text gifs to your friends. Just think: what is it I want to be doing with my life? What are my values? And what one thing can I do to enact them? Even if it is starting with making a list. Just start.

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Photo by Cel Lisboa on Unsplash

Okay, what next?

Maintaining a practice, whatever it is, will help you to learn the kind of discipline that keeps the momentum moving. Meditation is great for this, and apps like Headspace definitely gameify that experience enough to keep you coming back.

The point of a good ‘hack’ is not to make tasks hard, it’s to make them easier and more efficient. We’re all looking for the easiest way to get things done. But if we’re unmotivated and not doing anything, we might well have sunk too far into laziness. Some things are hard, but we don’t have to approach them as hard work. We can break them down into very small steps, we can set up a routine of just completing another 1% of the task. We can also give ourselves a break, sometimes, without it being world ending.

Maintaining the baseline will help curb laziness and depression, whichever you think is the most pressing issue. And it may well be a bit of both. But the baseline is a great way to keep the basics in check — keep healthy, keep sleeping, keep moving, keep functional.

And if you’re around someone who you suspect could be depressed, or lazy, and you’re not sure which it is, it’s probably time for a conversation. Do they still get any work done? Or are they barely hanging on? Initiate a conversation. Asking someone if everything is okay shouldn’t be limited to the point at which things are really dire. Check in with your loved ones. Encourage. Listen. Remember that they might have different values to you. So approach them with their values in mind. Demonstrate interest and a desire to understand. From there, openness can be fostered and you can gently discover what it is your loved one needs. Don’t assume they are lazy, or depressed. Ask questions, seek out clarification.

And in the end, remember that if someone actually is lazy and has no desire to change… well, you might just not be able to help them. And that’s okay too. Not everyone is driven to do a lot of things. If they want to spend their life doing as little as possible, that is their choice, at the end of the day. And you are not responsible for that choice. They are.

Emerging fiction author, London Writers Award 2020. Working on my debut novel, rep’d by Kate Evans @ PFD. Podcasting on Author Not Present.

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