Managing Severe Depression: Five 'Stupid Little Things'


When you are severely depressed, movement of any kind is difficult. Either it emotionally hurts to move or you have no motivation to do it, or both.

Add to that the guilt of not doing what you know you can and should be doing, but don't. This is not a good time to think big - or even “medium” for that matter. It is best to think small.

Whether or not you are normally a list-maker, you may benefit from making a list of five small movements or actions you can do each day. The list can be made gradually as you think of things to add. Just keep adding items until you have five. Maybe it will take you five minutes to write the list, or five days; whatever.

'I Call Them My Five Stupid Little Things'

People rarely blast out of depression. It is usually small actions stacked on top of previous ones that create a ladder or stairway out of the hole. Those actions need to be small enough to be taken, otherwise they just become stumbling blocks or another stone in the guilt sack.

It is wise to put items on the list that address different aspects of human life: mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual. Include movements that involve things you are interested in when feeling better. Your natural interests are more likely to create sparks of motivation than activities you care less about. Choose small actions that you know would make you feel good if you could feel good.

Here is a list of five things written by Mallory, a depressed therapy client:

  1. Stretch tall. (Mallory raises her arms straight up and stretches her body.)
  2. Eat a handful of almonds. (Mallory said, “Almonds have protein, antioxidants, and other nutrients.”)
  3. Read one short poem. (Poetry is a life-long interest of hers.)
  4. Sweep the kitchen floor. (“Even when I’m really down, tracked kitty litter bugs me.”)
  5. Brush my cat. (“Taking care of Serene helps keep me going.”)

Mallory used her list for a couple of weeks and then said:

I thought the list was a dumb idea, but at the end of the day I can name five things I've accomplished. Some nights those things don't matter much in my mind. It's like, Who cares? But I do them again the next day. I call them my five stupid little things.

Any Movement Is Helpful

One of the most difficult aspects of depression is that even when you are helping yourself it doesn’t necessarily feel good, and it can seem pointless. However, any positive step, movement, or activity you perform does help.

Feelings can be pleasurable or painful, but they are not necessarily facts. For instance, you can feel bad about yourself, but that does not mean you are a bad person. However, doing small positive things for yourself is a fact, even when they seem stupid.


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