I need help finding motivation to study when I can barely get out of bed
May 8, 2013 12:15 PM   Subscribe

How do I get the motivation to ace my college finals while dealing with depression?

I lucked out majorly because all my finals are on the last two days of the finals period. I have an entire two weeks of free time before I have to take my finals (one of which is worth 90% of my grade!).

I've been dealing with depression for the past two months. Not so much the suicidal, sad all the time depression I've had in the past, but the brain fog, inability to wake up before noon, absolutely no motivation type. I just started treatment last week.

I have missed almost all of my classes for the past 3 weeks (attendance doesn't count towards any of them, it was mostly just lectures taken from my textbooks). Things are not so bad that I need to take an incomplete in any of my classes. I know I can learn everything I need to learn in these two weeks.

I can't believe how extremely lucky I am to have an entire 2 weeks to study. Usually I have 3 or 4 days, at most. This is a huge opportunity I cannot miss.

However, I have no idea how to actually get myself out of bed, get to the library and actually study. That is (hopefully) where you guys come in. How can I motivate myself to do this? I think as long as I can wake up early and get out of the house I will ok, but it feels completely impossible in the morning.

I just feel at a loss here. I've always cared a lot about my education, but I honestly don't even care if I fail anymore. I know exactly what I need to do in order to succeed, but my body is telling me to climb back into bed (after 10+ hours of sleep) and start tomorrow. I would be extremely grateful for any advice you give me.
posted by Hey Judas! to Health & Fitness (20 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Does your college have a counseling center, or a health center, or any sort of campus medical care? If so, call them and explain what's going on, and ask them for help.
posted by decathecting at 12:20 PM on May 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

I agree that you should give your student counseling center a call. Also, do you have a friend (or crew of friends) who you can recruit to be your get-out-of-the-house buddies? Maybe a roommate or someone who will stop by at a realistic hour (don't make a goal of getting up at 7:00 if you know in your heart of hearts you're not functional till 9:00) to make sure you're up and on your way?
posted by scody at 12:24 PM on May 8, 2013

There are a lot of useful strategies in the book Get It Done When You're Depressed - very practical, implementable stuff for exactly what you're asking.

I have also found it helpful to force myself out of bed (by drinking water before going to sleep, thus necessitating a morning pee first thing) or placing my alarm clock across the room. Once you are up, you should have an automatic series of things you do, like get in the shower and get dressed right away. You can work on training yourself to get out of bed when your alarm goes off by practising during the day.
posted by Ouisch at 12:26 PM on May 8, 2013 [3 favorites]

kudos for asking this question and reaching out for help. here are my suggestions:

- make a schedule. and not a vague one, but a very detailed breakdown of what material you want to cover every day. get down to chapter and page numbers if you have to. this way your goals are very concrete.

- meet people to study with, as scody suggests.

- eat well, vitamins, all that.

- plan to do something nice for yourself after this is all over. massage, long bath, nice meal out.
posted by guybrush_threepwood at 12:28 PM on May 8, 2013

Sometimes you JUST DO IT!

Everyday at 6:45 my alarm goes off. I usually get up, get my gear on and walk on the treadmill. I LOATHE it. Despise it. I'd rather sleep. But, it's good for me and so, I jump out of bed. Once I'm up, I'm good, I revel in how proud of myself I am for getting up and doing 'that which must be done'.

So set your alarm, lay out an outfit and have your bookbag by the door. When your alarm goes off, jump out of bed (you have to pee anyway) and haul your cookies out the door.

For being up with the lark, reward yourself with a nice coffee and pastry, or whatever would get you going in the morning.

Continue to give yourself little rewards through the day. Stop at a set time.

Eat nice, balanced meals with lots of veggies, fruit and protein.

Exercise, take a walk in the spring air around the building.

Meet with friends for lunch or drinks.

Power through it.

Just because you're depressed doesn't mean you have to go with that feeling. Just as you'd power through it if you had a cold, or a headache or someother malady. Tell yourself, "it's only depression, it's a big, fat liar, I want to get up, get dressed and study and by Jove, that's what I'm going to do."

Hang in there!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:31 PM on May 8, 2013 [4 favorites]

Another way to look at what Ruthless Bunny suggests is to say to yourself:"I may not enjoy getting up to study, but I *do* enjoy the feeling of having gotten up and studied." In other words, project yourself into the feeling of satisfaction you'll have later in the day once you've done what you need to do. (This is exactly how I sometimes trick myself into writing or exercising.)
posted by scody at 12:49 PM on May 8, 2013

Have done exams while mildly depressed, and what worked for me was:

1) put the alarm clock across the room from me
2) put a glass of water next to it, as soon as I get to the alarm clock I glug as much water as I can
3) make it a daily goal to get into my exercise clothes (including shoes and socks) right after the water. Then I take a walk with a banana and a podcast for half an hour, come back, take a shower and can get started with my day
4) meet up with people for revision, or if not, set up some kind of routine where you go to a cafe/library everyday and stay there for however many hours with just your work and no internet or other reading

It was really hard for me because I ruminate a lot and rerun bad memories in my head when I revise, but ruminating while addictive in an odd masochistic way, only makes things worse, and I would recommend setting 3-4 study tasks at a time that you can cross out, listening to simplynoise (pink/brown worked better for me than white) with an 8tracks study playlist.

Also helpful: using the wayoflife app (for your reference, my three goals back then were (1) change into exercise clothes (2) go to library (3) call parents)

Disclaimer, this could be really fun, or it could be just ok, but it's a tried and tested method.
good luck dude if I can do it so can you!! :)
posted by dinosaurprincess at 1:03 PM on May 8, 2013

And it helps to remember that once you have momentum it gets SO much easier and you will even enjoy it if it is a subject you find intellectually stimulating! Sorry you are depressed but it always gets better, and 2 weeks is a lot if you put your mind to it!! :)
posted by dinosaurprincess at 1:09 PM on May 8, 2013

Sleep regularly and sleep enough. To bed and awake the same time, every day.

Eat regularly. Make sure you're getting all those good vitamins and not pounding your body with caffeine and sugar.

Exercise. Even if it's a ten minute walk around the block or some push-ups in the living room, do something to focus your mind and energy elsewhere at least once a day.

Schedule your studying. 2 hours a day for class A, 1.5 for class B, whatever you think each course needs on a daily basis. Also schedule breaks for Facebook or Metafilter or whatever. Reward yourself at the end of each day.

I had a spectacular flunkout my first year of university and everything turned out okay.
posted by futureisunwritten at 1:48 PM on May 8, 2013

I was feeling pretty unmotivated a couple of weeks ago, due to some personal things, but am feeling back on my feet now. I am not sure how similar your situation is to mine (mine was less general depression and more anxiety-invoking life event), but I have been trying to take things one day at a time, get as much done as possible, and not beat myself up if things don't turn out perfectly. Also to recognize that I am not the only one freaking out about finals and that regardless of my lagging motivation at various times this semester, I am likely not much worse off than others. Have also been trying to get some exercise each day, allow myself a little time for socializing, and break down assignments and tasks into smaller chunks of time. This has lead to me being less stressed out, which has led to my motivation and enthusiasm returning slowly. Some folks say stress is good for motivation, but I think it is also good not to flip out too much about work, otherwise you'll feel paralyzed. Also on the motivation thing, I think it's good that you recognize that you are depressed, and I think it's important to recognize that this is the root of the lack of motivation - not necessarily that you actually don't care. So just take it one day at a time, one hour at a time if necessary and be kind to yourself.

Also, this link is kind of fun (and I need to work on #16). Don't know that I agree with numbers 4/5 though.
posted by thesnowyslaps at 2:22 PM on May 8, 2013

I used to study IN bed, and I loved it.
posted by bquarters at 2:37 PM on May 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

Carrots and sticks. When I was studying for the USMLE I set out eight one-hour blocks of studying every day with thirty minutes between them and an hour each for lunch and dinner. If I finished the day faithful to the schedule, I'd allow myself to watch a bad action movie on Netflix before bed. If I cheated I would force myself to study until midnight-- a severe punishment given that I would have to get up the next morning at 6:30 and start studying again. In almost two months of test prep, I cheated perhaps five times.
posted by The White Hat at 3:47 PM on May 8, 2013

I don't know how useful this is, but when I was struggling with bad depression (constantly in a brain fog, spending most of my time in bed, the whole nine yards), my doctor prescribed me Provigil (in conjunction with an anti-depressant). It was magic. After two days on it, I was able to be productive for the first time in weeks.
posted by tan_coul at 4:19 PM on May 8, 2013

Do you have any friends who can be roped into studying with you? Where 'with' means 'in close proximity to'. It also helps if you have to walk at least a couple of minutes to wherever you're meeting this person. I am definitely not above making appointments to force myself to leave the house at a reasonable hour.
posted by hoyland at 5:24 PM on May 8, 2013

I've been in this situation a bunch of times and have completely blown it and ended up panic studying and crying and doing poorly on my entire semester more than once. Sometimes having two weeks is even worse than having 3 days, in fact, because there are too many tomorrows. I bring up this cautionary tale in order to suggest that perhaps you *can't* motivate yourself to do this right now. I think the best thing is to find someone--anyone!--who will agree to hound you (gently and only for your own good) in the mornings, calling, emailing, texting, meeting you at the library, forcing you to at least open to the right page or file, whatever it takes to get the first hour of studying done in a day.

That's the best option by far, but I can say I've gotten a few good days out of aggressive yet judicious use of caffeine (I normally don't consume much), and I've had some luck with physically unplugging all the internet access at home, but that was in the days before smartphones and data anywhere.

Treatment ought to build up some steam by time your exams are done so tell yourself these are the last two weeks you have to do it the hard way.
posted by zizania at 8:41 PM on May 8, 2013

I think zizania's got it right. Get someone to hound you if possible. Get a friend to be a study buddy.

Also, food can be an anti-depressant (one with side effects and addictive potential, but still...). Do you like sugar? Chocolate? Coffee? Promise them to yourself -- and deliver -- in exchange for getting up and going to the library. Hot showers are good too, as are massages and music.

Use every technique in the book to get your mood up.

Realize when you can get your work done and do it then. You may have windows of time when you are in a better mood. Make use of them.
posted by shivohum at 8:54 PM on May 8, 2013

And make sure your study buddy is someone you know who will hound you - make sure you tell them very explicitly to do so, as well. The plan may backfire if they're the type to shrug their shoulders and study by themselves instead of harassing you until you get your butt in gear.
posted by Zalzidrax at 4:16 AM on May 9, 2013

Metafilter's favorite paperback therapist, Feeling Good by David Burns, has a section on productivity and getting things done, along with explaining how depression causes a loss of motivation and work. It's not a simple matter of "just do it", and the book acknowledges this.

It's on Chapter 5 (I think), and I think if you started reading it today, you could probably get to that section by the end of the week if you read a chapter a day or two a day. It isn't very long, but there's a lot of exercises and techniques that need time to digest. In the long term, I think it could really help you. It takes some weeks of practice for you to feel a noticable difference. But I'm not discounting it's effectiveness.

So in addition to whatever else you do, I'd encourage you to find a copy and read it to that chapter, and then the rest of the book.

(Also, the chapter is a bit hoaky in the way that it names things because Burns has a thing for puns, yeah I dunno)
posted by hellojed at 8:15 AM on May 9, 2013

Also slightly relevant, that section of the book actually addresses getting out of bed
posted by hellojed at 8:18 AM on May 9, 2013

I've been in this situation a bunch of times and have completely blown it and ended up panic studying and crying and doing poorly on my entire semester more than once. Sometimes having two weeks is even worse than having 3 days, in fact, because there are too many tomorrows.

So, so true. This exact thing has happened to me multiple times. A couple of things that worked for me:

1) Make a note on your phone with a list of every single thing you do as part of your morning ritual, complete with times. Then go through the list on autopilot. For example, if I wanted to leave the apartment by 9:30 AM, I'd set an alarm, then immediately look at the list upon opening my eyes-- 8:15 wake up, 8:17 pee, 8:19 wash face, 8:25 eat breakfast, 8:45 brush teeth, 8:50 moisturize face, 8:52 get dressed, 9:00 do hair, 9:15 makeup. Do not let your brain get in the way. Just go through the list without thinking about anything.

This was helpful because it prevented me from going on the internet "just to check my email" and then spending an hour online in bed and inevitably calling the whole day off in favor of going back to sleep. Also, it cuts through all the morning semiconscious self-talk, "I'll start studying tomorrow...I'll just wake up at 9:00 and get ready faster...I'll feel better if I sleep in a little more" because you have a minute-by-minute game plan of what you need to do to get out at your desired time. You can't kid yourself into thinking breakfast takes 2 minutes when your conscious, more-reliable self made a note indicating that it takes 20 minutes.

2) Don't make unrealistic goals. If you have 5 chapters to read, go to a cafe (I used to go to Starbucks-- another motivation for getting there early was to secure a good seat!) and leisurely read half a chapter. Take a few notes. You don't need to have an 8-hour library/caffeine crazy day. Just do what you can; it will make you feel better and you can repeat the same thing the next day without dreading it. You have to couch the act of studying in more pleasant activities: trick yourself into thinking you're just sitting in a cafe eating a croissant and also reading (ie studying) on the side.

3) Pick your outfit the night before including undergarments and make an effort to look good. I really believe that when you put time into grooming yourself (assuming you're a girl) it makes you feel good on the inside too. Blow out your hair the night before, get a manicure as a reward for studying.


Good luck! You can do this!
posted by DayTripper at 11:06 AM on May 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

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