Overcoming apathy is essential to avoid falling into the clutches of depression. Apathy is not only a lack of emotion and enthusiasm but a generalized state of indifference towards life in which we lack the strength and the will. Our goals lose their meaning and we feel paralyzed, unable to find the motivation to keep going.
In most cases, apathy is simply a sign that we need to rest. It is a kind of “automatic disconnection mechanism” for us to stop in the daily vertiginousness and rest. At other times it is a symptom of a deeper problem and expresses dissatisfaction with the lifestyle we are leading and the goals we have set for ourselves.
If that apathy only lasts for a few days and disappears as it came, it is not a cause of concern. But if it accompanies us for several weeks it could be the prelude to depression. In fact, numerous studies have found a correlation between apathy and depression, although they are not the same. Since we are not immune to that state, it is important to know how to combat apathy when it tries to settle in our life.
Treating apathy to get back on track
1. Commit to change and believe that it is possible
Regardless of the circumstances that led us to feel apathetic, the truth is that this state is maintained due to the perspective we have right now. The past has brought us to where we are, but it is our present mindset that keeps us stuck.
Therefore, our most urgent task to overcome apathy is to change our perspective. After all, it is easier to change our perspective than to try to change the world. To achieve this we need to commit to change. The question we must honestly answer is: Am I willing to commit to overcoming apathy, even if it takes great effort and energy?
When we commit to ourselves, instead of indifference, involvement begins to grow. That change in attitude may be enough to start activating us.
2. Discover the source of apathy and make peace with the past
A treatment for apathy that ignores its causes would be like putting a band-aid over a wide open wound. If no stitches are given, the wound will not close properly and will reopen at the slightest carelessness. Therefore, it is important to investigate the origin of apathy.
A good exercise is to look back and remember all those things that excited and motivated us, things that made us feel alive and happy. At what point did everything go wrong? When do we stop enjoying life? We may discover that the cause of this apathy can be traced back to the loss of a significant person, so that our own life has become meaningless. Or maybe it’s due to personal failure. Or deep disappointment.
Whatever the cause, we need to accept what happened and try to turn the page. To overcome apathy we need to make peace with that past so that we can free our attention and focus it on the future. When we have freed ourselves of that weight, we can ask ourselves what makes us excited, to begin to build a life with meaning.
3. Use willpower
When there is no desire, you have to resort to the will. In fact, throughout the day we do many things driven exclusively by willpower and discipline, not because we feel like doing them. Desire is important to build the life we want. Of course. But when it fails us, will must come into play.
Desire is volatile and unstable, so it’s not usually the stable guide we need to achieve the objectives that we set ourselves. If we want to overcome apathy, we need to activate our willpower. And that means moving, even if we don’t feel like it.
A secret to achieve it? Trust in our willpower. “Act as if you already have that virtue and you will find that it is much easier to develop,” wrote William James. If we start thinking that we do not have willpower, we will have lost the game before starting. Therefore, we need to convince ourselves that we can fight apathy and overcome it.
4. Go from passivity to problem solving
Apathy locks us in a downward spiral because it makes it difficult for us to take the first step that helps us get out of that state. The good news is that once we get the “engine running,” it’s easier to keep moving.
Therefore, we must ask ourselves what is the easiest and most feasible first step we can take to get out of that state of apathy and lethargy in which we have fallen. It can be helpful to create a list of the things that we think are not working in our lives. Then we can review it and choose something small that we can change.
It doesn’t have to be anything exceptional. The secret is to light the spark. We must remember that a step does not take us where we want to go, but at least it takes us away from where we do not want to be. It allows us to realize that we can move forward, so that discouragement is left behind and we begin to recharge with new energy.
5. Incorporate something new into your daily routine
Even if we have entered a listless state, we may have to continue with our routine. We will have to work anyway, even if we perform the half, and we will have to take care of the housework even if we do not feel like it or fulfill the social commitments that we cannot cancel.
On the one hand, this routine keeps us moving and prevents us from falling into the most absolute apathy, but on the other hand it can also reinforce that feeling of indifference and nonsense. Letting the routine envelop us can gradually take us away passion and desire, generating a state of general apathy.
Therefore, it is convenient to incorporate something new into our routine. It does not necessarily have to be something transcendental, small changes that give us back the ability to astonish ourselves or activate our desire to discover new things will be enough. It can be discovering a new corner in the city, trying new dishes, taking a walk in nature or discovering different music. Is it worth considering anything that gives opportunities to your will for living.
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Brodaty, H. & Burns, K. (2011) Nonpharmacological Management of Apathy in Dementia: A Systematic Review. The American journal of geriatric psychiatry; 20(7): 549-564.
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