Depression, Low Energy, and the Hazards of Living by Will Alone


When we’re depressed, we lack energy.

One reason we get depressed is because we run out of the will to push ourselves, and we discover there’s no underlying energy, desire, or impulse to move us. In fact,too much will-driven living is part of what got us into trouble to begin with.

Life itself is energy and movement – and in people, life is movement of energy from our core out into our environment. We are moved by our life energy, by our impulses, by our desires. But when we’re depressed, we don’t have impulses, desires, or any real wish to move. And trying to will ourselves to move just doesn’t work.

How do we get into this state?

There is a world of difference between being moved by our life energy and making ourselves move by the force of will. So many of us are very used to pushing ourselves by will to fulfill expectations or goals – many of which are not our own. Pushing ourselves to fulfill unexamined goals and expectations (e.g., be a kid who gets all “A’s,” don’t get angry, don’t upset others, be an engineer because that’s more practical than being a teacher, etc.) requires will. It especially requires will when the goal doesn’t arise from our own desires and impulses.

One’s will can direct desire and impulse – and this is a proper use of the will – but the will can substitute for desire and impulse for only so long.

Goals are important. However, when we force ourselves to pursue goals and meet expectations in such a way that we also lose touch with our own energy, impulse, and desire – we will eventually run out of energy. As has been said, “You can never get enough of what you don’t really want.” Actions and goals not informed by our own desires, impulses, and feelings aren’t ultimately satisfying.

Depression is exhaustion – without having done anything satisfying that led to the exhaustion. We know there is a difference between expending energy on something that feels good (e.g., a long walk in the woods, working hard on a project we truly care about), and expending ourselves on things that have to be done. The first lays the ground for a restful and satisfying recovery of energy.

In bioenergetics and body-mind therapy, “energy” is understood many ways, but includes the feeling that one can do things, has the urge to do (pleasurable) things. It also means having the sense of something moving within us: the rising of life within us.  These are the very things missing when we’re depressed.

In body-mind and bioenergetic practices, work with depression cannot be just a mental process (e.g., correcting irrational thinking). And we can’t work with just talk therapy. Working with depression necessarily involves working with body, feeling, breathing, and movement.  Working thus with the seat of energy, we re-discover our (nonmental) desires, urges and impulses.  We re-orient ourselves to a life of being moved by desire, pleasure, and attraction, rather than by forcing ourselves by will to pursue goals that don’t fulfill us.

Working with body, breathing and movement help us kindle the fire to re-discover our real self, even as we explore our barriers to feeling our true self – our very own desires and impulses. In bodymind work, we uncover our impulse and our constraints.

Truly energetic and joyful living emerges from tuning into, moving, and feeding our feeling and bodily self – and from releasing unconscious constraints against knowing and feeling who we really are.