The current depression “epidemic” is steadily gaining ground, and it seems to be going unchecked, despite record levels of antidepressants being prescribed. The reports and personal testimonials make it sound like we have no control, but we do.
While depression is a clinical, chronic problem for those it impacts, some of those impacts can be alleviated with mindful determination and deliberate intention.
Exercise is a balm, if not quite a panacea. Those who have treated their depression with a combination of talk therapy, medication and exercise will testify to how effective these can be.
Mental health aside for a moment, exercise is still a great idea for the purely physical benefits.
But it’s interesting to note that while physical health used to be the go-to reason to exercise, we are seeing more and more research on the emotional and mental health reasons.
Here are MY top 6 reasons why I like exercise above all else to help handle depression.
Many of us have aggravated depression because of our difficulty handling stress. It’s a stressful world, kids!
While there are many coping techniques that can be learned (ie CBD, meditation), here’s one that doesn’t require a lot of brain power.
Exercise is a fantastic way to process daily stressors and release them. Whether it’s a martial arts workout (take it out on the heavy bag!) or a walk along a trail (hello, being in nature!), you will feel so much better afterward.
Being around other people is important
Exercise is a great way to hang out with a friend or two…head to a yoga class together? Just being around other people can be a validating experience for someone who has struggled to get out of bed for a week.
Remember, you don’t HAVE to talk to anyone there…but then again, you may just end up finding a new friend who supports your desire to be more active.
How many of you have such bad anxiety that you are constantly taking only shallow breaths? How about panic attacks where you simply can’t breathe at all?
Well, as decadent as a good lungful of air might sound, exercise will get you there. One of the first things you learn is to focus on your breath for good bloodflow, which is needed to get those muscles engaged with your activity.
Trust me when I say: when you’re all done sweating, you’ll have a spiritual moment when you realize you’re actually breathing deeply and fully.
Meditation, whether you intend it or not.
Meditation and Mindfulness are touted as the single most important thing you can do if you have depression, but it isn’t as easy as it sounds.
When your brain feels like it has been hijacked, it can be difficult to sit calmly for any amount of time. But when you’re exercising…your mind clears automatically in order to complete the task of moving as you want it to.
This breather in the ongoing torrent of thoughts is worth its weight in sweat.
I have always found that a long run is the best way to feel centered, grounded and cleared of self-deprecating thoughts…but that’s me, and your best meditative activity might be as simple as gardening or as tough as mountain climbing.
You’ve succeeded at one thing today
Those who haven’t experienced depression might laugh at this statement. For those who have: I know you know what I mean.
It’s similar to the idea of always making your bed so that by the time your coffee has brewed, you have already accomplished your first task of the day (read about that here). It’s a simple fact that accomplishing anything when you’re depressed is a huge win.
Now imagine if you did a couple of sets of squats and some dips and some simple stretches? You’ve not just accomplished something, but you’ve also toned some muscles. Bonus.
Better body image = one less thing to worry about
When you’ve got a lot of things rolling through your mind, you don’t need body image challenges. Some people struggle with being too thin, some people struggle from being overweight.
Some days I wonder if ANYONE is happy, but in the end, looks aren’t the real problem. When you’re strong, coordinated and capable, you don’t mind a few extra pounds, because you feel strangely powerful.
Those extra or fewer pounds aside, exercise will help you regulate your bodyweight to what’s normal for you. Just keep at it.