I had an interesting conversation yesterday with one of the regulars that comes into work. He and his friend come in almost 3 times a week. I know them by name and we always have a fun time visiting. This particular friend asked me yesterday how you know when you are depressed. I turned and looked at him and said – “You know you are depressed when you get good at pretending you aren’t, when even you believe it but when you know that there is nothing inside. You are a void – one that can’t be filled. You don’t feel anything anymore – not overwhelming sorrow, joy, anger, or love. You feel empty. And with that emptiness you feel incredibly tired and it’s hard to even fake something but somehow you do it.” He looked at me and simply said “wow – and how do you know this?” I told him – I’ve struggled with depression everyday for the past 15 years. When he asked me how I’ve dealt with it – My number one answer is exercise. While I do seek treatment for it – exercise has helped me a lot.
When you have depression that is the best time to exercise, and here is why:
Exercise stimulates your brain to release endorphins. Endorphins are happiness chemicals. This means that when you are feeling down and depressed, your brain will make more of what you need if you stimulate it. It will releave some of the depression (I won’t say it goes away completely) and will allow you to start feeling a bit better. Ever watch the movie Legally Blonde? “Exercise gives you endorphins; endorphins make you happy, happy people just don’t shoot their husbands!” This is one of my favorite quotes and it’s so true. Go get that endorphin release!
Exercise does a great job of giving people a self-confidence boost. Let’s just admit between you and me that a lot of us fake it til we make it. Especially women. I struggle being comfortable in my own body. That being said – I am not the best looking woman in the world but I know I’m decent looking. However I find that after I have worked out – I feel so much more comfortable in my own body. Even if I do it when I’m feeling depressed – I finish and find that I can successfully look in the mirror and say “Damn I look Good”. I’m sure part of that is the workout “high” but I’m also sure that by working out – I start feeling more comfortable with who I am.
I know this is going to sound counter intuitive but as a person who struggles with depression, I always just look to feel something. When you are depressed you simply want something to fill the void. You want to know that you are still human – that there is a pain deeper or something to make you more aware of being “life-like”. Versus turning to something like cutting or doing self damage – I find that this works for me. The pain draws me out of my shell and makes me feel normal. It reminds me that I’m alive and hey – this pain – it’s a good thing! It’s because I took time to take care of myself. Which rotates again into the endorphins and self-confidence point. I can enjoy the pain without guilt or any negative emotion! What a relief.
Again – a seemingly counter-intuitive point. Many people think that when you are depressed you need to be drawn out of your shell. Keep the focus on other people. Yes this is true – you do need to spend time with others. If you are struggling with depression the best way to forget is to do some volunteer work. But it’s also worth noting that you need to self-focus a bit and really get your own crap together. I’m not encouraging staying at home. I am how ever saying that I go exercise and focus on the negativity – I find it fuels my workout. But I make it a point that when I leave the mat or the gym – that negativity stays behind. My brain works overtime in the gym. I figure things out because the exercise gives me clarity, but afterwards – every negative item I feel must remain in the gym. I cannot take it with me. Sometimes running outside does the same – imagine running away from all your problems. The idea has a similar concept.
There are days where getting out of bed is a challenge for me. I have learned though that if I never move – I never challenge myself – I feel worse. The days where you just want to crawl into bed or curl up in a ball – those are the days you need to exercise the most. Spending time – even if it’s simply for a walk – can cause you to see things you wouldn’t have noticed. You will feel better about going to bed and maybe less depressed. It’s worth a try. Take the plunge.
In closing I want to note – I am not a doctor or a therapist. Consult them before you do anything drastic or crazy. But I will state that exercising has some great benefits and no doctor is going to tell you that you shouldn’t do something active based. If you struggle with depression this is a great way for you to help yourself outside of medication or even with it. Trust me the burn is worth the pay off.