How To Approach Fitness When Dealing With Depression
It is a truth universally acknowledged (thankfully), that exercise can prove to be a hugely beneficial preventative for mental health illnesses and disorders alike, particularly common ailments such as depression or anxiety. Nonetheless, it is a tall, nay, Eiffel Tower-esque order to ask someone who suffers from depression to simply get out of bed, pop on their running shoes and suddenly expect to run a 10k or lift their personal best in the gym as easy as 1-2-3. Alas, the process of trying to exercise when you're depressed can actually turn out to be something like the following:
- Set your alarm to get up early for your not-so-eagerly anticipated 5AM run.
- Realise that, after sleeping for barely an hour that night, leaving your bed is no longer a feasible concept.
- Sleep through your alarm or hit snooze in an attempt to scrape a few minutes' extra sleep before getting ready for work (or having that inevitably stomach-churning call in for being absent.)
- Berate yourself, hate yourself, sob into a corner of your duvet and resume the spiralling self-loathing that comes part and parcel of your soul-destroying sickness for not being 'good enough' and instead are 'completely useless' for not even being able to get up that early, despite not being able to help your brain's chemical imbalance.
- Rinse, lather, repeat for the next few months until the idea of fitness flies out the window.
Of course, this set of steps will vary from person to person - everybody suffers from depression differently. In fact, for instance, during my depression, the only time I didn't feel deafening numbness or drearily despairing and apathetic towards life itself was when I was moving; I felt somewhat empowered, even for just ten, twenty, thirty, then eventually forty, fifty, sixty minutes, that I actually was capable of something. I was a complete waste of oxygen on this earth, but at the very least, my squats and deadlifts were on fleek.
The fact is, sometimes even just hitting your alarm clock can consist of your exercise routine for the day when you have depression. The numbness isn't just mental; physically, you become so exhausted from crying, from berating yourself, from the constant battle in your mind, physical workouts genuinely become beyond the pail of exhaustion. There are, however, some simple tips when it comes to approaching training, movement and health when you have depression - the key takeaways being a) be kind and gentle to yourself, and b) consistently congratulate yourself on being strong, empowered, and know that there is hope and light, always. You will get through this. And, sometimes, moving yourself can provide at least a little reprieve from the pain you are suffering right now.
- Don't think of it as exercise - think of it as movement. That way, you'll consider even the smallest of actions (going for a light stroll, stretching etc) to be part of your routine - and you'll congratulate yourself, rather than berate yourself.
- Surround yourself with support. Having someone there to encourage you to get out of bed and just go for a walk with you can often prove to be a powerful stimulus when you have no desire whatsoever to get moving. The power of having a loved one caring for your wellbeing cannot be overstated enough.
- If you struggle psychologically to get going, think about it this way: don't exercise for you - do it for someone you love. It sounds odd, but particularly when you have depression, shifting the thoughts to thinking about making your loved ones proud of you can help immensely, especially with low self-esteem and negative self-talk. With my depression, just thinking of how proud my parents and sisters would be seeing me actually get out of bed, and thinking of how concerned they were for me, made me move more and try to look after myself, even if I wasn't 100% perfect.
- Forget perfect. The last thing you want to do when you're depressed is overwhelm yourself even more - so don't. Break the workout down into the simplest, smallest of steps - stretching, walking, bodyweight lunges or squats, etc. Something just to get your heart racing and muscles activated, to make you feel proud of yourself. The stress of trying to fit in and keep up with the industry's 'trends' and intense sessions can be toxic for your mindset - remember, the perfect exercise is the one you'll actually do, and do consistently.
- Congratulate yourself. Simply for turning up, moving, doing something that will serve both of your body and mind in a way that's kind and loving to your health in the long run. Complete the workout? Awesome, congratulate yourself. Didn't finish it? That's amazing, too, pat yourself on the back for moving and being kind to yourself today. Remember, when you're depressed, the hardest workout possible is the mere act of surviving - or living. So, the fact you're still here...well, you're performing the hardest workout imaginable. Which is absolutely incredible. Congratulate yourself for that, every single day.