If you’re anything like me, I’m sure you rolled your eyes the moment you read the title of this post. I don’t blame you, believe me, I get it. If the heaviness of your depression is so overwhelming you count it a victory when you brush your teeth and downright miraculous if you shower, the last thing you want to hear is some stranger telling you that things will get better if you “just get some exercise.” Despite your doubt, I hope you will continue reading and give this idea a chance.
Not Just Blowing Smoke
Before we go any further, please let me clarify a few points. First, I am not saying exercise is a cure-all for depression. I’m merely suggesting that there is some truth to the idea that getting up and moving helps clear the fog. Second, lest you think I am a clueless crackpot blowing smoke up your posterior, let me assure you, I am a very well-clued-in crackpot who has spent more time than I would like drowning in the deep, black waters of depression. I will not claim to know exactly how you feel, because that is no help. I can’t possibly know exactly how you feel – no one can. However, I do know the hopelessness and despair that comes with depression. (I will link below some previous blog posts that explain my experiences a little more thoroughly in case you’d like to have a look.)
A Change of Heart
Now, onto why I’ve had this change of heart about exercise. To put it bluntly, I had no choice. I’ve reached THAT stage of my life where I have to curtail the junk food and add some form of exercise to my daily routine. (We won’t discuss how the junk food issue is progressing.)
Although I began my exercise routine very begrudgingly, I did my best to at least start somewhere. It wasn’t smooth sailing. There was, and continues to be, inconsistency in my exercise program, but I have stuck with it long enough to notice that my mood improves when I actually force myself to get moving. Therein lies the key to it all – convincing yourself to move rather than allowing your depression or low mood talk you out of it.
I approached my new exercise routine the same way I try to take on any changes to my daily routine which is to break it up into manageable chunks. I know this is not an earth-shattering or new concept, but I think it’s helpful to remember we don’t have to take on the entirety of a new endeavor all at once. There’s nothing wrong with taking things slowly.
I started with 10 minutes every day on the stationary bicycle-stair-stepper Frankenstein of an exercise machine that sits in our bedroom collecting dust, cat hair, and laundry. It has taken me many months, but I am finally up to 30 minutes every day, or every other day, and I’ve also added a one-minute plank. Had I enrolled in an exercise class immediately, I know I would have failed. It would have been too much, too soon. Once I’ve worked my way up to an even more consistent routine, then I may consider enrolling in classes to add some variety.
The trick is not overwhelming your brain with unrealistic goals. This will just make you feel worse if you can’t achieve them. You need to build momentum – accomplish the small, manageable chunks – and use that momentum to achieve more and more. This is very much in keeping with the “Do One Thing” strategy I mentioned in my post of the same name (see below).
The Statistics You’ve Heard Are True
I won’t bombard you with the scientific facts about the benefits exercise – statistics don’t mean much when you’re depressed or feeling down. I can assure you; however, the statistics are correct. Again, I’m not saying exercise will cure depression or low moods altogether, but getting the endorphins flowing can provide some respite. Who wouldn’t want that?
Whatever you can manage – five, ten, fifteen minutes – is better than nothing. It’s important not to beat yourself up if you miss a day here and there. You are doing what you can and giving yourself that all important foundation to build upon. You never know, once you begin exercising, you may not want to stop! (Too much? Okay…could happen though.)
Slaying the Depression Beast
Whilst you can find encouragement from your supporters, you also have to be willing to help yourself, to drag yourself out of your cave and start somewhere. Perhaps no one will ever understand how hard that is for you but that doesn’t matter. There is something very empowering knowing you forced yourself to get up and slay the depression beast, if even for a little while.