[View original article, published in PsychCentral, here]
One week not long ago, I found myself busier than normal and unable to do my daily workouts. I didn’t worry because I knew I would get back to my routine the following week. But something “strange” happened to me.
The last time I ran on my treadmill had been Friday; five days later, I was not my typical self. You could ask my husband! Nothing that he said or did was “good enough.” Something had come over me. One day a stranger at the grocery store said, “You look exhausted.” I wasn’t sure how to respond.
I seemed to unload all my frustrations on my loved ones. Before getting home I would do some positive self-talk: “Count your blessings. You have a wonderful husband. There is no reason to snarl at him for insignificant things. Be positive!” I would get home and — bam! — my volcano erupted.
In my private practice I’ve met parents who tearfully tell me they feel as if their children are abusing them emotionally. I tell them, their children’s behavior may not be acceptable, but they are the closest person in their children’s lives. By default, they will vent their emotions on their parents. However, there are no excuses for negative behaviors. I usually help the children and parents with this problem. But now I seem afflicted with the same difficulty. I could not snap out of it. Fortunately, my husband never asked me to do that.
One day, I finally realized what was wrong — I was missing my main outlet. A few extra events had taken me off my exercise routine I’ve been doing for years. The next day, I decided I would do whatever it took to squeeze my workout back in my schedule. I woke up early, stretched, plugged in my running music, and jumped on the treadmill. When I reached mile three, I was on cloud 9 and was able to finish five miles.
The physical activity I was used to doing was missing, and the effects were clear. It had not been the first time, though. The previous year, I had family in town and for one reason or another I was not able to run for two weeks. By the time they left, I just wanted to sleep and found myself being depressed.
It took the second time for me to recognize that without my workouts, my mood suffers significantly. I discovered that I simply cannot afford to miss my workouts.
The research has been there for years, but we often dismiss it when life gets too busy. Unless you notice a drastic change in your mood like I did, you may not think it’s a big deal. However, daily physical exercise is essential to our overall health.
Everyone is different and physical activity will vary as well as its effect. It is true, the most difficult situation for depressed individuals is to engage in some type of exercise. When individuals feel depressed, exercise is the farthest thing from their minds.
When we have an awful pain and the doctor prescribes a bitter medication, we often are willing to take it because it will clear discomfort. Is it possible to look at exercise the same way? It may not be pleasant, but in the long run, it can help alleviate the emotional pain.
Sometimes, it’s a hard sell. But, can you remember the physical activities you used to enjoy before becoming depressed? It doesn’t have to be strenuous, just do something.
Write up a plan that includes small steps towards your goal. Don’t expect to run a mile if you haven’t walked one. Decide what the activity will be that you can enjoy. You don’t need to go to the gym. Brisk walks, gardening, sweeping, vacuuming, and moving household items is a good way to get your heart pumping and your body moving.
If you can’t think of anything, just walk. Find ways to walk more and drive less. Decide to walk half a block the first day and lengthen the time and distance every week. Find a friend or family member to support you with your goals. When you share your thoughts, others will understand what you are going through. Teach your loved ones how to listen to you. Tell them that you don’t need a solution, you just need a listening and empathic ear. Nothing is worse than having someone tell you how to solve your challenges and to snap out of it.
Moods come and go. When sadness and irritability stay, it’s difficult to see the light. While in the dark, doing nothing will only take us deeper into the well of depression. To do nothing may be the easiest thing, but not the best thing. Willingness to do something even when you don’t feel like it is the first step.
Exercise is not the only solution, but it’s a sure way to begin the climb out of the gloom into the light that awaits. You can push through it, then watch the results!