Moving your body effects so much more than your body! We hear that a lot. Since research suggests that exercise helps depression and anxiety by raising serotonin levels in brain as well as supports the growth of neurons in the brain, why aren’t we jumping the treadmill or heading out for a hike when the debilitating effects of anxiety and depression grab us? That is a good question my friends!
One of the biggest reasons is that we are told to exercise when we are depressed or anxious. Let’s face it, we really don’t like being told to do something, especially when suffering from depression and anxiety. The emphasis of the physical effects of exercise could potentially be creating societal apathy toward it. We hear that exercise helps with weight loss, diabetes and blood pressure control, which it does. The physical effects of exercise on our bodies can take up to three months to see. When you are anxious and/or depressed it can be challenging to get up and get moving and the societal apathy toward exercise doesn’t help the situation We don’t want to have to wait that long to see the effect on our mood. Here is the really good news!!!! Exercise offers near-instant gratification as it relates to mood. Truly!
There a problem: when your depressed and anxious, finding the energy just to leave the house can zap your precious energy reserves. Sadly, many of us view exercise through a very unrealistic filter. “Exercise only counts if you are out of breath. Unless you are physically exhausted from exercise, it not as beneficial.” This is simply untrue. Everything counts. While running, playing basketball, weight training are great, ALL physical activity can have a positive impact on mood. Washing the car, gardening, walking the dog and less strenuous activities work! In fact, starting too hard in exercise programs is one of the main reasons people develop distain for exercise. This can perpetuate negative feelings about exercise and self.
Here are some tips to getting started if you are suffering from anxiety and/or depression:
It is important that if you are suffering from anxiety and depression that you set very realistic movement/exercise goals. Start out with a goal or 5-10 minutes of movement once or twice a week. Small steps make big changes. If it feels like too much or too little, adjust until it feels right.
Get your mental health provider's support. Talk to your doctor or other mental health provider for guidance and support. Discuss an exercise program or physical activity routine and how it fits into your overall treatment plan. According to the American Psychological Association, psychologist are beginning to use movement (like walking during sessions) to help patients relax and open up. Researchers are still working out the details of how much exercise is needed to be therapeutic and what mechanisms are behind the boost exercise brings and why. But as evidence piles up, the exercise-mental health connection is becoming impossible to ignore.
Identify what you enjoy doing. Only do what you like wether its gardening, walking or shopping. Stick with what works for YOU.
Solitude or Social: It’s up to you! You may not feel up to being around people or you might want to exercise or move with a friend. Whatever works for you. Have a buddy to walk with or use the time to decompress by yourself.
Try not to think of movement and exercise as a chore. If exercise is just another "should" in your life that you don't think you're living up to, you'll associate it with failure. Rather, look at your exercise or physical activity schedule the same way you look at your therapy sessions or medication — as one of the tools to help you get better.
Analyze your barriers. Figure out what's stopping you from being physically active or exercising. If you feel self-conscious, for instance, you may want to exercise at home. If you stick to goals better with a partner, find a friend to work out with or who enjoys the same physical activities that you do. If you don't have money to spend on exercise gear, do something that's cost-free, such as regular walking. If you think about what's stopping you from being physically active or exercising, you can probably find an alternative solution. You can ask your physician or a health and wellness coach for assistance in developing a plan on breaking through the barriers that are getting in the way.
Celebrate your movement AND your obstacles. Give yourself credit for what you are doing no matter how small. There will be days that you just can’t do it. Celebrate knowing that you can skip a day. That doesn’t mean that you can’t pick it back up the next day.
As always, be sure to consult with your physician or mental health care profession before beginning any new physical exercise or movement routine. Your doctor will consider any medications you take and your health conditions. He or she may also have helpful advice about getting started and staying motivated. Exercise and physical activity are great ways to ease symptoms of anxiety or depression, but they aren't a substitute for psychotherapy or medications.