Summer is right around the corner, which can be a stressful time for many. Maybe you have kids who will be out of school, which means your home will be noisier and days will be busier. Maybe you have a busy social calendar filled with trips, weddings, and barbecues. Maybe you are dreading the triple-digit Texas temperatures and having to spend more time inside.
During times of stress, healthy habits tend to fall to the wayside. Same is true if we find ourselves increasingly struggling with depression or anxiety. We do things that we think are helping us (i.e., sleeping more, eating more high carb/fat foods, drinking alcohol), and do less of things that actually help us.
Exercise is a powerful, but often overlooked, tool in managing these issues. Research indicates that an exercise regimen is as effective at treating depression as anti-depressant medication. Even better? The effects are immediate – most people feel the mood-boosting effects about 5 minutes after completing their exercise.
The mechanisms whereby exercise improves your mood is two-fold. When you exercise, physiological changes occur in your body that have a direct impact on your mood. Endorphins (natural painkillers) and serotonin (a neurotransmitter that plays a key role in happiness and wellbeing), increase, and stress hormones (cortisol and adrenaline) decrease. Exercise also contributes to improved sleep, which we know plays a key role in both depression and anxiety.
Psychologically, exercise contributes to a feeling of accomplishment (“yay! I did something today besides watch Netflix!”), increases self-efficacy (“when I feel bad I can do something to change it!”), improves healthy coping skills (“wow, a quick run makes me feel a lot better than a couple glasses of wine!”). For those that suffer from anxiety, which is usually marked by a lot of physical symptoms, exercise induces a lot of the feared physical symptoms (heart racing, sweating). The repeated experiencing of these physical symptoms helps you to become less afraid of them and attach new, more helpful, meaning to them.
However, exercise is simple in terms of concept, but not always easy to execute. To overcome this, I have a few suggestions. First, keep in mind the law of inertia. It is far more difficult to get something moving than it is to keep it moving. Try to get started on your new exercise regimen on a day and time that you are feeling most motivated or energized, for example, on Saturday morning after a cup of coffee. From there, set reasonable goals and be consistent. You are not going to be able to run at the same pace you did as a high schooler in cross country if you haven’t gone out for a run in years. Any exercise is progress and movement in the right direction! Also, keep in mind you are not always going to feel like exercising. And, the good news is, you don’t have to in order to do it! Keep a journal and write down the positive effects you feel after you exercise, and revisit those entries when you need some extra motivation. Lastly, be kind to yourself and expect that it isn’t going to go perfectly. You may miss a workout, or fall back into old habits. Acknowledge that this has happened, and resume your routine.
If you live in the Austin area and feel like you would benefit from support and guidance on managing depression or anxiety, please reach out to me via telephone at 512-521-1531 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss your situation and see if I may be a good fit to help.