My husband often tells me I think too much. Unfortunately, it’s not always in a good way. I would find myself lying awake at night thinking about all the things I could have done differently, should have done differently or didn’t do at all. I would think about whether or not I was a good mother, wife, friend. I would think about all of my short-comings. Obviously, this was NOT healthy and it started a spiral of depression. I would feel listless, lack motivation and sometimes eat, and not because I was hungry. This led to more depression because I didn’t get anything done, I wasted my day, I ate senselessly….and the spiral continued.
I didn’t want to face depression (who does?). I wanted to be able to wake up each day and be excited about facing the challenges ahead of me. I knew enough to realize that I had to break the cycle. I needed to be more active, but, when you are depressed and down, exercise is usually one of the last things you want to do. I had to start slow, little things, like taking the dog for a walk. It wasn’t magic, or an overnight cure, but I slowly started to feel better. The walks became longer, the moods not so down. Suddenly, the spiral was reversing and the more exercise I got, the better I felt and the more I wanted to do.
Depression is a very real and scary thing. It affects roughly 10% of the adult US population each year and billions of dollars are spent on treatment and research. It can be mild in some and life-changing in others, and when present, it’s painful.
Studies prove (and I can attest to this!) exercise WILL help with depression. A study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine in 1999 found that over a 16 week study period, depression had lowered equally in both a group taking an anti-depressant as well as a group solely following an exercise program. AND, a follow-up study showed that the exercise group had longer lasting effects. Another study showed that those who got regular vigorous exercise were 25% less likely to develop a depression or anxiety disorder within the next five years.
“Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. Happy people just don’t kill their husbands. They just don’t.” – Elle Woods from Legally Blonde. While this quote comes from a fictional comedy, the sentiment is true. During exercise, or periods of increased heart rate, endorphins are released. They act as natural painkillers and improve the ability to sleep, which in turn, reduces stress. Also, a neurotransmitter, norepinephrine is released, which gives you an almost euphoric-like feeling. On top of the actual chemical changes, exercise can also help to alleviate depression by acting as a distraction. You are removed from the cycle that feeds into your depression and anxiety.
The key (and hard part) to all of this, is to break the cycle. For some, starting out may mean a two mile jog; for others, it may mean walking to the mailbox. Regardless, setting a goal and reaching it will give you the confidence to set new goals and more challenges. Make a commitment to yourself. Break the cycle. Make a change.