For the first 20-something years of my life, I was told that my depression was a life sentence that I would have to endure. So, I listened to my doctor and my therapist and watched that life happen to me instead of taking steps to create the life I wanted. This got me right to the bottom.
People who meet me for the first time often tell me how happy I look. What they don’t know is how hard I have had to work to combat depression.
Why do I need to exercise to fight depression?
After being hospitalized on suicide watch in 2005, I vowed to change my course, one action at a time. Turns out, running on the treadmill was the action I needed. Exercising my body helped me integrate my therapy exercises and increased my mental stamina. Here are some of the ways that exercise helps me fight depression:
1. Exercise provides a release when I feel depressed
Studies have found that people are less likely to relapse after recovering from depression if they exercise three times a week or more. When I was struggling, I took substances that helped me escape pain. Now when I feel especially low or anxious, I go for a walk or a run to ease the darkness I feel. I feel lighter again, even if the weight has not completely disappeared. Knowing that I am capable of acting on my own, helps me keep hopelessness at bay and helps me fight depression.
People who go to the gym seem to be happier than most (probably due to the abundant endorphins). Being around happy people helps me feel happier, too. I met my best friend and my husband at the gym, and they inspire me every day to grow a little stronger, inside and out.
2. Being in a hard workout boosts my self esteem.
I can lift some heavy weights and push myself through grueling runs. Experiencing physical pain made me realize that I am not easy to break down. I had always been afraid of feeling emotional because of how dark my emotions had gotten to be before.
Now that I am physically and mentally stronger, I know that no emotion can shatter me, and because of that, I give my struggle the attention it needs to heal, rather than resist or ignore it, as I have in the past.
3. Being in shape has made me a more confident version of myself.
As I started to get physically stronger, my confidence in my body grew. I learned how to do arm balances in yoga, lifted huge weights, and it revolutionized my body composition. I’m proud of how I look, but more importantly, it’s what my body can do. I have earned it.
4. Exercise helped me learn to love myself.
When I began to focus on self-love, spending time in movement, other acts of self-love followed. I started eating better, meditating, and practicing focus, which helps control my daily depression.
Positive thinking became my savior in and out of the gym. And it is excellent to help fight depression. I do it while working to help push myself through the tough stuff. After using them for a while in my workouts, I have started to use them in everyday life, empowering myself through the tough decisions I needed to make in order to lead myself to a healthier and happier life.
5. When things feel out of control, exercise provides a sense of control.
I cannot control many of the symptoms of depression, which can make me feel helpless. However, I do have control over my body in motion and make sure to get some form of exercise during my day. Even if 10 minutes is all I can do, it’s 10 minutes of standing against my disorder instead of letting her knock on the door.
6. I breathe better today.
There is a lot to be said about deep breaths. They calm the mind and relieve stress (depression is a major stressor on the mind and body). Because I integrated deep breathing into my workouts, it has become a habit outside of the gym as well. Every time I have a difficult situation, I listen to myself taking deep breaths from the belly. It’s an easy way to refocus on the moment and focus on moving forward.
It is important to clarify that I am not cured. Clinical depression is a chemical imbalance that will be with me for life. The difference now is that I know exactly what to do to limit the effect of depression on me, and get out of it quickly. I live a joyful life despite my illness.