Discuss this post in The Guild Hall!
Before we get to today’s post, just a reminder that headbands are on sale and if you take this (SHORT) survey you get a $1 off coupon (plus you get to help me figure out what to work on after Boss Battles which is super helpful!)
Warning: This post is going to get a little heavy.
Lately I seem to be bumping into the “mental health” discussion more and more. Between last week’s episode of Going Superhuman, and some conversations I’ve had with friends lately, it’s one of those topics that just keeps popping up. As such, I feel like it’s a very good time to discuss how fitness (a common subject here on the blog,) can affect depression (a common subject of mental health discussions.)
I have suffered from depression.
I would like to say that I am in remission, or at least as far as you can go into “remission” with depression. Anyone who’s done battle with this monster can identify with how easy it can be to end up back in that hole again, though, especially in the first couple of years (yes, years) that you’re fighting your way out. The lethargy, the lack of initiative, the overall sense of apathy and hopelessness…it’s like your mind itself is trying to keep you from making it feel better. In many ways, it actually is.
For whatever reason, we place mental illnesses in a different category, a somehow lesser category than physical illnesses. If someone has the flu, or breaks a limb, or gets a severe cut, we don’t tell them to just suck it up and move on. We give them medication, or a cast, or stitches. But, for whatever reason, if someone has depression, or anxiety, or bipolar disorder, frequently we tell them to just “get over it.” When medication is brought up, it’s frequently in some sort of dismissive or conspiratorial way. “The pharmaceutical industry just wants to make money off of you! Pills are poison, go for a walk in the woods!”
Now, while I certainly advocate a good walk in the woods as part of any mental health treatment plan, it certainly isn’t a substitute for real treatment, such as medication, or counseling. Which brings us to the topic I wanted to discuss today:
Exercise, while not a substitute for medication or counseling, can be an excellent weapon in the battle against depression. I say can be because everyone is different. For some people, meditation helps anxiety, while for a smaller group it can actually increase it. Exercise can be the same with regards to depression.
There’s a lot of good to say about exercise, its chemical effect on your brain, and the overall psychological benefits of working out. Becoming more capable can boost your self esteem, self confidence, and overall happiness. The chemical cocktails your brain releases during and after exercise can be a huge boost to satisfaction, happiness, energy levels, confidence, and overall well-being.
At the same time, however, some people feel very self conscious when exercising, which doesn’t help any of those things. This can be especially true in a public gym. Though I and every other gym-goer will tell you that 99% of the people in the gym are not judging you, and are often cheering you from the sidelines, it’s still hard to not feel scared or uneasy if you’re working out in public for the first time.
The fact is, exercise can be a powerful weapon, but starting in a small, private way is fine. Sometimes that’s even healthier. If there is some method you can use to feel more comfortable becoming more active, then use that method, regardless of what it is.
Because let me tell you, in the battle against depression, exercise is powerful. Like I said, it’s no substitute for counseling, or medication, things that are definitely necessary if you’re battling clinical depression! However, enlisting a good workout routine in addition to those things? Well, now you’re cooking with fire!
Multiple studies have pointed towards exercise providing increased feelings of wellness and confidence. We know that the endorphins the brain releases during and after strenuous exercise can make us feel awesome! As if becoming stronger, faster, and more physically capable versions of ourselves weren’t enough, we can supercharge our brain with a 100% natural, 100% safe “natural high” every single day!
Now, the difficulty is, as always, getting yourself started. Depression makes you feel like you’re stuck in quicksand. You feel like it takes an incredible amount of work just to take a few steps, to pull yourself up out of the sand high enough to breathe. How can exercise even be something to consider?
I don’t have a silver bullet strategy here, for you, but I recommend picking something simple. There’s a reason I set up beginner level workouts on the site, here. I want you to feel like starting an exercise routine is the simplest thing in the world. If they seem intimidating to you, that’s fine! Go for a walk. Just a simple walk. Thirty minutes, no longer. Just…go. Do. Do whatever you can.
Listen…I made it out. I made it out of the quicksand. I am no one special, and I did nothing special. I asked everyone I could for help, for hugs, for support. I talked to people who would listen, I sought out whatever counseling I could. My main goal, every single day, was to put one foot in front of the other. No matter what I did, no matter what happened, I resolved to keep asking for help, and to keep walking.
Practice martial arts. Lift heavy things. Lift yourself. Do something, anything physical. Just keep walking. Please. I promise you, you can do it, and you will make it.
I know I say this sometimes, but I never feel like I say it enough. If you are struggling, and you need someone to talk to, or to listen, I’m here for you. If you’re reading this, right now, and you’re just looking for a friendly voice, or a sounding board, or someone to vent to, I’m here. I don’t know if you understand how genuine I am when I say this, but I care about you. Feel free to email me, message me on the Facebook page, whatever. If you need to talk, I’m always happy to listen.
Live boldly, change the world, and continue to be awesome.
Dan “DaRatmastah” Wallace