Everyone experiences times when they’re sad or blue, and times when motivation to exercise seems hard to come by. But if the sad times or blue moods last a long time and start interfering with your ability to function, you may be depressed.
If depression is something you’re struggling with, if it’s new to you or you haven’t sought help yet, I encourage you to find a therapist or therapy clinic near you. No one should go through it alone, and a professional can help you figure out the best way through the dark, and can help you decide whether or not it’s time to try or switch medications.
Depression derails everything. Struggling to keep your life on track during depressive episodes is exhausting and difficult.
One of the hardest things about depression is that it saps you of your motivation, your drive, and pleasure in things that used to be fun. Depression can derail your fitness efforts completely. How on earth can you keep your fitness routine going when you’re depressed?
Short answer: You don’t. Much like any chronic illness, when you’re depressed, your goal changes to getting better, and coping with it until you come out the other side.
Eating healthy and exercise can really help, but you might have to look at them differently.
For some people, their fitness routine becomes a lifeline that they hang on to. That’s great, as long as you’re not overdoing it. But many people with depression can barely take a shower during an episode.
When I was depressed, I felt like there was a lead ball in my stomach. I didn’t particularly care anymore about exercising to lose weight or be fit, but I did notice that cardiovascular exercise was one of the only things that helped that lead ball go away for a while. I started going to the gym daily. It got me dressed, out of the house, and sweating. I felt calmer afterward. Not forever, and the depression didn’t go away, but it was just a little bit less oppressive for a few hours.
That’s what you’re going for: things that will lift the heaviness for a short time to give yourself a break. Sometimes those brief periods are the only thing that gives us hope that the darkness will eventually lift completely.
Many people find that getting out in nature or in the sunshine helps. Make your goal to get outside for half an hour. Don’t worry about your heart rate or endurance level – just make it around the block. If it doesn’t feel like too much to keep going, keep going.
Or go out in the backyard and stretch. Quiet your mind as much as possible, and focus on the feeling in your muscles as they lengthen. Breathe a little bit more deeply than you were. Try to keep it up for 15 minutes.
I am not a strong swimmer, but I also found that being underwater and feeling the cool water flow over my skin also felt good. So I swam, too. I don’t swim for fitness because I’m a lousy side breather, but I do swim for mental health when I need to.
Remember that when you get out of this (and you will get out of it), you can go back to your marathon training and lifting routine. Right now the goal is to cope, and exercise can help with that.
It might also seem like too much work to keep cooking, and you might find yourself either not eating, or eating junk. It’s important to remember that your brain and body are working together, and what you put into your body can either help your brain work better, or less well.
If you don’t enjoy eating and find yourself eating less, it’s important to get nutrients. Add a vitamin, or use nutritional supplements, like Ensure or Boost, to make sure you’re getting what your body needs.
If you find yourself eating too much, look for other ways to comfort yourself or feel better. Soft blankets, music, fresh flowers – none of these will take the depression away, but neither will more food, and too much food can make things worse. Find easy and convenient meals and snacks to keep around so you don’t have to cook too much.
Self-care during a depressive episode is not easy, but it’s absolutely essential. You might have to simplify your goals and take them one day at a time, but when the depression fades, you will be in a much better place, both psychologically and physically, than if you hadn’t made that effort.