Exercise fixes Depression!?
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I remember distinctly a friend of mine trying to help me by saying, ‘have you tried exercise? It works for me.’ The way he said it gave an air of ‘therefore it will work for you’. While he was trying to be super loving, he actually pushed me away and caused me to put up my walls. This first assumption is very common due to the simple logic behind it: exercise causes endorphins and other feel-good chemicals that will increase your mood.
The problem is that if you are depressed, firstly, you are unlikely to have the motivation to leave your bed in the morning, let alone do exercise, as everything becomes an effort. Depression really lowers your motivation to do everyday things, and at its most extreme it can cause people to lose motivation for life (I have experienced this at times). Everyday tasks become harder, which will be explored in an upcoming post.
Secondly, depression can cause low self-image, which in turn will make you anxious about doing exercise. While I love doing exercise with friends and don’t struggle with this second point, I know people who hate doing it with people due to low self-image. I remember trying to organise exercise with a friend as we both were struggling with low motivation due to our depression and they fought with this second issue. I didn’t understand why at the time, but I knew that mental illness is not the most rational beast that can be argued with.
Thirdly, only sustained exercise over weeks and months will have a long-term effect. Saying or just implying that exercise will fix your mood suggests an immediacy about the effect which is simply not the case. Especially when your mood levels are low or a roller coaster, an individual exercise session will increase your mood, but not so much that you exit your low mood completely. There were occasions after a run when, instead of the expected better mood, I still was in a low mood but now I was tired which added difficulty to the situation. The next morning, I could not get out of bed and I now thought in my mind that running was not helping at all, which caused a cease in running for a couple of months. Though running was not the fault, it was the expectations caused in my mind from how I perceived exercise.
Exercise is good for depression but by no means is it a cure, and suggesting it is can cause more repercussions than intended. To truly love someone it is important to check how their activity levels are but do it in a manner that doesn’t imply that exercise is a cure. Offer help and the opportunity for them to open up about how they are truly going. Talk to them about what helps them and ask about exercise level if you are close enough.
How to be Helpful
- Offer to do a form of exercise that they will enjoy doing.
- This helps them be social, do exercise and do something they enjoy, which are all important for anyone suffering with depression.
- Be very careful what you say and how you say it. How you say it can unintentionally say more and undermine your love and care for them, so be careful.
- If in doubt, just ask how they are going or how their activity levels are?
- If they prefer doing exercise with other people and you are in a place where you can do something with them, offer to do it. If they don’t, due to the issue of self-image, offer to be an accountability partner but be prepared for them to decline – the offer itself can go a long way.
- If they decline anything, don’t take it personally. Mental illness isn’t about you; it is about them. DON’T MAKE IT ABOUT YOU. The offer will mean a lot to them, even if it isn’t evident.
- If you want to help, you can be genuinely loving by being consistent. Do not offer to exercise together and then cancel repeatedly without offering alternate options or an explanation due to a change of circumstances.
If you have any experience in this realm, either with words of wisdom or stories that will be helpful to others, please comment below.