Exercise is one of the best tools we have in managing stress and fighting depression. I have bipolar disorder. For people with depression or bipolar disorder, managing stress is critical. Mental illness, in and of itself, is difficult. When you add to that the pressures everyone faces—deadlines, annoying coworkers, relationship problems, the cable company—stress can be overwhelming and trigger depression. While exercise is no substitute for professional help (like talk therapy and if prescribed, medication), exercise releases endorphins, also known as “the feel good hormones.” They help us combat depression. Endorphins make us feel better about our lives and ourselves. If I’m really stressed and I exercise for only fifteen minutes, I start to feel better about my life even though my problems haven’t disappeared (see 4 Mental Health Benefits of Exercise). Of course, the cruel irony is that being depressed can make it impossible to exercise. However, there is hope.
6 Ideas For Exercising When You’re Depressed:
1: Take it minute by minute—Once I was telling my therapist how I was too depressed to do thirty minutes of exercise even though I wanted to exercise five times a week. She said, “What if you could do ten minutes?” When I’m depressed, “thirty minutes of cardio” seems like an intimidating task. However, I’ve learned to take it minute by minute instead of setting out to do thirty minutes of this or one hour of that. If I finish ten minutes, I congratulate myself. Ten minutes is better than no exercise. Sometimes, in taking it minute by minute, I end up finishing a full session.
2: Find indoor activities—Depression can make transportation difficult. Think about it: Every single task requires energy like getting out of bed, showering, changing clothes, walking/driving to the gym, and exercising! Exhausting, right? Have a few activities you can do at home whether it’s abdominal crunches, push-ups, weights, or DVDs. The cool part about exercising from home is that you can do it in pajamas. I often find the strength to get dressed after I’ve exercised.
3: Instill variety—Even for people without illness, monotony and boredom can erode motivation. To stay motivated, mix it up so you don’t have to do the same thing everyday (unless of course you want to). I have a lot of DVDs that include Richard Simmons Sweatin’ to the Oldies Collection, Mari Winsor Pilates routines, and Tracy Anderson’s Metamorphosis.
4: Add your favorite music—Another way to stay motivated is by adding music you love to your workout. I do a lot of Tracy Anderson DVDs. Having done her cardio workout more than a hundred times, I now play my own music. Dancing to my favorite music gives me something to anticipate everyday.
5: Get a partner—One of the hardest things about being healthy in our society is that we eat together but exercise alone. To “hang out” with friends, we go out for wings or frozen yogurt. We usually don’t say, “Let’s be healthy. Wanna come over Saturday? We can exercise!” Even some people without illnesses need partners to stay healthy. Find someone who will go jogging or go to the gym with you.
6: Give yourself grace—Mental illness is an opponent that doesn’t play fair. Some days, it wins. That’s the nature of chronic illness. If you didn’t exercise today, just know that you tried your best. When I have a day where depression takes away my ability to exercise (or do other things), I tell myself, “Okay, I lost this round. But I’m gonna win the next one!”
–Your Stylist, Jessica Gimeno