Managing Depression With Exercise

It’s been a difficult few months being in isolation from friends and community. I realized how much of my joy despite being an introvert comes from 1 on 1 time with others.

Being pregnant also makes me more emotional.

Rain and gray days also make me more depressed. I never realized how much the weather affects me until 4 years ago when we went to California in early February to visit family.

I was 2 months post-partum and really struggling with post-partum depression. And it was winter here in New Hampshire. Which means a lot of dark cold snowy days with little interaction between others. If you have ever lived in New England you know what I am talking about.

img_9711We have this time period after the holidays where everyone just kind of hunkers down at home waiting for spring. It’s a hard season.

So this week when the rain and gray skies came and I felt the depression monster creeping in I knew it. I knew that those feelings of wanting to stay in bed all day or lay on the couch binge watching television were real.

I knew how hard it would be to shut them off, and the impact they have on my mood. The combination of being 34 weeks pregnant, shut down at home so much, and lack of sunshine were the perfect storm for depression to creep in.

I have learned a lot in the last 4 years.

I have learned a lot about depression. The symptoms and signs of it.

I really like the way the National Institute of Mental Health describes the symptoms:

  • Do you feel sad, empty and hopeless most of the day nearly every day?
  • Have you lost interest in your hobbies?
  • Are you having trouble eating or sleeping?
  • Or are you sleeping or eating more than usual?

Here is a link to their free pamphlet if you want more information on depression.

For me, it feels like a wave of sadness, combined with this sheer feeling of being tired with no logical reason for being tired. I get quiet and withdrawn and feel like everything is gray. There is a song by Dave Matthews Band, Grey Street that really captures how I feel when I am depressed. ‘All the colors mix together, to grey.’

You fight but no matter what the gray lingers.

That is what it feels like.

The first time I went through post-partum depression I needed medication, that was 10 years ago. After spending time learning how to manage and cope using holistic approaches I know now how to manage without medication. I learned 4 years ago that I could overcome dark gray days, with some techniques I had learned in counseling, exercise and my faith.

So today when I watched the rain fall, and I felt the gray creep in, I knew. I just knew it would take extra work to lace up my sneakers and go outside.

I dug down into my running closet, and pulled out this hat. This hat from my third 100 mile ultra marathon. It was the big race I trained for and finished 4 years ago, the race that helped me get out of that post-partum depression I mentioned earlier. Its a reminder for me that even when I feel gray creeping in, there is some hope on the other side.

img_9714

I might not have ran that far today, a mere 2.5 miles. But I got outside to run. I felt the cool breeze across my arms, and after about a half mile, I began to feel less gray inside. I began to feel those positive endorphins that exercise gives the body kick in.

So can you use exercise to help fight depression? Yes. If you have done some work, and your depression is still at a manageable level I would say yes. I will say it requires exercise at least 4-5 days a week consistently over a period of time, and having a support person making sure you are managing it well.

As a mental health counselor I am a firm believer that each one of us possess the ability to overcome some challenges within us with the right support and motivation.

Depression can vary in severity and type, and if you are questioning if you or someone you love have depression you should start with seeing a physician and seeking mental health counseling to begin. 

If you or someone you love is in immediate danger please do not forget the suicide hotline: 1-800-273-8255

 

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