I have heard countless times that depression is anger turned inward. I see the point, but I tend to see it not just as anger turned inward, but energy turned inward. Like everything in life, balance is key. Energy flows in when we sleep, and energy is meant to flow out in balance—to flow into our relationships, our meaningful work, our interests and hobbies. When we have more energy flowing in than out, we get stagnant, frustrated, and ultimately depressed. Fortunately, there is no need for pills for this type of depression.
Depression is a difficult topic to discuss, mainly because the term “depression” is often misunderstood. Depression in the clinical sense is an all-encompassing, overwhelming feeling of sadness and lack of energy to do even the most mundane tasks. I have seen people so deep in an actual clinical depression that they were nearly catatonic. More often—much more often—I see people who are experiencing mild to moderate depression and/or frustration. For these people, exercise is enormously beneficial.
Exercise can protect you from future struggles with depression. Why? Because when you are exercising regularly, you are maintaining the flow of energy outward and maintaining balance. Also, you are building self-esteem from a series of small successes—say, from completing a daily exercise routine. Self-esteem will give you a healthy sense of outrage if your life starts to take another difficult turn.
“But I’m depressed,” you say. “I don’t have the energy for exercise.”
Yeah, you do. Start small—very small—and build slowly but progressively. Celebrate small successes and refrain from comparing your journey to anyone else’s.
Tips on starting an exercise program to help with depression:
- Talk to your doctor to make sure you are physically healthy enough to do the exercise you are planning to do.
- Choose small, achievable goals where you can build on your success. There are hundreds of free apps where the work is progressive, building on the previous day’s success. If you start out on day one trying to do 100 squats, you’re likely to hurt yourself and your chances of staying with it are zero. By starting with small, simple goals and building progressively, you and your family learn how to incorporate this new routine into your life. This cuts down on a lot of resistance.
- Think about what you want from your exercise time: Do you need more time for yourself or do you feel lonely and want a workout buddy? Your exercise time is yours to shape in any way that meets your needs.
- Don’t share your plans with your Facebook friends or significant other(s). This is important! In the words of the Nike ad: Just do it. Talking about your plans—what you’re going to do—sets you up for feelings of shame if you happen not to achieve that goal. You don’t need that if you’re treating depression. Exercise is something you do for yourself, not anyone else. Keeping it to yourself keeps your motivation coming from within.
- Talk to your significant other(s) about the time you need—which is different from talking about your exercise plans. If your family is used to having your attention at any given moment, this may be hard. Give them advance notice and stick to your schedule as much as possible. Sure, situations may come up where you can’t stick to your plan, but as this will be a learning experience for your family, keep in mind that sticking to the plan will help them adjust to your new routine so that it isn’t a huge amount of emotional energy to get out the door.
Have you or someone you know used exercise to help with depression? I welcome your thoughts and comments!
© Copyright 2013 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Kelly Baez, PhD, LPC, NCC, therapist in Atlanta, Georgia
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