How To Use Fitness and Self Care To Manage Depression
*I am not a medical professional. The tips in this article are based on my personal experience and research. Please visit your doctor if you need assistance and for diagnosis.
Ultimate highs and ultimate lows, is an accurate description of my 20's.
I cycled through times where I was "on" all the time. I didn't need sleep and I would not slow down at all.
Then I would hit a wall.
Last year was when I went through the deepest depression of my life.
Many days I couldn't get out of bed. I avoided my friends and stopped doing things I loved, and most of the time I wondered what it would be like if I were no longer here.
I was at a point where nothing I did was for myself and I was in a constant people pleasing cycle, just going through the motions of life with no resolve.
In the summer of last year, I decided to go to the doctor to try and get some help. I had been avoiding assistance for far too long. The way I was feeling wasn't normal and I should not continue living this way – especially since there were days I did not want to continue living. (Stick through the dramatics, this gets better :)
My doctor prescribed a low dose of quetiapine and I was hesitant. I don't really like taking medicine and I wasn't a fan of the side effects. I also had a friend who had started a cycle of medicine 15 years before me give me a word of caution. She told me I would have to keep upping the dosage and the doctor will likely switch the medicine again and again. She hated what medicine did to her and it took her time to remove the dependance.
I took it for a little while, but this word of caution stayed in my mind.
After a few weeks I started to do more research about managing emotions and depression naturally, and found that fitness could be a huge help. I've always had fitness in my life inconsistently but I decided to commit.
After praying about it, I stopped taking the medicine and started going to the gym 4-5 days a week. (Ultimately this is what led me to receive a personal training certification)
Regular fitness was the first step. Taking care of myself mentally was the next step.
So I gave myself permission to put my needs first.
Here are five ways to use fitness and self care to help manage depression:
ALLOW YOURSELF TO FEEL
Being highly reactive and emotional is a direct result of ignoring emotions. When you refuse to deal with how you feel there is volcanic eruption waiting to happen.
Managing emotions is more about acknowledging them, not bottling them up, so I came up with a process called RFR. RECOGNIZE, FEEL, RELEASE.
Recognize the emotion and determine the root cause. Feel the way you feel without being ashamed for feeling this way, and release the negativity. It will allow you to feel without being controlled.
I encourage you release the emotion and not wallow in it. Allowing yourself to fall deeper into depression by wallowing is not going to be beneficial to you.
USE A JOURNAL
Journaling your thoughts and feelings is a great form of release.
Make it something regular. Not necessarily every day, but even if you committed to a weekly or bi-weekly summary, you will reap benefits.
Another great way to try this is use a planner and write a sentence for each day.
This process will also allow introspection and help you to see the signs of depression coming on.
Getting to know and love who you are is in my opinion, the number one tool that will guide you away from depressive episodes.
DEVELOP A FLEXIBLE FITNESS SCHEDULE
Exercise releases endorphins which are like your personal feel good drug. It is a healthy way to cope with your emotions.
DO NOT GET CAUGHT UP IN GAINS AND TRACKING MACROS
You must be flexible with your fitness regimen because you don't want obsessive exercise to become a source of depression.
Think of exercise as a way to feel better, not look better.
Let exercise be an outlet to gain strength not to impress people.
Do it for you.
Work in both cardio and strength training to get the most benefit out of your workouts.
Keep in mind that any physical activity will be helpful. Even if you can only walk around the block, do it!
FIND SOMEONE TO SHARE WITH
Hiding from my friends who loved me was a huge detriment to my wellness.
Share openly with someone you trust. It could be a therapist or a close friend, but do not bottle everything in – it will explode when you open it.
Prayer also plays a huge role for me.
Over indulging in chocolate and french fries is not a treat – it is a unhealthy coping mechanism and often leaves you feeling worse.
Instead, allow yourself to have treats in a healthy manner. This could be a donut, or getting your hair done.
For me, taking time to read fiction is a treat. I love when I get to sit back and get lost in a non-existent world. It's a great way to relax.
I hope these tips help you navigate depression or anxiety. Again, please visit a doctor if you are experiencing severe depression, mood swings or are having any suicidal thought.