Tips for Exercising with Depression & Anxiety:
I find exercising difficult. Not in general, but since I’ve been dealing with anxiety, depression and PTSD. I don’t know which one it is – all I know is that I’m tired all the time. I feel like since the day I broke (August 16, 2016), I’ve been in a permanent state of lethargy.
Don’t get me wrong – I am still cheery, grateful and wake up happy every day. I feel lucky for this. I worked really hard to make some major changes in my life, and now I’m reaping the fruits of my labour. But I’m still tired!
Anyone I talk to says it’s normal. From doctors, to anxiety specialists, to my counsellors. Recovery takes a looooong time, so they say. “Don’t beat yourself up! Take it one day at a time!”
While I try to accept this, it’s difficult. A part of me wants my old energy back. Yet I know that my old self wasn’t healthy – always running on adrenaline. One of the books I recommend reading on my Anxiety & PTSD Support page is called Adrenal Fatigue: Cure it Naturally – A Fresh Approach to Reset Your Metabolism, Regain Energy & Balance Hormones through Diet, Lifestyle & Nutrition. What I like about the book is that it explains how adrenal fatigue and anxiety are related. Apparently, it can take years for your body to break when it’s been running on adrenaline. There are other ways too, but this was me. Constantly taking on too much, having highs of over-performance, followed by huge crashes. Either my immune system would take a hit, or I’d just have a social anxiety moment where I would cancel all my plans and stay indoors to recharge. Usually, it would take a weekend and I’d be good to go.
Now, I can’t do this anymore. I was too ill, crashed too hard. My old version of 100% energy is likely never to happen again. Instead, I’m left feeling tried. Needing to sleep. Sleeping for hours before I’m caught up. Wishing for daily naps. It’s a hard habit to break, I know.
So how can you break the habit? While, apart from self-care and ensuring you look after yourself, exercise is a big one. Not necessarily hard core, full sweat, exhausting high intensity blah blah. But getting outside in the fresh air – walking, jogging – doing things that are easy on your mind and body. This is why Yoga and Pilates come so highly recommended. Exercising releases natural endorphins to help with anxiety. In fact, a ten minute walk can often be as effective as a 45 minute workout (Source here).
I know that exercise is critical to good health and to reducing stress and anxiety. So why is it so difficult to get active?
Well, for one thing, a depressed state makes it harder to move. Today, I set myself a goal to go for an easy hike with my partner. As soon as I woke up the anxiety began. I ignored it and followed the motions – getting dressed, getting in the car, stopping for our ritualistic morning coffee on the way into the mountains. Still, I felt sick – the thought of exercise was mentally overwhelming. My partner could tell something was up. When we got there, he asked if I was ok and I cried. I told him that on a scale of 1-10, I was a 0 for wanting to go. He laughed, noting that 0 is not between 1 and 10. I tried to cheer up and forced myself along the hiking path. It took 30 minutes before I got into it. Once I did, I felt so much better. But it took all my mental energy to get moving.
There’s one thing that never helps people who are dealing with depression: telling them that exercise will help. Sarah Kurchak
My Tips for Exercising with Depression and Anxiety
- FIND AN ACCOUNTABILITY PARTNER: Tell them what you are going through and ask them to support you by meeting you for exercise dates. I set a date and time, and they agree to meet me. This makes it harder to back out.
- PREPARE YOUR GEAR AHEAD OF TIME: Right beside my bed are my workout clothes. My shoes are by the door. My water bottle is filled. Everything is ready.
- MOTIVATE YOURSELF: I stop at my favourite cafe for a coffee on my way to the mountains. This helps get me out the door.
- BREAK YOUR GOAL INTO SMALL STEPS: I tell myself that even 5 minutes is enough. All I have to do is get there, and walk for 5 minutes. When I’ve walked 5 minutes, I tell myself “you could turn around now, but try just another 5 minutes”. If I am feeling really crappy, the I tell my accountability partner, and we try to distract ourselves by telling funny jokes or stories. Somehow, this usually gets me through. Before I know it, the endorphins kick in after 15 minutes, and I can do the 2 hour hike.
- GO EASY ON YOURSELF: Some days, it’s just not possible. I cannot get out of bed. I’m in tears, sitting on the bed, looking at my workout gear. If this is the case, I have to go easy on myself. There’s no other option. I just say to myself “it’s ok Ella, you’ll go another time. Just rest.” And I rest. I listen to my mind and my body. And once I wake up, I usually feel well enough to just go around the block in my neighbourhood. Sometimes that’s all I can do.
I’d be really curious what else you do to find the constant tired feeling. Does continual exercise help with this? I’m trying, but it’s really hard!