Working out Through Depression

Exercise fortifies the pillars of your mind, body, and soul. Nevertheless, knowing something is good for you isn’t always motivation to do it, especially through a depressive episode. Depression comes and goes in waves, but I’m interested in consistency amongst the tsunami of emotions. 

“I thought maybe I could help people with awareness, help men get the strength and courage… I have run into people who have made fun of me, some of my colleagues. I’ve had people try to make light of it. Depression is not something you make light of. It’s serious.” Terry Bradshaw, Super bowl Quarterback and MVP. Athletes of all different levels struggle with staying physically active through depression. So as an athlete and a mental health advocate, I want to share somethings that help me stay consistent with my routine.

Have Game Plan

If depression is something you’ve dealt with for awhile then you can use your good days to plan for your bad days. Personally if I wait to make decisions when I’m in my depressive state, I’m exponentially less likely to make healthy choices or schedule a time to work on myself. Also, If I feel a bad day coming I can plan a workout routine that less taxing while still being effective.

I’ll get as specific as to write out a game plan of how I typically act when I’m depressed—or what thoughts, feelings, or triggers keep me reluctant to workout. Knowing these triggers and feelings I can come up with little tricks, treats, incentives, and self talk to work against it.

For example, if one of the first signs that I’m about to embark on a depressive episode is binging hours of Netflix, I write out that 3 hours of Netflix, is my cue to go for a jog, hit the weight room, or take a spin class. Write it out in detail whatever you decide you’ll do and when. I post my game plan in my journal but if you need, put it somewhere you know you will see it easy and often. 

Have a Workout Buddy

If exercising feels close to impossible, sometimes it helps to have a buddy to remind you it’s not. Having a friend to workout with is good because not only do they keep you accountable, but they can also help you work through some of your depressive thoughts or emotions. If nothing else it’s good to just have someone there so you don’t feel alone. When you write out your game plan it’s good to include teammates (people you can count on when you’re down).

“I found that with depression one of the most important things you could realize is that you’re not alone. You’re not the first to go through it… I wish I had someone at that time who could just pull me aside and [say], ‘Hey, it’s going to be okay.’” Dwayne Johnson

The solution might be as simple as going to bed and texting a buddy to come pick you up for the gym the next morning. If they are outside your house ready to go you are more likely to get up and go workout.  

No Matter What, Showing up Is Better Than Not

Like I said before, when making your game plan, strategize around your bad days. It doesn’t help you to plan a 2 hour long weight lifting workout with an hour of cardio if you can barely find the motivation to live, let alone lift. Working out can be as small as taking a walk to the gym, stretching and doing core, then walking home.

The great thing about a plan is that it’s flexible. When I get moving and the endorphins start pumping, I normally find myself wanting to do more. Just yesterday amidst a depressive episode a run around the block turned into a 4 mile run to the not-so-local flea market. If not, and walking to the gym, stretching, doing core, and walking home is all you do it’s still far better than nothing. 

Now is Not The Time To Get Down on Yourself

When I’m depressed, I negatively compare myself to others and put myself down anyway I can. Yes, even a professional athlete, can look at a yoga instructor and beat himself up for not being flexible. Also, injuries play a huge part in me not being able to do some of the workouts other gym-goers can. For that reason, I might avoid exercise settings that invite rivalry such as group classes, timed workouts, or anything with a point system.

Instead, tell your workout buddy or trainer what you’re going through, what your exercise goals are when you work with them. Prioritize your workout form over your weight or reps.

Celebrate Big

When you’re depressed, any action is a huge win. I gift myself with a set of adjustable dumbbells, a jump rope, a yoga mat, new workout gear, or some other fitness-centric reward after checking off 10 workouts. I also brag on myself to friends, or on social media about my accomplishments and receive positive feedback and encouragement. Sharing your goals and accomplishments makes it real. Allow others to celebrate with you or for you if you don’t feel like much of a winner.

All in all, I hope this post finds someone who needs it. Nevertheless, if you’re battling depression, or even suspects that you might be, reach out to a licensed counselor or therapist to learn strategies for making positive steps.