By Debbie Mandel
When someone is mildly depressed, the first remedy that comes to mind: Exercise. In just a few minutes exercise burns off stress hormones and raises endorphin levels (the happiness hormone); now that’s a quick fix. This makes the depressed person feel better, more uplifted and therefore able to re-interpret the sources of stress in a more positive light. However, people who are depressed experience fatigue, low energy levels, irritability, poor sleep and the lack of interest in getting dressed and looking presentable. Ironically, the depressed person who needs to exercise most is not likely to exercise. The situation becomes self-perpetuating.
Depression is associated with dark words. “I’m not good enough,” “What’s the use of trying,” “I’m boring,” “I just have no luck,” “I’ll never find love because I’m not good looking enough.” A depressed person repeats this negative self-talk so many times until it becomes automatic, constantly replaying the same sad lyrics in her mind and believing every word.
The question is: How do you break this cycle and get a depressed person to exercise? This problem reminds me of the fairy tale, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. One of the dwarfs, Grumpy, is unhappy and proclaims, “I don’t want to be happy; I want to be sad!” Clinging to a sad state gives a person something he or she is seeking: attention and concern. “Take care of me. I’m a victim.” Exercise physically and mentally empowers the self, awakening the potential to grow and move on. I have observed women who felt stuck in their jobs and marriages, and began a strength training program. After about a year they were able to leave both situations to find greater fulfillment. As they put on more muscle, coordinated their movements to flow and improved their balance, they transferred these skills to their emotional lives. They blossomed with a new-found creative force and most importantly, self-confidence. They continued to exercise regularly which gave them the natural “high” to look down at their relatively smaller problems and see the total picture - then the solution. Unlike being hooked on cocaine or other drugs which deaden the senses, a person practicing a daily regimen of exercise awakens the senses to greater pleasure in life. Here are some suggestions to begin exercising when you are depressed and feel that you don’t have the energy to do it:
We all have five basic instincts for happiness. You can count them on your fingers: The thumb is the instinct for survival. The second finger is choice - what I choose or choose not to do. The third finger is empowerment to feel that we have something to contribute. The fourth finger is social as we need to connect with friends. The fifth finger is fun and we all would love to release our inner child and cut loose. Exercise strengthens our entire hand so that we are healthier, able to express ourselves, feel more powerful, able to meet and greet people and relaxed enough in our individual whims.
Debbie Mandel, MA is the author of Turn On Your Inner Light: Fitness for Body, Mind and Soul, a stress-reduction specialist, motivational speaker, a personal trainer and mind/body lecturer at Southampton College. She is the host of the weekly Turn On Your Inner Light Show on WHLI 1100AM in New York City, produces a weekly wellness newsletter, and has been featured on radio/TV and print media. To learn more click here to visit Debbie's site.