Coping with depression: exercise 

Yesterday morning, I woke up under a dark cloud. I mulled over the idea of staying in bed all day again. Then my thoughts turned to the things I longed to do that seemed like too much effort. I realised all the family time I’d missed out on last weekend because I was curled up in bed unwilling to move. I regretted my 2 wasted self care days that I had spent frozen still under a thick winter duvet absorbed in hours of Netflix. Suddenly, the urge to take part overtook the pull of my sanctuary. With great effort, I carried my weighty limbs off to the bathroom and I showered. Having a shower seemed to clear some of the clouds lingering above my head. I definitely feel more like Eeyore than Olaf when I’m under a cloud of depression. But somehow that shower made me feel more like Olaf; I had energy and a smile. Sure, the cloud was still there but it had brightened up and it wasn’t bothering me. 

So despite starting badly, yesterday was a good day. I resolved to finally get back to the gym. I’ve only been swimming lately but I wanted to use the gym too. However, by the time the evening rolled around, I just wanted to lie down and rest. Motherhood is exhausting and after Boo is asleep it is a real struggle to do anything that requires any effort. But if I want to go to the gym, I have to go in the evening. This has been my excuse lately – I’m too tired to go now. Somehow, yesterday, I managed to find the motivation to make myself go despite the sofa beckoning. As I drove to the gym, I pictured myself lying in bed watching Netflix and fought a mental battle not to turn the car round. When I got to the gym, I sat in the car park for 5 minutes finishing a podcast (and toying with the idea of going straight home). In the changing rooms, I almost put my swimming costume on so I could just have a swim. Procrastination hit peak levels when instead of entering the gym, I went to the front desk to discuss what classes still have spaces on Friday. From my house to being in the gym usually takes 20 minutes. Yesterday took over an hour. 

But I went in. 

I was glad that the gym was almost empty. Not surprising given how late it now was! But having lots of machines free, took the pressure off. And so I did something I have never done in the gym before: I walked on the treadmill. Before, I would have been way too embarrassed to walk. Usually I would run 5k as quickly as I could without passing out and get off. Yesterday, I didn’t look how far I went. I didn’t look how fast I was going. I just walked quickly so that I was out of breath. Eventually I did run – but after 10 minutes I decided just to walk again. In the end, I was on the machine for almost an hour. I used some weights, went for a swim, steam and sauna then had a long shower. And I felt really bloody good. 

I really hadn’t wanted to go. I had no motivation to push myself. So I had just plodded along. Exercise that would normally have been done in half the time, had now taken up the entire evening. But I did it. Despite every fibre of my body willing me to go and lie down, I had stayed the course. 

This morning, I woke up with a smile on my face. For once, I wasn’t in a state of panic or gloom. I sat and discussed plans with my toddler. I was excited about the day. So excited, I took us trampolining so we could both enjoy some exercise together. 

In the past, exercise has been key to my mental wellbeing. Running was always there to lift my spirits and keep me healthy. Since becoming a mum, I’ve let it all slide. I’m knackered and have limited free time so exercise isn’t top of my to-do list. But in reality, exercising means I have more energy, can think clearer, feel more positive and feel more healthy. Committing time to exercise, even if it’s just a walk, is something I need to remember if I’m going to be mentally well. I need to move my body and remind it that it can do more than just lie down all day. 

*I think doing low impact exercise is a great way to gain some of the benefits for mental health whilst not being overwhelming. A walk around the block or a 10 minute dance session in the living room is a good place to start. 

**We know that stress, anxiety and depression has physical effects on our body. In the same way, looking after physical health, can have a positive impact on mental health. It works both ways. 

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