How to stay active during a depressive episode
Exercising consistently is tough in itself, we’re not going to lie. But trying to stay (or just be!) active when we’re struggling mentally can feel near impossible. Feeling depressed can cause us to completely withdraw from the world - our friends and relatives, our jobs, and our social lives. It can result in us neglecting any form of self-care, and inevitably we find ourselves feeling worse. So how can we keep ourselves moving when we just want to curl up under the duvet for the next 3-5 working days?
We all know that exercise can help us feel better in our body and in our brain, but that’s definitely not at the forefront of our minds when we feel down. Reminding ourselves how that really works might encourage us to take action when we need it most. Exercising keeps our bodies functioning properly and therefore helps us to combat any risk factors to our health. It promotes better sleep, mood and even sex! And if that wasn’t enough of a reason to get you in the gym, exercising consistently can reduce stress and keep depression at bay. To find out more about the benefits of exercise, take a look here to read more about the power that movement can have on our mental health:
That’s all well and good, of course. But when we’ve hit rock bottom and we can’t bear to get out of bed, shower, or even eat… we’re putting a huge expectation on ourselves to get in a full-blown workout. It can feel like we’re trapped in a vicious cycle. We feel down, we stay in bed, we don’t exercise, then we feel worse for not exercising, forcing us to spend more time feeling rubbish. So, how can we break that cycle and take better care of ourselves?
If exercise seems like too much, try just doing one small thing at a time. Maybe it’s making your bed, brushing your teeth, or dusting the shelves. These things can seem enormous when our mental health is suffering, so don’t push yourself too much if it doesn’t feel right. If it does feel manageable, doing just one of these things might lead to a spark of motivation to do something else. Eventually, we might feel up for a bit more movement - so try a five minute walk around the block, a short yoga flow or a bit of gardening. Whatever makes you feel good!
Try the two-minute rule
We love this idea. Try doing one thing for two minutes. Walking up and down the stairs, star jumps, cleaning a cupboard. Whatever it is, set a timer for just two minutes. No more, no less. Firstly, two minutes sounds doable, right? That’s something we’re likely to be able to achieve, and that feeling of accomplishment can have a huge impact on our mood and mental wellbeing. Chances are, that two minutes will show you that you’re capable of more - and we’re likely to carry on longer than two minutes! Challenge yourself, but check in to make sure you’re not taking on too much.
Green exercise for the win!
Green exercise refers to physical activity undertaken in natural environments. This is well known for both its physical and psychological benefits. Being outside can help us reconnect with ourselves and the world around us, and bring us away from that dark place we often find ourselves in when we’re feeling depressed. It doesn’t need to be a five-mile run, why not take a mindful walk around the local park? Try observing the colours of the trees, the sound of the birds and the feeling of fresh air on your face.
Make it as fun as you possibly can
Ask someone to join you for a walk, or even FaceTime your mum whilst you stroll. Find a dance workout to your favourite songs on YouTube and groove like no one’s watching! (Maybe shut the blinds so you know that no one’s watching…). Chase the dog round the garden, or listen to that podcast you’ve been meaning to start whilst you jog on the treadmill. Make a TikTok while you wash the dishes or hoover the living room. Whatever you enjoy doing, try to make it as active as possible - trick your mind into enjoying exercise!
Final note: Be compassionate towards yourself. Taking care of ourselves when we’re depressed is crucial. Be gentle, check in with yourself frequently and don’t push it too far. Resting is an important aspect of exercise and self-care, so listen to your body when it tells you it needs a break! Know your limits, but try your best to do just one thing you know will make you feel better, no matter how much you don’t want to. Reframing our mindset to view exercise as self-care can help us to not see it as a chore, and more as a stepping stone in the process of getting better.
NHS (2021) Benefits of exercise. https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/exercise/exercise-health-benefits/