How the Gym Helped Me Deal with Depression
Exercise alone won’t make depression go away, but it can play a significant role in your treatment.
I experienced depression 8 years ago. As part of my treatment I began an exercise programme and I have continued with it ever since. Within two years my depression had disappeared and, despite a few little slides backwards, it has never returned with full force.
Can I credit exercise for helping me overcome depression? No, not on its own. Can I credit my continued exercise program as the reason it hasn’t returned? Again, no. Yet I believe strongly that working out played a significant part.
THE BENEFIT OF PUTTING ONE FOOT IN FRONT OF THE OTHER
When depression strikes it’s hard enough to get out of bed most days, let alone try and accomplish big tasks.
Working out in the gym helped me rediscover that ability. I started with a simple 5×5 programme for squats, deadlifts, bench press and shoulder press. I started with just the bar and every week I would add 2.5kgs.
By taking these small steps and putting one foot in front of the other I got stronger. It was slow but sure progress. I didn’t have a goal weight I wanted to lift. I wasn’t motivated by a target, as nothing motivated me at that stage. I just wanted to be making progress and moving in the right direction.
Even if everything else in life felt like it was falling apart, the gym was a place where I could go and know I was making progress.
In the gym there were no other variables. It was just me and the bar. The simplicity of that outlook helped enormously and was exactly what I needed to help rebuild my mental fortitude.
I didn’t always go to every session I had scheduled and even if I did, I didn’t always complete the sets I was supposed to. Sometimes I took the easy option out. I didn’t have a personal trainer or a gym partner that could hold me accountable.
But over time I went enough, lifted enough and made enough progress that the personal development habit started coming back.
I enjoyed my time at the gym as “me time.” I could put on my headphones, shut out the world and get in the zone. Others were around me but I barely noticed their presence. The fact that I enjoyed being in this zone helped get me to the gym on a regular basis.
When I went running I would go on long runs up on a trail that hugged the harbour’s edge. Running near water was so peaceful and serene. I would stop and rest near the marina and watch the boats come and go.
EXERCISE GIVES YOU A PURPOSE
I started my exercise programme because I was convinced that the physical benefits would help my mental wellbeing. I did the exercise to help the depression, rather than doing the exercise for the exercise’s sake.
Yet I soon grew to love the fitness habit. I loved going on long runs and I especially loved weight lifting. While I was struggling with the rest of my life, the fitness programme gave me purpose.
I never intended it that way, but it was an excellent side effect. It got me excited about something again. I’d look forward to my next workout and the chance to set a new personal best.
Suddenly I was no longer despairing over everything and this one bright spot slowly started helping me to see other bright spots in life once again.
WEIGHTLIFTING IS AN OUTLET FOR NEGATIVE EMOTIONS
A tough set requires you to bust your gut. Grunting, sweating and a bit of swearing are common place. When it comes to the last few reps a little bit of anger and frustration can help you get the set done.
I found taking out my negative emotions on the bar to be very beneficial. My pent up emotions were emptied on the bar as I used that negative energy to finish the set. When I walked out the door at the end of my workout I left a lot of that frustration behind.
Going to the gym two or three times a week every week had a cumulative effect in this regard. I didn’t notice myself dumping emotions workout to workout, but I believe that lifting weights was an excellent outlet that had a positive benefit over time.
A TOUGH WORKOUT CAN SHUT OFF YOUR MENTAL CHATTER
When you are depressed you need a break from your own mind. Yet it’s very hard to come by. Not much can distract you from the negative thoughts and emotions you are feeling. One benefit I found with exercise was that a tough weights workout could shut off that mental chatter for a little bit.
Once the workout started getting tough I needed to focus in order to get it done. The temptation was always there to stop the workout and have a think, allowing the dark cloud to take over. But most of the time I was able to push the dark cloud away in order to summon the necessary energy to complete the workout. Shutting off the chatter was necessary to focus on the bar.
Running had the opposite effect, where the peace and solitude allowed me time with my thoughts. That was good on some days and was exactly what I needed. But on days when I was burnt out from too much manic negative thinking that I couldn’t switch off, a challenging workout in the gym was a good remedy.
Author Bio – Brad writes about relationships with a focus on helping people build confidence and overcome insecurities. His time with depression has helped him learn to know himself better. You can read more from him at his website Badass Young Men.