in this time you could:
Return 1 lengthy email to a client.
Cook al dente pasta.
Travel from St. Paul’s to Oxford Circus on the Central Line.
Feel low, depressed or anxious.
Or relax, take some ‘me’ time and allow me to share my journey, some research and hopefully a way to gain a little more control over the beast that has taken control, whether it’s a little or a lot.
I was prompted to write this blog as I started noticing the presence of my annual visitor, Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD to its friends. It is nothing too serious for me, just a little fog surrounding my mind, a feeling of fatigue and a significant lack of smiles once the sun has gone down. But having seen the effect it had on my Grandmother, and knowing the impact other mental health issues have had on me, I am keen to fend it off so it doesn’t put its feet up, get comfy and stay for the whole season.
Unsurprisingly, I use exercise as my defense, but this hasn’t always been my natural defense. But before I go further, let me first take you back…
My dance with the dark side started about 2.5yrs ago. Fortunately I have never been smothered by the suffocating blanket that is depression. My companion is anxiety. And while I guess it had always bubbled away below the surface, it came to a head (my head to be specific) a couple of years back. Stood at a station, I was literally paralysed by anxiety, and the accompanying guilt that is never far away…
Anxious to get back to London, guilty for not having spent enough time at my parents.
Anxious about my father’s health; guilty that I would be away travelling with work.
Anxious about my impending 6 week trip to Brazil for work; guilty that was I anxious and not feeling stronger about this challenge.
Anxious that I wasn’t seeing my friends enough; guilty that I was going out and drinking too much.
My mind was literally boxing me into a tiny cage where I could hardly breathe, let alone move.
I have always been an active, outdoorsy kind of person. As a kid I would choose to walk the dog if I started to feel overwhelmed by school work or after a fight with my sister. But it was actually during my time in Brazil for work that I saw the direct effect that exercise had on my mental health. To say this project was stressful was an understatement. Being challenged daily by staff, suppliers, sales figures; living in a foreign country where I was just learning the language. Fortunately for me, there was a tiny gym in my building. So each morning I would go on the treadmill for 30mins while I mentally worked through any potential meetings and confrontations I my encounter that day….and figuring out the appropriate swear words in Portuguese!
The vicious circle…
While anxiety can actually be a positive and motivating emotion, too much can cause a heightened and constant state of fear, which is very bad, for both body and mind. To try to escape this fear, we often cultivate other habits as a distraction mechanism e.g. alcohol, drugs, overeating (Anyone that has been around me while I work will know that my natural ‘Go To’ is overeating. Yes it may only be rice cakes, but I would still knock back a whole pack whilst trying to compose an important email). However, these distraction mechanisms can be equally detrimental to our health, if not worse as it creates a vicious circle. E.g. we are anxious so we overeat, then we have less energy, so don’t exercise, which results in even less energy and more anxiety.
But fear not, there is a healthier alternative, yep you guessed it, EXERCISE.
Exercising is an effective way to break this cycle. Studies show that exercise can treat mild to moderate depression as effectively as antidepressant medication—but without the side-effects, of course. It promotes all kinds of changes in the brain, and to your mood, including:
New activity patterns that promote feelings of calm and well-being
Releases endorphins, powerful chemicals in your brain that energize your spirits and make you feel good.
Serve as a distraction, allowing you to find some quiet time to break out of the cycle of negative thoughts that feed depression.
Helps you sleep better
Boosts overall mood
Provides more energy
(The Health Guide).
What you can do…
WAIT! Before we go any further, let me make it quite clear that I am in no way adopting the ‘oh just cheer up and go for a run’ attitude, which is oh so helpful when you are suffering from depression/stress/anxiety. I know being told to exercise just doesn’t cut it. The lack of motivation, fatigue and weakness that someone with depression is struggling with is related to the body's mitochondria, tiny structures found within every cell of the human body. These mitochondria generate energy for the cell and poor mitochondrial function leads to less energy, fatigue, and weakness.
However, I have some good news, studies have shown that it really doesn’t matter what activity you do just as long as you find something you enjoy. This also applies to the intensity; a 2010 study in the British Journal of Psychiatry found a brisk walk and a long run had the same effect on reducing negative thoughts and feelings. However, to have an impact on your symptoms you need to find an activity you would be motivated to do 5 days a week.
The key for me is to set a time and day for the activity. If I don’t have a set schedule then it becomes optional, aaaand then it doesn’t happen. But that’s just me.
Outdoor activity with companion or group – Studies have shown that exercise outside has a far greater impact on our well-being, as does taking part in a social group, such as more energy and feeling more revitalized. Obviously this can be quite intimidating, depending on your state of mind.
Daily walk – It doesn’t have to be far, or for long, but a daily walk can have huge effects on your mood. Choose something manageable and diverting enough for you to complete several times a week. Preferably around nature.
Exercise in your home – This could range from skipping in the garden to planking in the lounge, using an exercise DVD or practicing some yoga.
TeaTime Challenge – This is something BOUND has created in an attempt to overcome all the barriers that were kicked up by the previous suggestions e.g. It's raining. It's cold. I'm tired. I have too much work. I forgot my I-Pod, I don’t have the equipment, I don’t know what I’m doing, there’s no space…Yep I get it. So how about a little daily activity for you to perform in the kitchen while you wait for the kettle to boil. BOUND will be posting daily activities for you to try.
Exercise can be free and the effects on both mind and body are long lasting. It doesn't matter if you train for a marathon, take a walk in the neighborhood or do the Tea time challenges. Simply carving out time in your day to do something other than work or being sedentary, will positively affect you both physically and mentally. Your endorphins will increase while cortisol decreases, providing you with instant relief.
So while exercise won’t necessarily free you completely from the mental binds, it should provide some relief. Hopefully, long enough for your mind to get back on your side.