Feeling Down? Just Run

If you have a mental health condition the likelihood is you would have heard one of the following more than once:

'Have you tried running?'

Did you know that endorphins are great for battling depression.'

'Just get out in nature, that helps everything.'

I know these are well meaning pieces of advice but when I am in the grips of panic or the depths of a depression episode, just try to tell me to go for a run, I dare you. Somedays I can barely get myself showered, dressed and to work.  By the time I am home I have used up any last vestige of energy I have left and go immediately to bed.  The thought of exercising during these moments is simply unfathomable.  So if you tell me to 'just go for a run, you will feel better', I will probably punch you in the face, if I had the energy to do so.  It comes down to two simple but regularly misconstrued messages about mental health and its relationship to fitness:

That a mental health condition is something you can snap out of;
That exercise is an excellent potential recover tool; but not a cure.

I obviously write regularly about the transformative effect that exercise has had on my quality of life and how it helped me reduce, and eventually come off the SSRIs I had been taking since I was 18.  What I try to reiterate as much as possible is that this was a slow and measured process that took me over two years.  In no way was I ready or able to complete the kind of workouts I do now when I first started to explore exercise as a way of managing my anxiety.  Perhaps most importantly, I still have set backs.  There are still weeks when I am exhausted and I cannot find the motivation to get moving.  It is not a linear process.  Essentially, I did not go for a run one day and then feel better.

I often get messages from people who regularly are told that exercise can help with anxiety and depression, but have no idea where to start.  They express great concern that they would like to try and see if exercise could benefit them, but feel that establishing a fitness regime would be too overwhelming and they are at a loss of what to do.  As with nearly all things fitness related on social media they are faced with the headline messages: do this and you will feel better.  They are never told how to actually do it and more importantly, that it will not be a quick fix.  Exercise for mental health is exercise for life and it takes time.

When I respond to these sorts of messages I always give the same advise:

Start slow.

Go outside for 15 minutes on your lunch break.  If you cannot do 15, then do 10, do 5.  Go for a walk and just move to the amount you feel able to in that moment.  Some days will be different from others, that is ok.  Do not feel that you must establish a fixed routine right out the gate. If you miss a day, you start again the next or when you feel able.  Each time you move is a tangible building block of positive experiences that you will use to get stronger at your own pace.  Perhaps most importantly, focus on types of movement that brings you joy.  That could be running, it could rolling down a grassy hill for all I know, but if you find something that puts a smile of your face and some sweat on your brow then you will want to do it again and again.