Anxiety and its familiar cousin depression, often go hand and hand and can be debilitating to live with. If you think you’re suffering from either of these we urge you to speak to your doctor or another medical professional. A lot of people have already done this and may already be on medication that it’s not helping enough or are trying to find natural ways to help without the use of medication. Whatever the situation may be for you, just getting up and moving can help. I was diagnosed with anxiety at just 25 years old and I was looking for something that could help. That’s when I read about using exercise to ease anxiety and depression. It really helped me and I think it could help you, too. Read on to learn more.
What are Anxiety and Depression?
Before we jump right in, it’s important to understand what anxiety and depression are and what they aren’t.
It is normal for everyone to feel nervous from time to time or worry about something coming up in the future. However, when it becomes a constant problem or progresses into even further symptoms (such as a rapid heart rate or rapid breathing), anxiety may be the reason. In spite of the prevalence of this illness, doctors are still not sure exactly what causes it. While research shows, as with most mental illnesses, anxiety tends to run in families, it’s not just genetics that can bring it to your doorstep. As the Anxiety and Depression Association of America explains:
Anxiety disorders may develop from a complex set of risk factors, including genetics, brain chemistry, personality, and life events.
Common Symptoms of an Anxiety Disorder Can Include:
- nervousness or restlessness
- feelings of danger, fear, or panic
- rapid heart rate
- rapid breathing (hyperventilating)
- increased sweating
- difficulty focusing or thinking clearly
- insomnia or difficulty sleeping
- digestive or gastrointestinal problems (gas, constipation, or diarrhea)
Having ups and downs in your life is completely normal. Things can happen that make you feel sad or upset. You may experience a major loss or a big letdown. Any of these things can make you feel sad and can even have you feeling depressed. However, when these feelings don’t resolve on their own, you may be experiencing depression. Often times, nothing even needs to happen to trigger these feelings in someone who has depression. While doctors believe that depression is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain, researchers at Harvard Medical School think it’s more complex than that:
There are many possible causes of depression, including faulty mood regulation by the brain, genetic vulnerability, stressful life events, medications, and medical problems. It’s believed that several of these forces interact to bring on depression.
Common Symptoms of Clinical Depression Can Include:
- Feelings of sadness, emptiness, or hopelessness
- Feelings of anger, irritability, or frustration
- Loss of interest or pleasure in most or all normal activities
- Trouble with sleep patterns (including insomnia or sleeping too much)
- Fatigue and lack of energy
- Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
Using Exercise to Ease Anxiety and Depression
If you’ve been diagnosed with anxiety or depression, getting active has been shown to help. Using exercise to ease anxiety and depression has been well documented for many years. Researchers haven’t exactly figured out how depression, anxiety, and exercise are linked, they just know it works! One of the reasons they believe it works is because exercise stimulates the release of important neurotransmitters like endorphins, dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin. All of these brain chemicals work together to relieve stress, reduce pain, and improve your overall mood!
There have been numerous studies published on using exercise to ease anxiety and depression. So, we’ll focus on a couple of key ones that have been completed more recently. There was a major study published in the Journal of Prevention Medicine that researched a total of 16,230 people from 15 different countries. They found a dose-response relationship between physical activity and mental health. Specifically, the association of regular physical activity and lower prevalence of current major depression, social phobia, specific phobia, and agoraphobia was significant and persisted even after controlling for sociodemographic characteristics, self-reported physical disorders, and comorbid mental disorders.
In another major study by psychologists at Duke University, they found that clinically depressed people who regularly exercised felt better than their counterparts who didn’t. In this study, they assigned sedentary adults with major depressive disorder to one of four groups: supervised exercise, home-based exercise, antidepressant therapy, or a placebo pill. After four months of treatment, they found that patients in the exercise and antidepressant groups had higher rates of reduced depression than did the patients on the placebo. They also found that subjects who reported regular exercise at the one-year follow-up had lower depression scores than that of their less active counterparts.
How Do I Get Started?
If you’re suffering from anxiety and/or depression, getting started isn’t always easy. You might be feeling tired or dealing with a lack of motivation that makes exercise difficult. However, we have some great tips that can help you get started.
- Figure out what you like doing and do it. If you hate going to the gym, then don’t! Go for a nice walk outside if you enjoy the outdoors. If you like to dance, then just stay in your house and dance instead!
- Set goals for yourself. It’s been shown that people are more motivated when there is a goal set in front of them. It should be a reasonable goal that you can reason. You should also offer yourself a reward once you reach it. For example, if I go for a walk for 4 days out of the week this week, then on Sunday I will go buy myself a new book.
- Don’t think of it as exercise! I know that seems strange but it’s for good reason. We seem to dread exercise and the words associated can set off alarm bells in our head. Think of it simply as an activity you enjoy doing such as going for a walk. Or look at it as another tool in your box of helpful remedies. It should be looked at no differently than taking your medication or going to a therapy appointment. It’s something you should do to help yourself get better.
Suggestions for Low-Impact Effective Exercises
Exercise doesn’t have to be all about going to the gym, running a mile, or dashing up and down stairs. In fact, some of these high-impact exercises can be terrible on our bodies and joints. Therefore, we’re going to focus on low-impact but still effective exercises you can do. Research has shown it isn’t necessarily what you do, but how long you do it. One study calculated the amount of time needed for depression and anxiety benefits to be 21 minutes or more. So, a goal of at least 21 minutes of physical activity 3-4 times a week (or more) would be perfect.
Low-Impact Effective Exercises:
- Water Aerobics
- Dancing (ballroom dancing is very low-impact)
Exercise Has Been Proven to Help Anxiety and Depression
Using exercise to ease anxiety and depression has been proven effective throughout the medical community over the last decade. It has personally worked for me which is why I felt it was important to share with you its benefits. If you’re dealing with any sort of serious depression or anxiety, make sure you talk to your doctor or healthcare professional. Even if you’re already being treated for either illness, adding exercise to your life can significantly improve your symptoms. Find something you love such as yoga or dancing and do it! Your mind, body, and spirit will thank you.