What do you do when you suddenly become too unmotivated, disinterested or bored to work out? As someone who sunk deeper and deeper into her couch during a longer-than-normal fitness funk this past year, I had a lot of time to think about the vicious cycle of depression, its impact on your fitness routine and vice versa.
Exercise is good for depression, but when you’re having trouble getting up and out the door, it’s hard for it to have an impact. I turned to a few professionals for advice on how to get through depression and get back to moving.
Depression and Exercise
Chicago based life coach and therapist Tiffany Louise clarified that those feelings of boredom and lack of motivation I mentioned are symptoms of depression, and that, “There’s a difference between experiencing a period of depressed mood and actually having clinical, diagnosable depression [experiencing five or more symptoms over at least a two-week period]. But I think everyone at some point in their life knows what it feels like to struggle with motivation and feeling quote unquote what we would call depressed.”
So how does exercise help with depression? According to WebMD, “When you exercise, your body releases chemicals called endorphins. These endorphins interact with the receptors in your brain that reduce your perception of pain.” Exercise also reduces stress, wards off anxiety, boosts self-esteem and improves sleep.
Acknowledge and Act
Just because we know we should stay active when we are feeling down doesn’t mean we will, but Tiffany advised that waiting for motivation to strike isn’t constructive. When an onset of depression is felt, instead of giving into it and making it worse, she suggested committing to positive behaviors like exercise, “even if you don’t feel like it and [continue] to show up so it allows your body, your brain, all those good neurotransmitters and chemicals to get flowing.”
Holly Clapham, creator of Female Inspired Training (F.I.T.) at Body Inspired Fitness Santa Monica, urged, “Start now. Start before you get to the point that you can’t get off the couch or out of bed. Once exercise becomes a habit, it’s a lot harder to break.” On the other hand, “If you’re already in the hole, the best advice I can give is to find a way to be held accountable. Tell an already active friend that you want to meet her for a walk. Sign up for a class that charges you to cancel. Better yet, sign up with a friend for a class.”
Keep Trying Until Something Fits
For many people, the desire to lose weight is the reason for working out, but if you’re like me, that might not be enough to get you out of the house. As Tiffany ruminated, “If we are doing fitness in some way shape or form that doesn’t fill us or fuel us and we are simply doing it because we must or we should, we’re less likely to continue it.”
She recommended finding self-motivating forms of exercise, such as group fitness for people who are “natural connectors” or solo runs/walks for those who prefer isolation or time for mindfulness. These “naturally reinforcing” activities are what we will gravitate towards.
Similarly, Holly advised, “If you’re in a workout rut – try something new. There are so many unique classes popping up everywhere. Think outside the box of a traditional class, and think more about moving your body. There are so many ways to be active these days: stand up paddleboarding, kick boxing, trampolining. If you need to, enlist an adventurous friend to sign up with you for that accountability factor.”
Tiffany is a believer in talk therapy as a tool because, “A life without peace and mental health is a real challenge and I think it’s one of the most important things we can invest in in our lives.” For people who don’t have the means to go to a therapist, she pointed out there are other accessible aides such as support groups, self-help books and podcasts. Not to mention there are therapists, who are just starting out, or community clinics that might offer their services on a sliding scale.
Another option could be found at your local fitness studio. Earth in Motion Fitness in Park Forest, IL, for example, implemented a Fitness Friends program headed up by “key members” who keep their fellow fitness seekers connected and supported through social media.
Additionally, EIM co-owner Steve Lindsay explained, “We hold prayer/cry circles. A member will reach out to either my wife [co-owner Devon Lindsay] or myself or even one of our key members and request prayers or a meeting after or before the workout.” Upon sharing whatever their issue may be, money, lack of motivation, etc., “We pray for them and then we move on. We give people a safe zone to speak about whatever it is that’s troubling them one time and all our members sign waivers that nothing is to be repeated outside of the gym. This [keeps] people from finding an excuse, failing on their diet, or making poor choices, because we get some of their stress off them. Not many people have a safe place they can go and dump their emotions.”
It might take some research, effort or trial and error, but overcoming a prolonged depressed mood to become active again is doable. You just have to move one foot in front of the other to do it, but you don’t have to do it alone.
Or you can. Whatever works for you.