How Exercise can Improve Mental Health-feature

How Exercise can Improve Mental Health

In Guest Blog by Fiona

Jane Sandwood only recently admitted her depression and took steps to accept it and overcome it after years struggling through her professional career and early years as a mother and a wife.

She now exercises regularly and likes nothing more than to escape for a few moments to water the plants or walk the dog.

Harmony in All Things: How I Overcome My Depression with Mindful Exercise

Every time I face the worst days of my depression, someone will always say to me, “Mind over matter.” If it was that simple, then I wouldn’t still feel sad and down. The reality for me is that sometimes, I can tell myself to be optimistic and look for silver linings in my day-to-day routines, but it is not always going to work.

That’s one of the hardest things to realize when you have depression – that certain days are going to be bad days or sad days, and that’s okay. I have come to learn that what is most important to dealing with my depression is exercise. When I am actively doing what I can to be as healthy as possible, the harmony that I find in my mind, body, and spirit is ultimately what helps my symptoms subside.

My Story: Struggles in Day-to-day Family Life

When I first started dealing with depression on a regular basis, I found it hard to talk to other people about it – especially my family. Depression is an extremely personal disease, and it affects everybody in different ways and at varying intensities.

Contributing factors to depression in women include social factors, like family obligations, stress from work, and the roles and expectations from society. When I am feeling particularly overwhelmed or can’t sleep, I want to be motivated to talk to my husband and daughters, but I often stop myself from opening up.

It’s hard to be honest with my loved ones – not because they wouldn’t support me fully, but because I don’t want to bring them down. Seeing my daughters happily watching a film in our den, or having my husband cook all of us dinner after working all day, are small but meaningful memories that I truly value. I wouldn’t want to add any negativity to these daily happenings, and I certainly don’t want to make them feel like they need to act “less happy” when I’m around to appease me.

Depression affects so many of us, and especially women. Studies in mental illness have shown that women are 75% more likely to report having recently suffered from depression than men. This statistic really hits home with me, as I have always considered myself to be more stressed out than my husband. I tend to take our personal issues very seriously, and having an argument usually makes me feel entirely hopeless.

According to the American Psychological Association, women internalize their emotions much more often than men do, which leads to withdrawal and loneliness. This is a reality I face almost every day – my husband, if upset, lets it show and lets us know about it. But for me, I usually hide away and try to find a space at home where I won’t be bothered.

How Exercising Has Helped Me Find Peace

Throughout my years of dealing with depression, I have found that the only thing that helps me to repair these sad feelings and desire to isolate myself from my family is to take part in some sort of fitness activity. Exercising is known to help ease depression, as it releases endorphins also known as “happy chemicals” that are usually repressed by the disease.

A study from Rutgers University has recently shown that exercising twice per week leads to a significant decrease of the symptoms of depression. For me, I try to exercise at least three times per week to ensure that I am doing all that I can to be the best version of myself.

My Favourite Types of Fitness

So what exactly do I do to make the most of exercising? Well, I start with making sure I am hydrated; without water, I always feel more sluggish and am more unwilling to exercise. When my body feels good, then my mind wants to feel good, too. I have found that making yoga part of my weekly routine has helped me feel less depressed, as I am more calm and collected when faced with challenges.

I usually do yoga in the early morning before going to work, or right before going to sleep. Yoga is said to help relieve depression due largely in part to its reliance on deep-breathing techniques, which are known to reduce stress. I find that this is true for me. I always feel more in touch with my mental and physical well-being after yoga.

Another great exercise that I have found to be helpful for my depression is going on hikes. Though this is more difficult to fit into our week, my family lives around some beautiful areas near water that have hiking trails.

We love spending a Saturday exploring the trails, and I have found that being outside is a great way to feel good about myself. Doing this sort of physical activity is beneficial for strengthening both the body and the mind, and I know that feeling more physically fit is also a way to increase my confidence and self-esteem.

By fitting in a healthy amount of exercise into my weekly routine, I feel much less depressed than usual and am able to keep many of my symptoms of stress, fatigue, and sadness at bay.

Living in harmony with my health by being mindful of the benefits of exercise has helped me to overcome the worst bouts of my illness and make me feel whole and happy again.

“My grace is sufficient for thee; my strength is made perfect in weakness”

“My grace is sufficient for thee; my strength is made perfect in weakness”