If you Google “depression & exercise”, you will find medical research articles as well as pages by the Mayo Clinic, Harvard Health, WedMD, etc. listing all the benefits of exercise to alleviate depression & anxiety.
Let’s be honest.
If you are depressed/anxious and sitting at home in your pajamas Googling “depression”, “support group”, “home exercise”, “alternatives to antidepressants”, “natural remedies for depression”, the last thing you actually want to do is exercise. Trust me, I’ve been there.
The reality is, you are silently thanking app developers for DoorDash, Amazon & InstaCart so that you can get your fix of pizza, ice cream & chips without stepping past your front door.
Before we start talking about an exercise regimen, let’s look quickly at a few things:
- It is OK to be sad (even depressed). Yes, really. To be a whole person and to experience life and what it is to be human, it is OK (if not mandatory) to experience sadness. Despite what pharma ads, reality TV, Instagram & Pinterest tell us, being human is to experience the entire spectrum of emotions; even the ones we perceive to be negative. You may have experience a loss, you may have encountered a failure, your heart may have been broken, you have have received bad news or a horrific diagnosis. These are all good and real reasons to be sad, depressed and anxious.
- When was the last time you showered? Before streaming exercise channels and joining a local gym, ask yourself, when was the last time you got out of your pajamas and had a hot shower? If it’s been over 5 days, consider cleaning up and wearing real clothes and shoes before committing to something like “I will get up at 6am every day and join the BootCamp class at my local park because it will boost my endorphin levels”. Talk about setting yourself up for failure and feeling more depressed. Have a shower, get dressed and call it a win.
- When was the last time you spoke to/saw another person? Depression and anxiety are very isolating. You can’t quite express how overwhelmed you feel, so you just stop talking and shut people out. Even if you live with a significant other, you have gone days without speaking. Call a friend to say hi, start a conversation even if it is about something on TV. If you can manage a smile or a laugh, you have achieved so much.
- Is it a chemical imbalance? You may have a chemical imbalance that requires pharmaceuticals or an adjustment to the level of your current medication/s. Stop doing online searches — seek out a real doctor and/or therapist.
Once you are at the point of being able to get showered and dressed most days, and stepping past the threshold of your front door doesn’t make your heart race, then you can consider working with someone on an exercise/movement plan.
Tips for working with a client with depression/anxiety: If I get a call or email from someone with a specific request to help with their anxiety/depression, I always ask them to come in for a 30-minute appointment. Anything longer can be just too much.
Schedule the meeting when your facility is off-peak. Too many people, too much movement is too much.
Other than quick legal waivers/paperwork, we talk about how we can work together. Do not overwhelm with paperwork and long term goals and short term goals and assessments. It is all unnecessary stress.
Introduce some gentle movements and mobility work. If you are familiar with PNF (proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation) you will see some great results. It is also a great way to have caring human contact.
I am lucky enough to work in facilities that have Power Plates. Whole body vibration therapy can help soothe the nervous system. Find a vibration setting that the client finds soothing. Get them into a comfortable position (kneeling/sitting on the Plate, child’s pose, lying down), close their eyes and just breathe with the sound of the vibration.
I end the session by asking the client to do me a huge favour — eat a meal they truly enjoy. Remind them of all the small things that bring pleasure to their lives.
One gentle step at a time.
From there, you can start building wellness and movement bubbles around them that they can sustain on their own. Set them up for success at each session and in the time between sessions.