Depression: Are You At Risk?
Depression is a natural and normal emotion that everyone faces at one time in their life or another. It’s when the depression doesn’t go away, and continues to intensify into feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, and worthlessness; then a normal case of depression becomes something more dangerous. Prolonged periods of depression are often categorized as clinical depression, if the patient simultaneously has five or more of the following symptoms, for at least a two week duration:
- A depressed mood for most of the day (especially in the morning)
- Feelings of worthlessness or guilt every day (or almost every day)
- Feelings of restlessness
- Insomnia or Hypersomnia every day (or almost every day)
- Fatigue (loss of energy) every day (or almost every day)
- Impaired concentration (indecisiveness)
- Lack of interest (or pleasure) in most activities every day (or almost every day)
- Significant weight loss or weight gain
- Recurring thoughts of death or suicide (not just fearing death)
Signs and Symptoms of Depression
The signs of depression are numerous and varied based on the individual portraying the symptoms and the specific illness which he or she may possess. Since the symptoms are so diverse and dependant on the individual, the severity, frequency and duration of each symptom is also incredibly individualized and cannot be generalized for the entire public. The symptoms may be incredibly unique in nature but the same types repeatedly show up, including:
- Fatigue (decreased energy)
- Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, helplessness, hopelessness, and/or pessimism
- Irritability (restlessness)
- Difficulty concentrating, making decisions, and/or remembering details
- Loss of pleasure in life (loss of interest in hobbies, activities, etc.)
- Overeating or appetite loss
- Persistent anxious, sad, or ‘empty’ feelings
- Persistent aches and/or pains that do not ease with treatment
- Thoughts of suicide (or suicide attempts)
Seeking Treatment for Depression
It is estimated by the National Institute of Mental Health that about 14.8 million American adults suffer from clinical depression. Unfortunately many of these people are unaware that they suffer from depression because they do not understand the signs of depression. Therefore, they fail to realize that their emotional state is being affected by physical causes so, rather than attack at the source, these individuals search for external situations that they believe to be the cause of their internal battle.
Clinical depression is most often treated with medications and psychological counseling, although there is a more holistic treatment option that has been shown to work wonders when practiced on a regular basis. It’s something that can be introduced at any stage of life, but has the most drastic and beneficial results the earlier in life it is adapted.
Exercise. Physical Activity. Training. Workouts.
No matter what you choose to call it, there is a chemical reconfiguration that occurs during the execution of even light physical activity. During exercise, there are chemicals, called endorphins, that are released from your body, and travel to your brain, where they interact with receptors to reduce your perception of pain. These chemicals have been known to provide psychological effects that are similar to morphine.
Endorphins are created in your brain, spinal cord, and other areas of your body and are released during exercise as a response to neurotransmitters that are fired from the brain. They bind to the same neuron receptors as many pain relievers and act as both analgesics and sedatives. Although these chemicals have many of the same reactions within the body as highly addictive pain medications, they do not have any addictive properties and, therefore, future dependency is not possible. Runners and athletes may tell you otherwise, as the euphoric feeling following a particularly intense run is often affectionately referred to as a “runner’s high” and is often enough to create a heightened emotional state which they will frequently strive to repeat. It has been proven that due to these chemical reactions within the body, regular exercise reduces stress, boosts self-esteem, improves sleep, and decreases anxiety.
One of the signs of depression is stress. When the mind is feeling stressed, or anxious, the body reacts accordingly. Blood pressure may rise, heart rate may increase, and it’s likely that the muscles will become tense or tighten. These physical responses can actually cause the stress to intensify, and lengthen the duration of psychological stress, anxiety, and depression. Relieving the tension and/or tightness within the muscles through exercise is a great way to physically calm the body and encourage mental relaxation and stress reduction.
Anxiety is also one of the many signs of depression that can be minimized through physical activity. During exercise, chemical reactions occur within the body that create: lowered blood pressure, reduced heart rate, relaxed muscles, and thoughts of tranquility to surface. As the physical and psychological effects come together, a sense of peace and relaxation is able to take over the body, which leaves no room for anxiety to reside. Feelings of tension, unrest, anxiety, and unfamiliarity decrease after only a few days of regular physical activity.
Boosts Self Esteem
The signs of depression can affect anybody, and they can completely destroy their self-esteem. It is of no coincidence that, through exercise, both of these issues can be faced and tackled. Exercising naturally increases serotonin levels, which has been known to positively affect both moods and social behaviors. The more endorphins that the body releases, the higher the serotonin levels are. As these levels raise, self-confidence and self-esteem are boosted and the symptoms and signs of depression are reduced.
Frequency, duration, and quality of sleep is improved when a regular routine of mild to moderate exercise is adopted. Daytime energy is increased, and expelled naturally, leaving a satisfactory sense of calm and sleepiness, that has nothing to do with lowered moods, or exhaustive worry, at night. Sleeping becomes easier and more effective the longer a workout routine is implemented. Enjoying a normal sleep schedule has numerous psychological benefits that will aid in the management of the signs of depression and anxiety.
The best news is that it doesn’t matter what type of exercise is performed, as long as the body is moving, and the heart rate is elevated, endorphins can be released by the body, creating a happier and healthier self. The important element to remember is that these physical activities, and exercise routines, as with any other treatment, must be incorporated into the daily lives of those suffering from mild to moderate clinical depression, otherwise the treatment is unlikely to produce lasting results.
While exercise alone can be enough to increase endorphins to beneficial levels, adding a social aspect to your physical excursions can boost mood levels even higher. Running groups, or exercise classes can be a great way to incorporate a new social circle into your life while also adding aspects of physical fitness, and mental clarity.
It is suggested by fitness professionals and doctors to clock at least 20-30 minutes of moderate exercise three times per week, although studies have been shown that being physically active for 20-30 minutes four or five times per week is even better. Frequency, duration, and intensity should always be determined on a personalized and individual basis according to fitness level.
In addition to paying attention to fitness levels it is also important for patients suffering from depression to be aware of their emotional status, and adjust workouts accordingly. Keeping in mind that for the clinically depressed exercising is often more about feeling good than getting stronger, losing weight, or being fit, so choosing physical activities that are of personal enjoyment is especially important to avoid feelings of self-doubt, regret, and indifference towards the workout session.
Choosing exercise as the more holistic form of treatment, against medications and psychoanalysis, may seem like an easy decision, but remember that signs of depression should never be taken lightly. Depression is a serious mental condition and should be handled with gentle care and fierce determination. Maintaining healthy habits, such as walking, running, dancing, or otherwise being active, reduces the likelihood that a patient will later have to be put on a prescribed dosage of any forms of medication to regulate their mental and/or emotional state of being.
Aside from the physical and chemical ‘feel-good’ reactions that occur within the brain, there are also numerous emotional and psychological benefits that can be attributed to a regular exercise routine.
Patients with signs of depression often find that setting emotional goals for themselves is rather difficult. On top of that the pressure to then meet those goals can become overwhelming and actually have a reverse effect on them, causing additional emotional stress when the goals are not met. This stress manifests itself as a lack of self-confidence, and the cycle begins anew.
Although physical goals may not be any easier to attain, patients are less likely to become negatively affected by them because they do not seem to hold personal significance to their psyche. Making, meeting, and exceeding these physical goals tends to give the ego a boost, which rewards the depressed psyche with feelings of self worth and accomplishment, without the psychological pressure of emotional goal setting.
Patients of depression tend to withdraw into themselves when in reality they need the support of family, friends, and social groups more than ever. A lack of interest in activities, combined with irritability, and intense fatigue creates a recipe for extreme recluse behavior. The problem with this is that a lack of social interaction can actually accentuate many signs of depression, such as hopelessness, worthlessness, and helplessness, causing the symptoms to intensify and become crippling.
The most effective forms of physical activities are those with social qualities. Immediately pushing through a personal comfort level of solidarity, unattached and branching out to intense social workouts, such as team sports, may cause more damage than it’s fixing so doctors and psychiatrists recommend starting with low level socialization workouts, like running groups, or fitness classes. These offer a low pressure situation in which social interaction can be gradually reincorporated back into the lives of patients suffering with depression.
All too often, patients with signs of depression spend too much time in their own minds, focusing on their perceived shortcomings and failures. A simple mental distraction is unlikely to help relieve the pressures of depression for long, which is why a life-altering mental distraction, like a dedication to fitness, is needed.
Taking attention away from emotional distress to focus it on the improvement of body composition, strength, or endurance is effective because intense physical activity requires complete mental concentration. Focusing mental energy on physical pursuits also allows the natural chemical reactions of the body to work together in the production and release of endorphins, and serotonin. This helps to break the cycle of negative thoughts that feed into the symptoms and signs of depression and anxiety.
Healthy Coping Mechanism
Those who are unaware that they are suffering from signs of depression do not have any coping mechanisms for dealing with the illness. Worse than that, frequently those who are aware of their illness have developed unhealthy coping mechanisms to handle the pressures and pain that they face on a daily basis.
Daily physical exertions are healthy, and rewarding coping mechanisms that anyone can benefit from, but is especially beneficial to those either suffering with, or recovering from, depression, whether the symptoms are mild, moderate, or severe. The chemical changes that occur during moderate exercise will provide the mind with relaxation and healing properties that are then manifested into healthy coping mechanisms for future bouts of depression and/or anxiety.
As previously mentioned, being aware of the signs of depression and anxiety is extremely important because the symptoms can affect anyone at any stage in their life. Having a healthy outlet to release those damaging thoughts and emotions is crucial to breaking the life damaging cycle. Being active is the best way to attain actual brain altering chemical reactions, without the use of medication. It’s also the ideal medium for letting go of anger, aggression, sadness, and anxiety in a healthy and productive manner.
Here at Isolator Fitness, we believe that health goes beyond nutritional and physical boundaries and encompasses all facets of personal wellness, including your emotional state of mind. We support the use of exercise to fight the symptoms of anxiety and depression because we’ve seen it work first hand. In fact, one of our own, Dr. Liz Lane, has used exercise to battle anxiety in the past, with rave-worthy results.
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