It’s Friday night, and your main squeeze would like to go out to dinner with you. How you choose the restaurant, what kinds of questions you ask to determine what will be served on your plate, and the amounts of food you ingest in a meal say a lot about what is going on for you today, yesterday, and tomorrow.
A few weeks ago, I found myself musing about the real “face” of depression. I personally find it absurd to think that anyone who lives a full life can escape the feeling of being depressed at some point in their lifetime of 365-1/4 day trips around the sun. A full life – one in which you choose to be awake – includes its fair share of tragedies, heartbreaks, endings, and losses. As I am writing this, we are on the eve of experiencing a hurricane that affects hundreds of miles of homes and businesses, which can only mean that millions of people’s lives and livelihoods are at stake, and the thought of human loss is grieving and yes, depressing. Yet rather than sharing only statistics and norms and “how to’s, I’m sharing my personal and professional musings on depression not just as a situationally-caused mood disorder, but also as a real “face” that seemingly has no cause, or to which we look beyond cause. What is the real face of depression?
“I have no reason to be depressed”
You probably know at least one person who tells you, “I have no reason to be depressed.” Such a statement falls falls from a mouth of an intelligent, successful, healthy adult man or woman who appears well-loved and appreciated for his or her contribution to the community, the workplace, and the home. She or he can count off at least ten or more reasons why depression should have no place in her life, and yet there it is: this heavy, achy, tired, brooding feeling of either not wanting to have to wake up to another day (with suicidal thoughts and fantasies of ending it all), or the same heavy- achy-tired-brooding-feeling, only without suicidal thoughts. That same person may have tried counseling or some form of “talk therapy“, and while strategies for managing the symptoms of depression are discussed and employed, the person expresses dismay that after six months of weekly sessions, she doesn’t feel much different. Just depressed.
Recently, I purchased a new pair of running shoes. As I ran along Alki Beach in Seattle, it didn’t take long before my body started to release some upper body tension (likely caused from sitting in front of the computer!), and my mind dropped its thoughts about appointments, seminars, writing projects, and the usual pile of mundane tasks. Passing runners, bikers, walkers, and inline skaters, I wondered how many of these everyday exercise enthusiasts were dedicated to the maintenance of their mental health as much as their physical health. Does exercise improve your mental health?
After a cursory look at the latest articles and studies on topic of exercise and mental health, most of the authors agree on several items. One of these items is simple: while we don’t know WHY exercise improves mental health symptoms, they all agree that exercise is beneficial in the treatment of mental health disorders and distress.
Most articles focus on the relationship of exercise to depression and anxiety. Some ways exercise can help with depression and anxiety symptoms are: