I’ve written before about how regular exercise helps me manage my mental health and can drastically turn a bad day around.
In fact, I am currently sat writing this after one such run. I came home after the worst day at work, completely stressed and exhausted after a sleepless night last night. All I wanted to do was get into my comfies, lie on the sofa and drink a glass or three of red wine.
Instead, I went for a 30 minute run. The difference in my mood when I finished that run compared to when I started was remarkable. I finished it relaxed and happy (a little euphoric actually) and no longer felt that foggy feeling in my head that comes with a bad depression day.
Then I started to reflect on how far I’ve come since this time last year. I have always loved exercise and for about the past 8 years I’ve had pretty good physical fitness. But when I was in the grips of depression I found it damn near impossible to get myself out of the door. Even a short walk or 10 minutes of yoga seemed way too much.
I remember setting myself a goal to run / walk around the block once a week; with the intention of building it up to twice and then three times. I could never bring myself to do it.
Yet here I am six months later, happily and easily running again. And on a regular basis.
I have Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (or CBT) to thank for that.
CBT looks at the relationship between your thoughts, feelings and behaviours and focuses on changing your thought patterns and behaviours in order to help you recover from depression (or whatever it is that you are doing CBT for). You often focus on the behavioural element first as it is the easiest to put into practise.
With CBT, I set the goal that I wanted to work towards – running three times a week – and then set smaller more manageable goals to help me get there.
The lowest of the goals was designed to make a small amount of physical activity possible if I felt like I couldn’t manage a full exercise session. Little things like walking around the corner to the shop. Doing a little bit of yoga at home. Even just a bit of stretching. All of which I still couldn’t manage for the first few weeks of my treatment.
But then I slowly started to incorporate little bits of exercise into my routine. Small things like walking to the shop at lunchtime or doing 10 minutes of yoga at home. After a while, I finally started running again.
At first I ran once a week (sometimes even less than that if I’m totally honest), often alternating walking and running. But then I started running twice a week. As I got more into it, I started getting that positive mental feedback that CBT is all about and that motivated me to run even more regularly.
That brings me to now. I’m currently doing 3 to 4 runs a week. I’ve signed up to run a 10k in a couple of months and, if that goes well, I’m going to sign up to a half marathon in October.
I’m careful not to over-exert myself and I’m trying my best not to get into an unhealthy mindset with regards to exercise. I have exercise-free days between each session and I try not to beat myself up when I don’t manage to exercise as planned.
I’m only 6 months in to CBT and I already feel so much further down the road to recovery. For the first time in a long time, I feel hopeful and optimistic and I can feel that I’m starting to get towards a place where I’m able to successfully manage my mental health.
This post wasn’t meant to be one big brag about just how well I feel I’m doing. I definitely don’t want people to read this and start comparing their own mental health journey to mine; because god knows I’ve had my struggles.
I guess I wanted to write it for anyone who’s feeling disheartened in their recovery from depression. Anyone who is struggling to hit the goals they have set for themselves (in CBT or otherwise) or struggling to get the motivation to do whatever it is that they love to do. I’ve been there. I know just how desperate and out of control I felt when I couldn’t bring myself to do anything. I definitely felt like giving up on CBT at times. I felt like giving up on myself quite a few times as well to be honest.
Remember to just keep at it. Take small steps at a time, and applaud yourself for doing those tiny things. And definitely do not beat yourself up for the things you aren’t yet able to manage. It’ll come.