If you don't know where to start...
...here are some thoughts on home exercise.
A few years back, I got to a point in my depression, where I had some stable moments. All the therapy and different techniques I had found worked together to set the stage for my eventual breakthrough. My therapists and doctor kept encouraging me to exercise. So, I felt very brave one day and bought a gym membership.
I thought I was finally ready to put myself out there. Some days were quite good. My mood was improving and I felt like the haze was lifting just a little bit. I had read online about exercising and depression and I felt a lot of pressure to incorporate exercise into my daily routine. In a way, I felt like I just was not doing everything I could to beat my depression, without exercising.
To be fair, most of that pressure came from myself. But a lot also came from my doctor, therapist, and family continually encouraging me to just get out there and move. To some degree I felt like if I could just move a little, my depression would get better. This is what eventually led me to sign up for that gym membership.
Here is what happened. And this is not meant to encourage or discourage you in any way. I just want to give you an honest view of what went on inside. My family did not understand why this happened. I believe it is super important that more people understand what it is like for people with depression, so we can be better supported throughout our journey.
I was quite excited the first day I planned to go to the gym. I had picked out some new workout clothes. My shoes were brand new. I had a new gym bag, to carry all my things to and from the car. By all accounts, this was a huge step for me. Actually leaving the house and considering exercise had taken so much effort. I was quite proud of myself for just showing up.
I entered the gym with a spring in my step and stopped short in my tracks. The bright lights really hurt my eyes and startled me. I must have looked like a deer in the headlights. The smell of rubber and sweat made me feel nauseous and I think I even started walking backwards. For a few moments I gasped for air, feeling like I was going to have a panic attack.
Luckily, my coach had already seen me at the door and made her way over. She was very upbeat and her energy helped me calm down and focus on her voice. I followed her to the equipment and my uneasiness increased. As is normal in a gym, I was completely surrounded by sweaty men. Some of them looked at me with a smile, some were busy with their workout; however, in my mindset, this amount of people was simply too much.
I was not ready to put myself "out there" yet.
“For me, exercise is more than just physical – it’s therapeutic.”
I felt extremely uncomfortable being surrounded by men. Looking back, that was probably a normal reaction for what I had experienced before. Nobody was rude to me or did anything in particular. I was just not ready for being in public. On top of that I felt completely exposed in my workout shirt and shorts. It was in that moment I realized that somehow I felt defensive about my body and my entire situation.
Stop telling me to exercise
By this point, I was close to tears and I did not know what to do. I wanted to get better and break through my depression. At the same time, I felt that this was not the way for me. Thankfully, my coach knew about my depression and understood to some degree what was happening. She took me to see a smaller part of the gym in a separate room, which was the “women’s workout room”.
I definitely appreciated her effort in trying to make me feel comfortable. Unfortunately, it was too late by this time. I was fighting a panic attack on top of feeling guilty for just not being able to work out. Feeling quite defeated, I decided that leaving was probably the best course of action for the time being. The gym was fantastic and refunded my membership for me.
But, apart from the cost, it was the feeling of utter failure that really got to me.
The experience at the gym set me back several months. I had just not expected this outcome, but I knew I had to work through it on my terms. For some people, exercising at the gym might be the answer. But, for me it simply was not. And over time, I came to realize that it was ok. I did not fail. I simply needed to find another way to achieve my breakthrough.
Home exercise as the solution
This is how I ended up getting into home workouts. Now, to be clear, it took me years to even get up the energy to work out. So, for people to think that a depressed person is just going to jump out of bed one day and go for a jog is completely insane. It might sound great that exercise can help with depression. But the reality is quite a bit different.
Constant “encouragement” from people to just join their running group or hiking group was quite annoying. And it was not very helpful. Most people did not understand what depression does to you; however, I do believe that once I reached a certain point, exercise was a great addition to help keep me on track.
The other thing was that had I tried to exercise in my situation, I would have likely injured myself. It would probably have been a little like exercising drunk. It’s a good idea to keep that in mind if you are encouraging a depressed person to exercise. There may come a time that exercise works for them, but there will also be a long time where exercising just is not feasible.
Home exercise from coaching
The thing I started out with after the disastrous time at the gym was home exercise from coaching. Basically, I paid my gym coach to put together a simple workout I could complete at home. The very first workout did not require any equipment at all other than a yoga mat. Since I had not exercised in a long time, it was imperative to take it slow. A lot of the movements focused on stretching and balancing my breathing.
With time, my workouts got longer and I even bought some light weights. At some point, I used the exercise bands and a step. I also tried an exercise bike and an elliptical trainer. I didn’t like those very much and then just stuck to exercises with my own body weight and the additional light weights. Yoga and Pilates worked very well for me.
Home exercise on video
As I progressed, I even bought a membership to an online on-demand video exercise platform. This worked extremely well for me, as I was able to go at my own pace and choose the workouts I liked. There are also countless free depression home exercise videos on YouTube. One of the drawbacks is certainly that your form might suffer. By this I mean that you might do some of the exercises wrong without knowing it. This can lead to injury or pain, which will then discourage you from exercising.
There is also no accountability if you exercise with on-demand videos. This was alright for in the beginning, since I did not exercise consistently and did not want anyone reprimanding me. I didn’t feel pressured into exercising and I took it just one day at a time to get going. After a few months, I had purchased three different online memberships. Between them I always found a workout I liked. Some days I just did a few minutes and later on, I even managed some full workouts.
Home exercise in groups
If you do decide that you miss the social element to exercising, you can participate in real-time online home exercise as well. This means that everyone is doing the same workout at the same time. That way you can feel like part of a group, without having to go to the gym. I have even seen online that people exercise together while having their Skype or Zoom going. One person demonstrates the exercises and the others follow along over video.
This may or may not be for you, depending on how much interaction and accountability you feel comfortable with. I have personally not tried it yet, as I have been happy exercising by myself at home. Even after breaking through my depression, I still find I prefer exercise by myself, or just walking with my husband or a friend.
Specialized yoga routines
Now, before you start to hyperventilate, let me say that yoga has been an absolute game changer for me. This might not be the same for you, but I would encourage you to hear me out and give it a chance. When we see yoga images online, they are usually super skinny women twisted into an impossible pose. That is not what I am talking about here.
Yoga is a practice that can also be deeply spiritual. It takes a lot of time and practice to become proficient at it. And if you seriously want to take up yoga, I would suggest joining a local yoga studio because your alignment in the poses is crucial. A good teacher is invaluable here, so you don’t get injured and feel the positive benefits of yoga.
But, as you may have seen in the Jōrni, starting out with yoga can be done from any level. And even with very low levels of energy, as is the case with depression. You can start out with simple breathing exercises that don’t even require you to get out of bed. Once you feel more stable, you can also try some chair yoga.
What’s the point? Even just starting out with breathing exercises forced me to reconnect my mind with my body. Most of the time I felt very hazy while I was depressed. Yoga helped me break through that haze for moments at a time. So, it might be worth considering when you are thinking about exercising, but simply do not have the energy to do any workouts.
Exercising can be a double edged sword when it comes to being depressed. On one hand, research is available that suggests exercising is beneficial for alleviating depression. On the other hand, exercising is not feasible for everyone experiencing depression. For many years, I could not even muster the energy and clarity of mind to shower consistently, never mind go for a walk or a run.
After a terrible experience at the gym, I began my healing journey with a simple yoga breathing home exercise. As I felt I had more energy and clarity, I progressed to online home workouts. Moving my body was quite difficult at first. I had no stamina to last through any kind of exercise. On top of that I felt foggy and was scared of injuring myself during exercise. With time and a lot of patience, I managed to incorporate exercise into my healing routine.
Looking back, I do believe that starting to exercise had positive benefits for me. The important thing was not to put myself under too much pressure to exercise. There were days where it simply was not possible. I did not want to be judged by anyone for that. And I did not want to be held accountable. This was not a weight loss marathon to me, but part of a very long and difficult healing journey.
The benefits of exercising were gradual for me and some days it felt like too much. So, if you decide to exercise, understand that it will take time to get used to it. And it will take some time before you experience mental and physical benefits. As with every healing journey, you need to give yourself that time and be patient with yourself.
Gentle home exercises
With all this in mind, I would definitely encourage you to consider exercising to alleviate depression; however, it has to work for you. It has to happen on your terms, or it might create a very negative experience for you. I know that my family and friends were just trying to help. They would encourage me to move and call me to check up on whether I exercised. That was not helpful.
It created a lot of pressure, which in turn only increased my anxiety and depression.
Starting with home exercises was easiest for me. It gave me the freedom to do or not do exercises. The drawback, of course, was that I was in charge of deciding when to exercise. As you can imagine that was a difficult task and didn’t always go as planned. There were many times when exercise was just not my priority and my mental state didn’t allow for exercise.
Also, check your expectations. Sometimes, we want something to desperately work for us and when it doesn’t we are so disappointed that our healing journey takes a few steps back. Exercise might not make you feel better right away and all of a sudden. Depending on what you do, you might feel sore and a little uncomfortable at first.
But, above all, I encourage you not to give up. The breakthrough in my depression story was the accumulation of many little steps I had taken over time. Every little bit will help. Understand that you are building up to your own breakthrough and exercise might just be another step along the way for you.
The first step will be the hardest, but I know you will find your way!