Some personal info about me. I was first diagnosed with mental health issues at age 16. At that time the official diagnosis was PMDD- which in itself is not a mental illness, rather deals with hormone changes that then can result in feelings of depression, anxiety, and a lot of other symptoms. I was dating my high school sweetheart at the time and noticed that I was lashing out a lot, mostly at him and my parents. I could recognize after the fact that it was irrational and out of character and my mom told me to let me Gynecologist know when I went for my annual exam. I'm grateful to have had the relationship I have with my mother and father that we were very open in my family about these types of things. My doctor talked to me about my symptoms and put me on Prozac at age 16. I hated the way it made me felt, and ultimately quick taking it.
Fast forward to college and I was severely depressed. My depression was amplified and caused by, to some extent, poor life choices I was making at the time. At 18 I was diagnosed with depression and medicated, but it wasn't until I turned 21 and quit drinking and partying that I feel like I really gave my medication the opportunity to help me. At 21 I made a lot of positive life changes, the biggest of these was becoming very religious. There was about 2 years after this that I was able to be completely unmedicated- I was taking care of myself and surrounding myself with positive people and activities, being very fit and I just didn't need it. All of those good choices, however, ultimately would not keep my depression at bay forever and not long after I got married I began taking Citalopram, and it helped me significantly. I continued to live a healthy lifestyle which I know aided the medicine in keeping my depression under control. Now, this doesn't mean that I didn't have break downs- I absolutely did. Every now and then I would lose control and fall into a puddle of tears. Sad from the depression, angry that absolutely nothing external was causing me to feel this way, full of dispair that I would always have to battle with it, and guilt that my husband was forced to deal with it. If you have never suffered from depression-it is an absolutely awful thing, let me just tell you. It is a vicious cycle of feeling so down and blue that you don't want to move or function, then feeling crazy that you feel that way because you can step outside of your body and recognize that no one is causing you to be this way that you just are, and then more sadness because there is nothing you can do about it, oh and pesky guilt that other people are subject to being affected by you. So, yeah. It sucks.
After I had my first child at age 25 I was diagnosed with anxiety.Which seems about right, haha. Nothing like having kids to give you anxiety. Truth be told, my kids never triggered my anxiety as babies. For me, most of my anxiety is triggered in social settings. Too many kids running around, too many people speaking at once, chaos or lack of order during functions- all of these things send me reeling- heart pounding, brain on overdrive, unable to process any one thought, complete sensory overload to the point of immobilization. Now if my kids are extra wild, if tvs are going and kiddos are yelling and the dishwasher is running all at once, I can't handle it. Yep, anxiety sucks as much as depression. My doctors prescribed me Zoloft for my anxiety and it allows me to manage my attacks better, I'm lucky that I can recognize my triggers and try and stay out of situations that would cause me to feel anxious.
Starting when I turned 18 every time I would visit my doctor and my mental health was discussed I was always asked the same question: are you exercising? This wasn't just one doctor, this has been every doctor I've ever had. Any time my depression or anxiety is mentioned I am always asked about my activity level. So, what is the correlation?
When you exercise your brain releases endorphins and other feel-good chemicals that help to ease anxiety and depression. The same chemicals that are released after sex, or eating something delicious, or laugh- are put to work when you exercise! Exercising also reduces certain chemicals in your immune system that can worsen the symptoms of depression and anxiety. In addition to what exercise can do in your brain, it also offers better physical health. Physically feeling good can have a direct affect on how a person feels mentally. Exercise lowers blood pressure, reduces the risk of cancer, and improves self confidence- all adding up to a better quality of life.*
For some a regular fitness routine could improve your health to the point of no longer be classified as having anxiety or depression. For others it can help increase your quality of life, and in conjunction with prescribed medication help to significantly reduce your symptoms. How much exercise is needed to help with your symptoms? That is not really quantifiable. However, a study done in 2005 showed that walking fast for 35 minutes a day 5 times a week or 60 minutes a day 3 times a week significantly impacted subjects with mild to moderate depression diagnoses. Walking fast for 15 minutes a day 5 times a week, or stretching exercises three times a week did not produce the same results. The study was done on individuals weighing 150 lbs and suggests that the exercise required to achieve those results would need to be increased or could be decreased based on your weight in relation to that number.*
When I am not being regularly active there is a huge difference in my overall mental state verses when I am exercising several times a week. In my life I've had many friends that felt they could be open with me about their own depression or anxiety and we were able to bond over this which provided an amazing source of comfort and a great place to vent. (It also fostered great work out buddy relationships!) There is no reason that any one should feel like they can't be open and honest about suffering from a mental illness. At this point Anxiety disorders are one of the most widely diagnosed illnesses in America. In 2014 there were an estimated 43.6 million adults suffering from some sort of mental illness- that is over 18% of the population.** So why are we not all talking about this?
Some of the things that can amplify anxiety and depression is feeling alone in your struggle, feeling "crazy" for feeling that way, or like no one will understand. Thoughts like these will only increase the affects of the disease. If there are 43 million of us out there dealing with these illnesses then why are we not all talking about it. I feel so strongly that the more we talk about these conditions, how they affect us and our lives, the less power they will have over us. We don't have to have the feeling of being alone hanging like a dark cloud above our heads when in reality there are millions of us that could be sharing an umbrella! So let's talk! If you have had symptoms in the past or are currently suffering from what you think could be anxiety or depression, please talk to your doctor immediately. You do not have to feel like that, there are medicines that can help. If you have been diagnosed with a mental illness and are being treated for it, but don't feel like you're getting ideal results- are you currently active? Get moving and exercise! Have you felt the results of what exercise can do for someone suffering from mental illness- sound off in the comments. As always I welcome your questions or thoughts. xoxo-Layne