What to do when you want to move your body, but your brain won’t let you.
IIf you’ve struggled with depression at any point in your life, you’ve probably heard some well-meaning soul say “just try to get some exercise, it’s good for your mood!” Annoyingly, they’re right; I don’t think that exercise can single-handedly cure depression or treat its symptoms, but it’s clearly helpful for many people who struggle.
In the 10 years I spent in the fitness industry, both as a personal trainer with depressed clients and as the depressed client myself, I’ve seen physical activity provide focus, routine, comfort, and even assistance with physical health when it feels like everything else is going to hell.
But there’s one thing that never, ever helps people who are dealing with situational or clinical depression: telling them that exercise will help.
When it comes to having a mental illness, the G.I. Joe doctrine is meaningless: Knowing what will help you isn’t close to half the battle. It’s a tenth of the battle, at best. Most people with depression are already aware — often too aware — of all the things we could or should be doing to combat our condition. But where the well-meaning mentally healthy person sees a straightforward progression toward improvement, we see the paradox: yes, if we could do those things, it might help our depression, but not being able to do those things is a major part of being depressed.
There’s one thing that never helps people with depression: telling them that exercise will help.
The fitness industry talks a lot about “exercise lifehacks for depression!!!”, but it seems to be coming from a place of ignorance about the cold war going on in the average depressed person’s head. Most of these training tips and listicles read like they came from people who have faced very little adversity in their lives, and who think that their own health is entirely the product of their own hard work.