I've lived with depression for many years now. At first I was ashamed of it, but eventually I learned to view it like any other condition. These days I'm pretty high functioning. At worst, my depression causes me to feel down for a couple hours or leave a pile of dishes in the sink for days at a time because I can't bring myself to wash them. It's taken a while to get to this point, though. Before I would have periods when my depression sucked the life out of me.
One of those period was two Summers ago. At the time, I was working an internship at a digital health publication, and staying in an apartment-style dorm with three very nice roommates in the heart of Greenwich Village in New York. My internship paid really well, which meant I had the opportunity to see my friends, go to shows, eat out, and just generally have fun. And yet, I was extremely depressed. I mechanically went to the office, barely eating a meal a day. Everything I had tried to ease my symptoms had failed, and it felt like my best hope was simply to ride things out until my depression went away. Then one day I decided to start running.
I had no idea that running would be so helpful in managing my symptoms. At the time, I did it out of necessity — the gym in my dorm was small, stuffy, and had weird Summer hours, so I opted for the running trail that was just five minutes away. The first night I went out, I was a mess. I had to stop every couple minutes to catch my breath, and by the time I had run for 30 minutes, every muscle in my body ached. But I also felt much better than I had in weeks.
Running was something I actually looked forward to — it made me feel accomplished, and miraculously happier.
"Running can help improve depressive symptoms due to the physiological processes that lead to improved mood," Hillary Cauthen, PsyD, CMPC, an executive board member at the Association for Applied Sport Psychology, told POPSUGAR. "Those that engage in regular running have increased levels of the neurotransmitters serotonin, norepinephrine, and neurogenesis. Creating new neurons can assist in re-wiring our brain." According to Dr. Cauthen, running can also give you a sense of accomplishment, which can be hugely beneficial. "Those that experience depression may have difficulties with self belief and initiating tasks. Getting out of bed can be difficult. With running, even small, short runs builds positive experiences and accomplishments that one can take into fueling other successes in their life," she explained.
That was true for me. I still dreaded every social interaction, and at times even struggled to want to go to my internship, but I kept running almost every night. Running was something I actually looked forward to — it made me feel accomplished and miraculously happier. By the end of the Summer, my depression had eased significantly. And while I can't know for sure if it was because I was running or just that enough time had passed, I'm still grateful to have found an outlet that helped me push through.