I'm no stranger to the gym. I'm not a gym rat by any means, but I really do enjoy a good workout. With that being said, I also struggle with depression, and if I'm in the midst of a downswing, exercise doesn't really help. In fact, it often just makes me feel exhausted, overly self-conscious and critical of my body, and disappointed that I wasn't able to push myself as hard as I usually would.
Finding the motivation to go for a run or do squats is a lot to ask when you're struggling to even get out of bed.
Yet I've heard the refrain "You probably need to work out more" as a rebuttal to my feeling depressed for as long as I've been vocal about it. To an extent, I understand why people would say that. Everyone knows that exercise releases endorphins that make you feel good. I'll be the first to admit that, when I'm feeling more balanced, working out can put me in an even better headspace. There's even some research to suggest that exercise can help reduce symptoms of depression. But it's more complicated and nuanced than that. It's not that I don't understand the science. It's just that finding the motivation to go for a run or do squats is a lot to ask when you're struggling to even get out of bed.
Some days, I'm too emotionally drained to do anything at all. Fatigue is one of the most common symptoms of depression, and it can be debilitating. When you're feeling that way, being told to exercise — and then not being able to muster the strength — only makes things worse.
But even if I can physically go to the gym, I may not be in the right place for it, mentally or emotionally. People often fail to recognize that not everyone has the same relationship with exercise that they do. Working out may be a great way for you blow off steam, but when I'm feeling down, the last thing I want to do is fan the flames of my insecurities. Body issues have contributed to my depression in the past, and while I'm working on it, those feelings can resurface and make me experience the gym in a different way than I would when I'm healthy.
I know people just want to help, but the best thing you can do when someone opens up about their struggles with anxiety or depression is simply listen. Oftentimes, they're still learning their limitations, and some compassion and understanding can go a long way.