How Exercise Helps Anxiety, Depression, Dissociation

  • Time to read: 7 min.

Apart from improving physical health, exercise also stimulates your mental health. Physical activity reduces the symptoms of stress, depression, anxiety, dissociation and increases security, safety, joy. Exercise helps anxiety, depression, dissociation and improves sleeping patterns. It helps you have sharper memories, which increases your overall well being and strengthens your self-esteem.

Not Happening!

How can I do anything I hurt so badly?  I don’t want to be seen by anyone.  I am scared, and I can’t move.  It won’t help.

When we are stressed, depressed, or experiencing anxiety many times, the last thing we want to do is exercise.  We feel trapped in the negative thoughts and resultant feelings that are occurring within our bodies.  The very idea of exercising may increase the emotions we are experiencing. 

When we think of exercise, we understand that this is an activity such as going to the gym, cycling, jogging, swimming, walking, which have been researched and proven to alleviate the symptoms of depression and anxiety.

When you feel secure within yourself, these are the kinds of activities that will keep you healthy physically and mentally, but when you are not feeling strong and are struggling, then what?  Do you give up on exercise altogether until you feel stronger again? 

Challenge Your Thoughts About Exercise

When in a deep depression, stressed or experiencing anxiety, seeing exercise as you must run a marathon to feel better is not helpful. Working through your thoughts and feelings is a step by step process, with the help of a professional if required, and the actions you take to help yourself.

Movement is a part of this process, and exercise is an excellent way to take a break from intrusive thoughts and feelings.

If your thinking about exercise is that exercise is movement nothing more or less, then when the stress, depression, anxiety enter your life, you are still able to exercise. Going for a walk outside with other people around is ideal. 

If your depression, anxiety, fear is high, then try walking in your backyard, on your balcony, around your house.  If this is not possible, then just stand up and walk on the spot. Current research from Tohoku University shows that immersive virtual training works well for those with mental and physical limitations and perhaps this is an alternative for you.

The important part is to move.

As you can accomplish one step, you can choose to build on to the movement you have created as your inner strength grows. The time this takes will vary from one person to another. Let us say you have been walking around your home successfully, and you choose to increase your movement, but your fear of being seen is still high. 

You could then begin to walk on a treadmill within your home, looking out the front window and seeing the world outside. Perhaps the treadmill itself will be a challenge for you.  Once the treadmill is up, just look at it for the first few days while walking around your home.  After a few days, when you walk around your home, end the walk with standing on the treadmill. 

A few days later, turn on the treadmill and end your walk around the house with a few minutes’ walk on the treadmill. Over time increase the amount of time you walk on the treadmill.

How Do I Know Which Exercise Equipment Will Work Best For Me?

Choosing an exercise or exercise equipment that will work best for you is not a one size fits all, nor should it be. You are unique.  You hold beliefs, values, thoughts, and emotions that make you – you. Much like everyone, has DNA your DNA is specific to you. 

The best way to identify what exercise will work for you is to take a moment and reflect:

1. What did you like to do when you were younger? Did you like playing video games with a few friends around, climbing trees, reading a book, playing sports?

If you felt good inside and enjoyed being around a large group of people when you were a kid, you would most likely feel good again, being around a large group of people.  So the exercise that would fit best for you may be playing on a softball team once a week and hitting the gym on off days. 

If you prefer smaller groups, joining a Tai Chi or yoga class is more likely to fit your style. To learn more about Yoga and its benefits click this link. If you liked being alone or with one other person running, walking, personalized training classes would be your thing.

2. What is your current financial situation?     

Perhaps you cannot join a class regularly but can afford to join a walk-in class one time a month and carrying on your practice daily at home. It may be a sound investment to purchase a piece of equipment you can utilize daily in your home.

Alternatively, you could use existing items in your home as a part of your exercise, such as daily cleaning of your home, gardening.  Digging dirt, stretching to pull weeds, remember exercise is movement.

3. What is your current emotional state?

If you are working through issues, remember to keep moving.  Sit on a bike, or Bosu ball and jump up and down a few times on it every hour.  Walk around your house. 

Exercises That Positively Affect Mood

When you engage in physical activities, your brain and body produce hormones that lift your spirit and enhance your ability to deal with stress.  Below are some of the best exercises that will assist in balancing your emotions.

1. Tai Chi

Tai Chi is a traditional Chinese exercise practiced worldwide, mainly to ease the symptoms of depression and anxiety and keep these feelings at bay. Tai Chi not only improves the immune function, but it also accelerates the blood levels of feel-good endorphins.

2. Pilates

Pilates is a physical fitness system that boosts your joint-mobility and flexibility. It also helps with how well you sleep.  Good sleep is essential to positive mental health.

3. Cycling

When you spin your wheels, you are boosting your energy levels. A study at the University of Georgia, Athens, revealed that cycling invokes the electrical changes in your brain and activates the neural circuits that make you feel more energized. 

4. Bosu Ball

A Bosu ball is a great item to maintain balance, increase strength, and improve your mindfulness. Improved mindfulness will assist in helping your depression, stress, anxiety and dissociation. Several Bosu ball exercises such as squats, lunges, boat pose, and sit-ups stimulate your energy levels, enhancing your mood and giving you a sense of pleasure.

Benefits Of Exercise For Mental Health

Exercise acts as a healing drug for your brain. The power of movement to combat the symptoms of anxiety, depression, stress, and dissociation is unparalleled. Though antidepressants and other drugs deter anxiety and depression, they have specific side effects.

Exercise is free of chemical side effects and is something you can do to strengthen your mind and body, empowering your ability to create, solve, and be joyful, increasing your self-esteem and decreasing stress, depression, anxiety, and dissociation.

  • Reduced Anxiety and Depression – Exercise is a powerful promoter of pivotal changes in the brain, including reduced inflammation, neural growth, and the activity patterns responsible for the feelings of calm and wellbeing. It serves as a distraction, enabling you to break out the cycle of depression and negative thoughts. Similarly, it relieves anxiety and obstructs the flow of anxious thoughts running in your mind.
  • Better Sleep – Given the need for the body to recover from exercise, you will feel relaxed and sleepy earlier, which will help you sleep soundly throughout the night. Healthy sleep will boost serotonin levels, a chemical that regulates the overall emotional wellbeing of the mind.
  • Exercise Triggers Happiness Hormones – Hormones play an integral role in our physical as well as mental health. The primary hormones responsible for our mental health are serotonin, dopamine, and endorphins. Serotonin not only improves the immune system and metabolism, but it also helps to balance your mood. Yoga, biking, running, assist in increasing serotonin production.

How Exercise Changed My Life

The worst year of my life was 2019. My girlfriend cheated on me, and I could not pass the entrance exam to the course I wanted to take. I had resigned from my job, and I had little money.  The only thing I did have was depression, anxiety, and hopelessness. It was when I thought that the meaning of my life had ended. Though I shared my worries with my family members, I stopped talking to my friends and locked myself in a room.

One day, my father came to me and told me that he wanted to take me to a gym. In the beginning, I hesitated, but when he insisted, I agreed to go with him. The gym became my escape path right from that moment as I felt an overwhelming sense of satisfaction whenever I would work out. I realized that the moments of me being happy were increasing.

Fast forward six months, I am once again a happy person who is passionate about exploring unchartered territories. Apart from getting a job in a reputable organization, I have also found the love of my life. Had I not gone to the gym, I believe I would still be in the dark.

I see that exercise can help strengthen me day to day and when those moments in life where I may struggle with anxiety, depression and dissociation I have a tool that can help me navigate through it.

Final Thought

Challenge your thoughts about what exercise is. See exercise as movement when your anxiety, depression, dissociation has a tight grip on you and the grip will loosen.


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