There are many forms of depression and many ways to manage it.
Most people with depression seek treatment from their primary care doctor before talking to a mental health specialist.
It's possible to achieve positive outcomes working only with your primary care physician. Unfortunately, most physicians don't receive specialized training in treating mental health issues.
Without specialized training, most doctors default to medication for the treatment of depression.
If you can find ways to manage your depression without risking the complications and side-effects associated with medication, it's worth exploring those options first.
Physical exercise is one of the safest, easiest, and most effective alternatives to anti-depressant medications.
Many people can manage depression without drugs by including physical activity in their daily routine under the supervision of a trained therapist or medical professional.
Read on to see how your therapist can help you use physical exercise to manage your depression.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Managing depression means balancing not only brain chemistry, but environmental, physical, and social factors impacting your overall well-being.
Physical activity is one of the areas where Cognitive Behavioral Therapy can be used to identify problem behaviors (or lack of behaviors) and reshape your thinking to produce positive results.
What is CBT?
Traditional psychotherapy addresses past events that may affect your mood and mental state. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) focuses on present behaviors and circumstances. By being mindful of your thoughts and conditioned responses, you can alter your behavior to achieve positive change.
According to the Mayo Clinic, the steps involved in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy are to:
- Identify troubling situations or conditions in your life.
- Become aware of your thoughts, emotions, and beliefs about these problems.
- Identify negative or inaccurate thinking.
- Reshape negative or inaccurate thinking.
By being mindful of how physical activity impacts your mood, you can begin taking positive steps to manage your depression with exercise.
Of course, there are lots of benefits that come with exercise beyond relieving depression. But many of the fitness and physical health benefits also positively impact your mental health.
Neurotransmitters and depression
The relationship between specific neurotransmitters and mental health is more complex that once thought. However, it's clear that brain chemistry plays a major role in regulating your mood.
Physical exercise has been shown to stimulate the release and regulation of neurotransmitters that are important to mental health.
Problems with serotonin regulation have long been linked with depression, but recent research shows the link is more complicated than once thought.
Serotonin is important in all kinds of processes in the body including digestion, sleep regulation, bone health, and even blood clotting (the good kind that stops you from bleeding out when you get a paper cut).
While all of these are important to overall health, the biggest impact of serotonin on mental health is its role in regulating mood, happiness, and anxiety.
Dopamine helps your brain regulate the feeling of pleasure, satisfaction, and motivation.
Some of the major brain functions associated with dopamine are:
- Motor control
- Planning and executive function
- Reward and motivation
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy with a trained professional can help you learn to be mindful of the reward response to dopamine. Since dopamine release is triggered by exercise, you can use this to reinforce that positive behavior in your daily life.
Vitamins alone don't fight depression. That said, certain vitamins aid processes in the body that can help regulate hormones and neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine that important in mental health.
The release and regulation of dopamine and serotonin are aided by sufficient levels of Vitamin D.
Exposure to sunlight (like you get when you exercise outdoors) stimulates the synthesis of Vitamin D. That means you can see positive mental health benefits just from going outside on a sunny day!
Physical exercise probably isn't a complete solution for managing your depression. But getting outside and breathing some fresh air, seeing the sunlight, and interacting with people is almost always a good thing.
Next time you're facing a bad day, call your therapist and then go outside for a walk. Hopefully it helps.