How to get motivated to exercise when you have depression Leave a comment


We know exercise is good for us… but sometimes it’s still hard to do it (Picture: Getty/Metro.co.uk)

Let’s start with the obvious.

Doing exercise has all sorts of benefits for your mental and physical wellbeing, but it’s not a one-size-fits-all ‘cure’.

Sometimes, exercise is the answer. But it’s not a case of saying that if you have depression, a workout will ‘fix’ it.

I’ve suffered on and off with anxiety, panic attacks, and low mood for years, and for me, exercise is one thing in my toolbox to use when I’m not feeling great. It’s just one piece of the puzzle.

The tricky bit is that while exercise does tend to make you feel a bit better, when you’re struggling with depression or low mood, getting the motivation to move – even when you know it will do you good – can feel like an impossible task.

But you can do this. I’ve put together my top tips for pushing that motivation button, getting going, and making the most of all the mental health benefits exercise has to offer.

Start small

Don’t put too much pressure on yourself to do something massive. You don’t need to be doing a two-hour gym workout to get the benefits of exercise.

Start small and simple, and see what you like.

Something as basic as just getting outside and having a wander around for 10 minutes can do you a world of good.

Find something you actually enjoy

Approach exercise in the same way that you would anything else: try it, see how you get on, and don’t force yourself to do anything that feels awful.

Some people will love weight lifting, others will be fans of dance classes. Try out whatever seems appealing, find something you enjoy, and stick with that.

Exercise is supposed to make you feel good, so there’s not much point in sticking out something you despise – there are so many ways to get moving.

Think about it this way: if you actually like something, you’re going to be far more motivated to do it.

Reframe exercise

When someone says ‘exercise’ many of us tend to imagine a dedicated gym session or going for a lengthy jog.

But when you have depression, are stressed out, or are just plain busy, it can feel impossible to carve out time and energy to dedicate entirely to fitness.

So make movement fit into your everyday lifestyle.

That might look like getting a bike, so you cycle to work rather than jumping on the Tube, or getting off the bus one step early and walking the rest.

Try reframing exercise as getting out of the house for a bit, by going on a walk around the park.

There are really simply ways that we can get more movement into our life without it feeling like exercise, so when you’re in a really low place, you don’t have to drag yourself to the gym.

Set yourself goals (but make sure they’re achievable)

I think goals are really helpful, as they keep you completely focused on what you’re doing, and have something to work towards.

That’s something I love about exercise – you can go from A to B and see tangible results, whether that’s being able to lift a heavier weight or running for a few minutes longer. That can keep you motivated.

But it’s important that your goals are realistic and achievable. Don’t let goals rule everything, or allow yourself to feel like a failure if you don’t meet them.

Give yourself a break

Related to that, it’s key that you don’t beat yourself up for those days when exercise just isn’t going to happen, or you don’t get as much done as you’d like.

We often put so much pressure on ourselves to do a massive workout or fit these certain parameters of what we think we ‘should’ be doing.

This only works to sap away your motivation, making you slip into that horrible cycle of thinking you’ve failed, so giving up, then feeling rubbish about yourself, then not doing anything because you feel more awful.

The more pressure you put on yourself, the harder it is. Remove the pressure and self-judgement and just do what you can.

‘Be kind to yourself,’ says Counselling Directory member Indira Chima. ‘While you might not be firing on all cylinders, you are still making progress towards your end goals.

‘So try to hold onto the positives. Life doesn’t have to be a marathon. Set your own pace and do shorter sprints.’

Get rid of the decision making

Decision fatigue is a real thing, and it becomes all the more overwhelming when you’re struggling with mental ill health.

It can be a massive help to remove the ‘decision’ part of exercise from your pile of tasks.

Make movement part of your routine, so you don’t go through the ‘should I exercise today’ debate every morning.

And try an app or workout schedule so you don’t have to endlessly scroll through all the fitness tutorials you can find online.

I hope my app gives all the options and guidance people need so they know exactly what they’re doing and don’t feel overwhelmed or intimidated.

Know that it’s okay to ask for help

If you’re finding motivation to even get out of bed really tough, it’s worth speaking to a mental health professional to see what you can do to make things a bit easier.

‘We can all have a bad day or a duvet day but when it goes on for days on end and it is out of character then I’d suggest getting some help and/or speaking to your GP,’ says Indira. ‘Good GPs will talk through your options and that may include medication for some people.

‘This might help take the edge off it and provide temporary relief but does not tackle the underlying cause and does not have to be a long term solution.

‘Some people will get stuck and will need some therapeutic help. Talking therapy with a trained professional may help you to learn to manage it differently.’

This Mental Health Awareness week Mind is here to fight for mental health. For support. For respect. For you. For more information on how to get involved visit www.mind.org.uk/jointhefight.

Alice Liveing is set to launch her new fitness and lifestyle app Give Me Strength on June 1. Check out @aliceliveing and givemestrength.app/ for more information

To chat about mental health in an open, non-judgmental space, join our Mentally Yours Facebook group.

Follow us on Twitter at @MentallyYrs.


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Metro.co.uk MHAW Takeover

This year, to mark Mental Health Awareness Week, Metro.co.uk has invited eight well-known mental health advocates to take over our site.

With a brilliant team that includes Alex Beresford, Russell Kane, Frankie Bridge, Anton Ferdinand, Sam Thompson, Scarlett Moffatt, Katie Piper and Joe Tracini, each of our guest editors have worked closely with us to share their own stories, and also educate, support and engage with our readers.

If you need help or advice for any mental health matter, here are just some of the organisations that were vital in helping us put together our MHAW Takeover:

To contact any of the charities mentioned in the Metro.co.uk MHAW Takeover click here





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