Hi folks, this is a re-written post from over a month ago that immediately followed my post Post-ABI: Depression. However as I explained in earlier blog posts, I felt I had very much short-changed you in terms of the amount of information I had provided regarding what it is like to suffer with mental health issues. Over the last month though, I feel I have been very open with you when talking about my own experiences of mental health problems (which can be found via the following links: Go Back A Step – Depression, Identifying Triggers, Managing My Mental Health, Anxiety & Low Self Esteem, Socialisation & Emotional Instability). Within these posts I feel I have examined both the topics at hand and myself very deeply and hopefully provided you with some useful information. I feel as though I have agonised enough about the things that are pulling us back and it is now time to look at ways we can help ourselves and move forward. So this is where I should have posted about exercise, when it was the right time to do it. So here it is, in it’s rightful place as we examine how we can help ourselves.
One moment your life is mapped out, you know who you are, what you want and where you are going. We wanted to live the dream! But what if life is not a dream though, what if the dream that movies, news coverage, advertisements and politicians have described and tell you is imminent if you work hard enough turns out to be fake? What if it suddenly turns into a nightmare? The next moment you find yourself in a hospital bed with your life changed, as if someone has blindfolded you and dropped you in the middle of a rainforest and told you to find your way home. After many mishaps, mistakes and the feeling of injustice at the ridiculousness of the size of the challenge you have been set it is inevitable that feelings of anger, despair, futility and so many others will inevitably pile up to the extent that you don’t even want to get out of bed in the morning.
Depression & Exercise
Now we all know that exercise is good for us in the conventional sense. We should all exercise daily according to our GP so as to keep blood pressure down, keep the blood pumping and oxygenated, to keep ourselves at the right weight and to generally make us look and FEEL better about ourselves. Depression is the parasite, a condition that is fed by our negative thoughts, our dark desires, our self-loathing, or stresses, traumatic experiences and our hatred. There are many ways to control that parasite though, not just medications (which, in my opinion, are handed out extremely frivolously these days), but by more natural methods that we can do ourselves with a little discipline and hard work. I personally believe that if you are susceptible and vulnerable to mental health issues that it is a case of getting those negative thought patterns well controlled, that with the right lifestyle we can ensure that they lie dormant for long periods. What I believe is that when it comes to depression, it is something that is linked to your own mind, the type of person you are and your own experiences. Therefore I believe that, as is the case with ABI, that you aren’t really ever cured. Because of the type of person you (or we, I also suffer from issues with depression anxiety and anger) are and all that you have been through will be prone to spells of depression or moments of anxiety for the rest of your days. This is also the reason I believe there are other ways to deal with them aside from just throwing pills and medications at the problem in the hope that it goes away.
There are two key parts to how exercise can keep us healthy not just physically but improve our state of mind as well. The first is the release of endorphins and the second contributory factor is ensuring that our blood remains oxygenated and circulating well. I will do my best to explain the processes, as I understand them but I will say this now; I am no expert scientist.
What Are Endorphins?
Endorphins are a neurotransmitter (a chemical that continues the passage of signals from one neuron to the next) key to the central nervous system. They play an extremely important role in the nervous system as they can encourage or suppress the signaling of nearby neurons. They are also our brains response to certain stimulants, such as pain as well as emotional stimulation to the brain. Think of endorphins as the brains own drug and react mainly with the part of the brain responsible for blocking out pain and controlling our emotional state of mind.
While endorphins block pain and control our emotions, they also cause that great feeling of excitement and enjoyment from the things we are really passionate about, enjoy doing or are just something of a giddy thrill. So when we do an exercise that we are extremely passionate about, not only do endorphins block out or relieve us of issues such as pain but also emphasise the positive emotional state we are in when are enjoying our exercise. When you hear people talk about the “runners high” that is due to the rush of endorphins the runner is getting while their brain is active and their body is being pushed.
Now, I’m not going to get too caught up in this. I’ll keep it brief, as I’m not sure exactly what the correct scientific explanation would be (Here is a good article on oxygenation of the body and body detoxification courtesy of Natural News.
To keep it simple, the oxygen from the air we breathe in diffuses through membranes into our red blood cells, the cells designed to carry oxygen around the body. The red blood cells then carry this oxygen to the places where it is needed most in the body.
The best way to ensure a good supply of oxygen in the blood and that your organs (particularly the brain), muscles and nervous system stay oxygenated is to focus hard on breathing patterns with slow and steady breathing.
To help maintain both of these things, a steady supply of endorphins and a healthy supply of oxygen to the blood, those breathing patterns I spoke of earlier combined with regular aerobic exercise (hiking, running, cycling) or just breathing and stretching exercises such as yoga or tai-chi. The point is exercises.
I can guarantee that with the continued focus on breathing patterns and with regular daily exercise (it doesn’t have to be a big grand effort, just walking for half an hour a day) can have a really positive effect on the state of mind due to your body’s natural reaction, the release of endorphins; your body’s own natural high.
One thing that exercise also provides that is a huge boost in the fight against depression is confidence in ourselves. During recovery and rehabilitation post-ABI I know that there are so many things that are foreign to us and that have changed, against our wishes. The situation escalated beyond our knowledge and control. However, when we find a particular type of exercise that we enjoy, we can implement an exercise regime that will enable us to set targets and, by achieving them, bring back an element of control.
Depression can cause issues such as a lack of appetite, or a tendency to over eat, both of which cause issues with weight. Exercise can help to counteract both of those things wether it is exercising to build up an appetite or exercising to burn off excess calories you have consumed. Exercise can be used merely to keep your body in balance and ensure that you stay in good condition and that your health doesn’t suffer. It can also be used to set yourself goals such as adding muscle definition, increasing targets such as distance run or weight lost or gained. With regards to exercise, it can work as a way to motivate ourselves and as a tangible, visual incentive because it shows that the effort we are going to is worth it and the fitter we get the better we look, the better we look the better and more confident we feel.
NB. For more information on how exercise can act as a positive influence in life post-ABI check out the inspiring story of Nick Verron and how exercise changed his life after his brain injury. Follow the link to his blog: nickverron.com