Post-Exercise Depression (9 ways to relive it)

In today’s blog post, we address an interesting phenomena that is; ‘Post Exercise Depression’. We start with a brief understanding of depression along with its symptoms and causes. We then take into consideration the various reasons for exercise to be considered to be an effective way to cope with depression. This will then be followed by understanding the paradox of the Post exercise depression in terms of taking into account  the various reasons it may be occurring and the different ways and alternatives that can be implemented to deal with it.

Post Exercise Depression:

There have been various situations, where exercising or working out does not make people feel happy, calm or emotionally stable as it is usually seen. On the contrary, it does not lead to any changes but either keeps them stagnated with respect to their problems or makes them exhausted and in some cases, also leads to post exercise depression. 

We would be looking at some of the reasons that lead to the occurrence of post exercise depression such as:

  • Overdoing the exercise
  • Current stress levels
  • Expectations from the workout
  • Energy levels within the body
  • Workout may not match the personality
  • Other factors

Understanding Depression:

Depression is a mood disorder, wherein the person experiences feelings of sadness, anger and loss which significantly interferes in the day-to-day functioning of the individual. 

Depression is more than just a constant state of sadness and has several other symptoms. Apart from affecting the mood, depression also affects several other aspects of the individual’s life, such as physical health and social and occupational functioning.

Certain symptoms may include irritability, numbness, social isolation, problems with day-to-day tasks, crying spells, sleep disturbances and loss of appetite.

It may be caused due to genetic factors, family dynamics, early and unresolved trauma and substance and alcohol abuse.

The effect of exercise on depression:

  • Effect on the brain:

Studies have shown that exercise proves to be an effective treatment modality for people suffering from depression, along with other therapies. Exercising leads to several health benefits such as it decreases the risk for heart diseases and diabetes, improves sleep and lowers blood pressure.

High intensity exercise also releases the feel good hormones, known as the endorphins. On the other hand, consistent, low intensity workout leads to the release of the proteins known as the neurotrophic factors, which leads the nerve cells to grow and make new connections, making the person feel better. 

Further, it has been seen that the size of the hippocampus is smaller for people who are depressed. Exercise has shown to improve the nerve cell growth in the hippocampus, improving the connections. 

  • Increases confidence:

When the person is able to reach the goals that are set for himself or herself during exercising, it boosts confidence. This increase in the confidence can also then be precipitated in other areas of functioning, especially those in which the person has lost motivation. 

This can also further motivate the person to increase the complexity and the levels of the goals, once the smaller and simpler goals are achieved, thereby increasing one’s self-efficacy.

  • Promotes social interaction:

As the person regularly exercises, he or she is able to meet new people and people who are undergoing similar issues. Increased interaction can motivate the person to continue the workout and can also help them put things in a better perspective. 

It can also help elevate the mood. Although depressed people are likely to isolate themselves and cut back on social interaction, good social support is indeed helpful.

  • Helps elevate mood:

Studies show that exercise works as an excellent tool to enhance the mood and that mood elevation may start taking place within 5 minutes of starting a workout. Because of the mood elevation factor, it has been seen that depressed people who are active are experiencing a lower intensity of their symptoms in the long run as compared to depressed people who choose to remain inactive. 

Exercise has also shown to reduce the depression-diabetes comorbidity, thereby significantly reducing the health risks for people. 

  • Serves as a distraction:

Because the entire body is actively involved in the process of an exercise, it may serve as a distraction from the ruminating thoughts and intrusions. Studies have shown that the distraction that is caused by exercise may sometimes work better in coping with the symptoms of depression as compared to more introspective activities such as journal writing.

It has also been compared to other distraction inducing activities such as relaxation, assertiveness training and social contact and it has been observed that exercise is more effective in inducing distraction and helping in coping with the issue.

Why does post exercise depression happen?

On the basis of the above listed benefits, it is clear that exercise is one of the favoured methods of helping the person cope with depression. Despite these benefits, exercise does not lead to the same outcome for everyone engaging in it, that is; in severe cases, exercise can actually trigger post exercise depression.

Reasons for post exercise depression:

  • Over doing the exercise:

Because of the rich literature and research available, which talks about the benefits of exercise for depression, depressed individuals are likely to push themselves into taking up exercise, even though it may not be suitable to them. They often tend to feel that the more they push themselves to exercise, earlier they will be experiencing a change in their systems. 

This may lead to overtraining syndrome, which is marked by feelings of tension, fatigue, confusion and loss of vigor that may trigger depression. This also makes the person get engulfed in a cycle where the more a person pushes himself to exercise, it fuels the overtraining syndrome, and triggers post exercise depression.

  • The current stress level:

Stress can have an extremely negative impact on a person’s mind as well as body. If the person is already stressed out, adding more strain from the workout may end up making things even worse for the person, rather than making it better. 

This additional stress may interfere in the sleeping patterns, making it difficult for the person to sleep, which in turn will increase the fatigue. Further, stress leads to the release of cortisol in the bloodstream. More strain may additionally increase the levels of cortisol, triggering the person’s fight or flight response. This will further exhaust the person.

  • Expectations from the workout:

Everyone worksout with certain expectations such as wanting to lose weight, wanting to gain muscle or get fit. The inability to meet these expectations immediately can lead to the person feeling frustrated, which will make them lose interest in the activity. 

A similar situation is seen with exercise done to cope with depression. People often believe that instant results will be seen once the exercise begins. However, sufficient time needs to be given for the results to be seen. The inability to meet the expectations immediately can trigger depressive symptoms. 

  • Energy levels within the body:

For the person to be able to sustain exercise, the body needs to be sufficiently hydrated, needs to have proper levels of blood sugar, proteins and carbohydrates. If the person is not eating adequately, the body may not be able to sustain the high intensity of the exercise and is likely to get tired and fatigued. As the body is not responding in the way that was expected, it can lead to experience of post exercise depression.

  • Workout may not match the personality:

Each person has certain preferences and temperaments and these are important even during exercise. People may end up choosing an incorrect exercise, one which may not suit their personality and temperament. In such a situation, the person is not likely to be motivated to take that up.

  • Other factors:

Another reason as to why a person may not benefit from exercising can be due to other worries overwhelming the person. Exercise requires focus, concentration and interest for it to be successful. 

However, if the person’s mind is overwhelmed with other thoughts, he or she may not be able to focus on the task at hand, and therefore may feel frustrated. 

Dealing with post exercise depression:

  • Breaking the overtraining syndrome:

The basic way of dealing with post exercise depression is to break overtraining. If the person feels that working out less will make them lethargic and put them back, they can interact with a trained individual in order to fine tune their exercise regime in order to make it more fruitful.

  • Taking up exercise based on your stress level:

As seen before, high intensity workout coupled with high stress levels can lead to more harm than benefit. One way to deal with this is to take up activities that compliment one’s stress level and help reduce it rather than increase it. This may include talking a walk instead of running, doing yoga instead of cross-fit training, doing mild stretching instead of aerobics etc.

  • Setting realistic expectations:

Unrealistic expectations from a workout can add to the harm and problems. Instead giving the workout its own time to show the benefits and taking up the exercise to enjoy it rather than to take away something from it can help the person take up a workout for the pure joy of it. 

  • Choosing an exercise that suits your personality:

Not everyone will be able to take up a high intensity workout or do yoga. It is necessary for the person to understand themselves completely before choosing an exercise regime. 

When the person is relatively aware of what exercise suits them and is per their liking, they are likely to seek more benefits from those. 

  • Not taking up exercise to cope with depression:

Not everyone is comfortable with exercising and not all will see the benefits. In such cases, instead of getting bogged down by the anxiety of not being able to workout, it is advisable to take up other ways of coping that may actually be helpful. These can include journaling, using coping self-statements, planning and scheduling, setting small goals etc.

Frequently Asked Questions: Post Exercise Depression

Can exercise replace antidepressants?

Regular exercising can be beneficial while coping with depression, but it cannot be used as a replacement for antidepressants, in case the person needs them.

Can over exercise make you sick?

Yes. Too much exercise can suppress the immune system functioning and cause sickness. Also, too much high intensity workout can make the person susceptible to illnesses.

How many hours of exercise is too much?

It depends on factors like your age, health, and choice of workouts. But in general, adults should engage into five hours a week of moderate exercise or two and a half hours of more intense workout.

Is oversleeping a sign of overtraining?

Overtraining may lead to oversleeping due to excess fatigue. On the other hand they may also have trouble sleeping as they are overstimulated. 

Can over exercise cause depression?

Yes. Too much exercise can lead to injuries, exhaustion, depression, and suicide. It can also cause lasting physical distress.

Conclusion:

In today’s blog post, we addressed an interesting phenomena that is; ‘Post Exercise Depression’. We started with a brief understanding of depression along with its symptoms and causes. We then took into consideration the various reasons for exercise to be considered to be an effective way to cope with depression. This was then followed by understanding the paradox of the post exercise depression in terms of taking into account  the various reasons it may be occurring and the different ways and alternatives that can be implemented to deal with it.

I hope this blog post was effective in helping the readers understand the reasons of post exercise depression and the ways to deal with it. Please drop any comments and queries in the section below. 

What we recommend for depression

Professional counselling

If you are suffering from depression then ongoing professional counselling may be your ideal first point of call. Counselling will utilize theories such as Cognitive behavioural therapy which will help you live a more fulfilling life.

References:

https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/exercise-is-an-all-natural-treatment-to-fight-depression

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/depression/in-depth/depression-and-exercise/art-20046495

https://www.apa.org/monitor/2011/12/exercise

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC474733/

https://www.verywellfit.com/in-the-forum-can-exercise-cause-depression-3976865

https://www.bodyandsoul.com.au/wellbeing/does-your-workout-get-you-down/news-story/a99c34cf12aa108e9742e4015072e65f

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