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Wintertime: Struggling With Feelings of Anxiety or Depression? Try This.

Winter Anxiety Depression

Winter Anxiety Depression

Winter. Not the favourite season for everyone, as in some parts of the world it is darker than we’d actually like, it’s difficult to get out of bed, it’s colder than we wish it was, and this combination can have a huge impact on how we feel and perceive the world around us. 

If you are struggling with anxiety of very negative feelings, maybe even depression: this one is for you. Exercise may seem the last things that you would want to do if you feel down, but hear me out. Decades of research show that physical activity can make a big difference for your mood and how you feel. Isn’t that worth the try?

So how does exercise help to make you feel better?

1. Physical activity triggers the release of feel-good hormones

Research shows that exercise triggers the release of happy hormones aka endorphins. Endorphins are mainly made in the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland, though other body parts may contribute to the production and release as well. These endorphins block the perception of pain and can trigger a feeling of ‘being high’. This means: a better mood, perceiving the world around more positive, and less stress, in a healthy and safe way. Because of these hormones, there’s way less space for feelings of depression and anxiety, and more for relaxation and feeling good. And it’s all thanks to your own body’s magic!

Happy Winter
2. Welcome distracting thoughts

Negative voices and feelings can keep you quite busy, we know. But doing things that get your mind off of your worries can make a huge difference. Did you ever experience that you feel better after cleaning your house? It’s maybe not the most fun activity that you can think of, but the movement of your body causes you to feel better, producing those endorphins also here, while a clean house afterwards brings even more joy. Who doesn’t like to sit down afterwards and enjoy the cleanliness and very much deserved relaxation time with a coffee and a book?

Feel Good Coffee

3. Better quality sleep

Mental activity makes your mind tired, and it feels like your body is very very tired. But you might experience that it’s still difficult to go to sleep in the evening. Worrying about anything? Physical activity, on the other hand, makes your body tired, which triggers the natural release of relaxation hormones in the evening, and makes you sleep better and deeper. This does not mean that you have to do an intense HIT training every single day to tire yourself out physically. On the contrary! Research shows that moderate intensity activity has a way more beneficial effect for mood and feelings of pleasure. 

Better Sleep

4. Higher self-esteem

Let’s face it: we all want that body of someone who works out every single day. Maybe we don’t want to put so much effort in it as they do. But we still want it. And you don’t have to workout all day every day! We all see the effect of even one workout a week: our skin is more shiny, our muscles a bit more toned, our metabolism is somewhat higher which makes our food taste even better, and it can even result in a bit more flirty behaviour. Even the muscle ache makes us feel good in some way, simply because our muscles let us know that they have worked and it benefits our shape. 

5. Boosts physical and mental health

No thing to argue about this: being physically active makes your body and mind more healthy. Muscles get more oxygen, we strengthen our body’s muscles (less little aches!), we tend to breathe more deeply, our bodies are stimulated to release toxins, it’s very very good for our immunity system (AKA less probability of disease), and: we can turn our negative feelings into something more constructive like using that punch bag to hit even harder. Now doesn’t that feel like you are doing something good for your body?

6. Social aspects support feelings of well-being 

If we are feeling down we are tempted to close off. To hide away, and shut the door literally and by figure of speaking. Being active with other people does the opposite, and has a double, maybe even triple effect. Working on your body is doing something good for your body, while the social component create competition and the feeling of ‘suffering’ is shared. Also, just talking to others gets your mind off of your own thoughts, and making new friends and strengthening existing relationships makes a huge difference for feelings of well-being. 

BONUS: No side effects!

While there are many stimulants that also trigger endorphins – think drugs and alcohol. Being physically active does not have side effects. No hangovers, no addiction alarm. All healthy, 100% safe.

Having that said…

Top 5 things to try

1. Be active and try something different!

Although your favourite familiar sports is without a doubt beneficial too, bringing change into your daily rhythm has positive effects on the way that you experience days. Less feelings of ‘same shit, different day’, and doing new things stimulate – there they are again: endorphins. The excitement that we feel when we go to places we don’t know, doing things we have not done before. A bit anxiety, but all for a good cause. Try a different sport, go for a walk in different neighbourhoods and parks than you are used to, and open up to hobby’s that you never considered before. And this trial might be your new future passion. 

2. Facial Fitness

OK, you might not break a sweat, but research shows that physical exercises for the face can boost your mood. This does not mean that it’s only about making funny faces: face yoga really is a thing. Also, did you ever notice that you feel better even if your smile does not feel genuine? Simply by curling your lips up into a smile boosts your mood. Why not try both? Practice smiling, even when you are feeling down!

3. When you feel down: take 5 minutes off of what you were doing

You don’t need hours of physical activity to reap the benefits of being active: research shows that as short as 5 minutes of being physically active has beneficial effects for mood and feelings of depression and anxiety. Walk around, stretch yourself out, dance to your favourite song, go outside for a few deep breaths, maybe even just walk around the block. Bonus points if you go outside ánd to a place green, as this multiplies the effect. 

I wish you loads of happy thoughts. And if you want to try yoga to boost your mood?
Book some quality time for yourself here.

Sources

1. Georgia Stathopoulou and Mark B. Powers, Boston University Angela C. Berry and Jasper A. J. Smits. Exercise Interventions for Mental Health: A Quantitative and Qualitative Review. Southern Methodist University Michael W. Otto, Boston University. 

2. Okamoto, R.; Manabe, T.; Mizukami, K. Int. J. Environ. Effects of Facial Muscles Exercise on Mental Health: A Systematic Review. Res. Public Health 2021, 18, 12216. https://doi.org/10.3390/ ijerph182212216

3. Barton, J., Pretty, J. What is the Best Dose of Nature and Green Exercise for Improving Mental Health? A Multi-Study Analysis. Environmental Science & Technology 2010 44 (10), 3947-3955.DOI: 10.1021/es903183r

4. Deslandes A, Moraes H, Ferreira C, Veiga H, Silveira H, Mouta R, Pompeu FA, Coutinho ES, Laks J. Exercise and mental health: many reasons to move. Neuropsychobiology. 2009;59(4):191-8. doi: 10.1159/000223730. Epub 2009 Jun 10. PMID: 19521110.

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