Written by Caleb Lee – Upfit’s Head of Fitness
Since we’ve been locked down, have you felt like the days melt into one another without any clear passing of time? Or maybe the things that have always made you happy feel a little more dull, or gray? You might find yourself lingering in your bed after your alarm goes off, scrolling through your phone as your blankets grow too hot for your body. Then you may be feeling the effects of depression- call it the COVID Blues. Depression is more than just being sad, it can be many things: loss of motivation and energy, difficulty making decisions and focusing, changes in sleep and diet, or just plain not liking yourself. If you’re feeling these things, know that there’s nothing wrong with how you’re feeling; we are not in a normal situation, and everybody is affected mentally one way or another.
In this article series, we’ll cover healthy ways to rise above the blues through the practices of moving/exercising, and fueling your body and brain with the best food you can find, and unplugging. All of these methods were written with balance in mind, keeping expectations reasonable and achievable.
As you’re reading this, please keep in mind that I’m not a psychologist- I am just somebody who has used a healthy routine of exercise, balanced eating and mindfulness to fight my own personal battles with chronic depression for more than ten years. And as a coach, I’ve stood by friends and clients as they’ve gone through similar challenges. So, it’s important to keep in mind that my advice to you in this article is not a prescription- if you’re feeling seriously depressed, having thoughts of self-harm, or other negative fixations, please consult a licensed psychologist.
But I do sincerely believe that this advice can help, as it’s the same advice that was given to me many years ago by a professional, and it’s gotten me through some deep valleys (and up into some pretty beautiful peaks).
Today, we’re getting started with my favorite: movement and exercise.
One scientific explanation for depression is the lack of two brain chemicals you may have heard before: serotonin and dopamine. Serotonin is our main mood regulator, and we get it from being outside, meditating, and of course, exercising. Dopamine is our “reward chemical”; if you’ve ever felt accomplished, that’s dopamine rushing through your brain. We get it from accomplishing tasks, meeting deadlines, eating healthy food and, you guessed it, exercise! Read more on these chemicals and more neurotransmitters here.
We can’t get outside to release serotonin, and the nature of working from home makes your accomplishments feel less tangible. So one of the best ways to get those happy chemicals back is through physical movement.
Like I wrote before, depression often makes it difficult to self motivate and make decisions, and starting a good workout routine is tough even when we’re not locked down, so let’s remove all the reasons you might have not to move and make it as easy as possible to get started.
Of course, working out from home isn’t everybody’s favorite option. As a coach, I’ve heard countless reasons why people don’t like working out from home, but they can all be simplified to one of two reasons: either you don’t know how to work out from home, or you just don’t enjoy it as much. Note that I didn’t mention “I don’t have enough time”. This is not an excuse. You have thirty minutes to spare to exercise, you’re just not prioritizing it. Sorry for the tough love!
Let’s start with the first reason: not knowing how. Some translations to “I don’t know how”:
- I only know how to use machines / free weights / run, etc
- I don’t have enough space
- I don’t have the right equipment
All of these are very valid reasons for being unsure about starting up. However, the internet is an amazing resource to learn (a gentle hint: Upfit is on the internet). So that first obstacle is definitely surmountable. With a little bit of proper coaching, you’ll find that at-home training can be very rewarding.
Not enough space? If you’ve got enough space to lay down a yoga mat, you’ve got enough space.
Not the right equipment? You’ve got your body, don’t you? Unless you’re a competitive marathon runner, bodybuilder or powerlifter, bodyweight exercise can get you to any of your goals (yes, even muscle gain!) And even if you are somebody who can run a 3 hour marathon or squat three times your bodyweight, a great bodyweight routine is a great way to improve your coordination, range of motion, core strength and stability and muscular strength and endurance. It’s also quite affordable to get yourself set up with some basic equipment if you’d like to expand, check out our article on this here No Gym, No Problems
And it goes without saying that if you need guidance, it’s a great idea to contact a fitness professional who genuinely cares.
How about that second reason, “I don’t enjoy it”?
What is it about fitness that you enjoy? Is it the equipment? The building? The towel service? Likely not.
The reason why most people enjoy exercise is the social aspect. You double down on those happy chemicals when you do it with somebody else. This is where we’ve got to get pretty creative in our solutions.
One great way to make it social is to have a friend to share your experience with. Pick a plan or a channel, and video chat your friend while you do it, or check in afterwards. A workout routine is a great reason to check in with your friends, even if it’s just complaining about how sore you are.
Another fantastic thing to try is to join a livestream group class. While it’s not quite the same as being in the same room as your team, you can still belong to a group, and even something as simple as hearing your coach call out your name during a set, or training to the same beat as the others in your class, can make the difference between a boring workout and a happy shared experience.
It all starts with exercise, but stay tuned for my next articles on overcoming depression with nutrition and by being more mindful through unplugging.
If you’ve been feeling depressed, I hope that this is enough to get you started on getting back in touch with yourself, or at least to wake you up to the possibility that there’s a way to push through. And if you have any questions, please contact me – Caleb Lee or one of Upfit’s coaches directly- questions and consultations are free and 100% free of expectations or pressure.
We’re in this together!