“STOP THE WORLD, I WANT TO GET OFF”
HOW FITNESS CAN HELP WITH DEPRESSION
It goes without saying that the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on lives are far-reaching. Together with the vast number of deaths that will have impacted so many families, as of mid-December 2020, redundancy rates had reached a record high of 370K in the previous quarter, and unemployment rates had increased to 4.9% (Wearden, 2020). The sense of loss is staggering, and the repercussions will be felt for years to come. Therefore, it is natural that many people will be lacking the motivation to go about their daily lives, which have changed so dramatically, and will want to hide under the duvet and protect themselves from the overwhelmingness of the situation.
It has been widely reported that events such as wars and natural disasters can have a powerful impact on the populations’ psychological distress (Ducharme, 2020), and the Covid-19 pandemic is further proof of this. The number of people suffering from some form of depression after the 1st lockdown was almost 1 in 5 adults, which was up from 1 in 9 before the pandemic (Office of National Statistics, 2020). There is no current data on where these figures are now that the 3rd lockdown is underway, but the medical profession’s fears and the media are that the number of people suffering will continue to increase.
Notwithstanding the extreme challenges many people face through illness, job losses, financial strain, and general fear of not knowing when this pandemic will end, those who are lucky enough to have kept their jobs are facing enormous challenges from working from home. Time management issues, childcare and home-schooling, feelings of isolation and work-life balance difficulties add to people’s feelings of distress. Adults are not alone in this mental health crisis, an investigation undertaken by the Evening Standard (2021), uncovered frightening statistics from the Centre for Mental Health that 500,000 children under the age of 18 who previously suffered no symptoms of depression, will now require mental healthcare.
Mental healthcare providers have responded efficiently and effectually to the changes in the way they can provide their services, however, with demand for their services expected to increase by up to 20%, some patients are not receiving the help they need, and staff providing the services are running the risk of burnout (NHS Confederation, 2020). Therefore, it is essential that people also turn to other methods to help with their mental health problems, as they may not be able to rely on receiving professional attention within the timeframe they require.
One of the most advocated tools often recommended by health professionals as an essential alternative therapy for depression is exercise (Mind, 2021). Regular exercise can have an antidepressant effect and can also lead to a 22% increase in chances of remission from depression (Johnson, 2020). Exercise is a fluid activity and different forms will suit people at varying times in their lives. It is essential to listen to the body and mind and recognise what the current needs are for the individual, rather than merely following the prevailing fitness trends.
This will ensure that the regularity necessary to gain the full benefits can be maintained (Jones, 2015). This consistency of exercising releases endorphins which will help with stress levels and anxiety, boost self-confidence and self-esteem, and aid with restful sleep (WebMD, 2021).
Yoga and running have been highlighted to be the most beneficial for alleviating depression, running for its repetitive motion and meditative effect, and yoga for the focus on the breath and the calming emotion this creates (Felton, 2020). Nevertheless, ultimately, any form of exercise will aid overall wellness, a brisk walk in the fresh air can do wonders. If anger and frustration are being experienced during lockdown, a more dynamic form of exercise may be advisable, for example a high intensity aerobic style class, where the body’s energy levels will be depleted, the heart rate will be elevated, and the mind will need to purely focus on completing the class, and not on other worries that exist.
Exercise will help with those “stop the world” emotions and encourage people to get out from under the duvet every day, helping to maintain focus on the feelings of energy and enjoyment it can provide and enable the mind and body to reap the rewards.
(Always seek advice from your GP or reach out to a mental health organisation if you experience signs of depression).