Thursday, June 22, 2017

Dealing With Depression From Exercise

We're talking about people who are at an emotional breaking point because of exercise. Don't worry, there are solutions! Depression from exercise hits almost everybody who takes fitness seriously (if you've never experienced it, then you are either not doing it right or are too green in the game). But firstly:

Make sure that exercise is causing the depression!

This is extremely important. The cause of depression is too often blamed on something else that is not actually the cause. Make sure that exercise is the reason for feeling depressed. For example, it might be something else like your financial, social or family issues that you are blaming exercise for. It may also be age, lack of sleep or even memories of the past that are starting to resurface. If you are not sure, you should see a psychologist to help you figure things out. They might be expensive, but totally worth it when your happiness depends on it. Also, trial and error works well. For example, try clocking more doze time to see if you weren't sleeping enough. I'll carry on assuming that you are 100% sure that exercise is causing your depression.

Before I go on to list why exercise can cause depression, it should be duly noted that exercise is in fact one of the best ways to combat depression. People who are less active are more at risk of suffering from depression and it is listed as one of the top ways to kick the black hole. Just as water is essential but can also drown you, exercise is necessary for optimum health and happiness; but can have its toll on mental health.

Reasons why exercise might cause depression, with solutions

Just one of those days

If this is the first time that you felt depressed during or after exercise, there is a 99% chance that it is just one of those days. We all have great, horrible and 'standard' workout days. On average, the bulk of your workouts should feel like standard; clock-in, clock-out days. On the odd occasion, you will have that great workout day when you feel like you can do so much more and end up smashing all of your previous physical limits. Equally, you will experience a few bad days when you wonder why you even walked into the gym. 

The Fix

Realize that this is normal and that it happens to everybody. I've had a terrible workout day that made me wonder what I was doing wrong and the next day I was back to normal. Your body works in waves, instead of a straight line. It is impossible to increase your performance every single day. If it was just one of those days, just push through till the end of your workout and come back tomorrow stronger. If you are not sure if it was just one of those days, and you have only been experiencing this recently, push through it for a few days and see what happens. If it lasts for longer than a week, it might be something else. Why a whole week? Sometimes you can just have a few bad days in a row. Your body works much like the graph below.
Read more about having a bad gym day and what to do about it.

Too young in the game

If you just started exercising recently, you probably just need time to get into it. Before exercise, your body was used to the amount of energy you expended in your daily life. Now that you are exercising, your body needs to get used to creating and using up more energy. It is not going to learn that overnight.

The Fix

Give yourself time to ease into things. Make sure you get enough rest (especially sleep), reward yourself for sticking to it and ensure that your body has the nutrition it needs to adapt. Drastically changing your diet and starting an exercise regime all at once could be too much for your body to cope with. In this case, I would suggest easing up (but not totally dropping) one of the two to allow your body to re-calibrate. It is normal to feel drained for the first while that you start exercising. It might only take you an hour or so to do your workout, but it is taking your body a whole lot longer to adapt. Give it time and don't give up.


You will be surprised how much nutrition impacts your body. It can affect your energy levels, sleep patterns, ability to recover, mental capacity and even those emotions. The emotional link with food is what causes so many people to have various food addictions. If you are experiencing depression from exercise, it might be because you are lacking certain nutrients. When your body does not have the energy that it needs in the form of calories, its energy levels drop. This causes a chain reaction that can lead to depression as well as other symptoms. What makes things more difficult is that fact that your body requires more energy from food because you are using up more energy by exercising. Many bodybuilders face a cascade of negative emotions when they are on a serious cut before a bodybuilding show, because they drop their caloric intake far below what their body needs to drop as much fat as possible in the shortest amount of time. During the process, they know that the negative emotions they are feeling come with the territory. Try going through the gruesome processes that the professionals undergo to polish up and look the best on stage and you'll see what I mean. Anyways, back to you. What if you've been eating the same thing you always did? Can your blues still be caused by nutritional reasons? Of course! This can especially happen if you have increased the intensity, duration and frequency of your exercise regime. You are spending more energy and teaching your body to adapt at a faster pace, but you are still giving it the same nutrients that you did when you started.

The Fix

If you think that nutrition might be the reason that you are experiencing workout woes, try adding more food to your diet or making smarter choices. Make sure to add the right food stuffs and determine if you need higher levels of protein, carbohydrates, fats or micro nutrients (the ones you get from fruit and vegetables). If you are trying to lose weight instead of building muscle; add more protein to your diet and don't eliminate carbohydrates completely. If you have a lot of fat that you are trying to metabolize, stimulants like caffeine can help to assist the body to break up and use fat for its energy requirements. I recommend that you don't use stimulants as a long-term strategy, though, because your body will adapt over time and the stimulants will lose their desired effect. Instead, you might end up depending on them to feel normal, instead of using them to boost your goals.

Over training

When last did you give your body a decent rest? If you have been working out non-stop for too long a period, your body won't have the time it needs for deep recovery. Depression is one of the major symptoms of over training, along with decreased physical performance and a weakened immune system. 

The Fix

Take a few days off and see if you feel better. Sometimes a good rest week is all you need to get your body ready for the next level. Don't worry about losing progress if your body is over trained. If over training is the case, you will come back even stronger and more capable than when you left!
If rest days drive you crazy, read about the perfect rest day here.

You've hit a plateau

We call it a plateau when you are no longer seeing any changes as a result from exercise. This can happen when you can't increase your performance or when your body isn't changing anymore. Plateaus can be extremely demotivating and can lead to depression when you feel like you are putting in the work but aren't getting any results. Plateaus can be a real nasty thing to face and are usually caused by doing the same thing over and over again. Eventually, your body adapts to the stimulus and decides not to respond anymore.

The Fix

There are a variety of things that you can do. Try changing your intensity, duration, diet or method. For example, you can do the exact same exercises, just with higher or lower reps under different weights. One of my favorite sayings is, "The best program is the one you haven't done yet".
Click here for more ways to beat your plateau


If you aren't getting enough sleep, you aren't giving your body the time it needs to recover and adapt. Because your body is not ready for the next day, you are piling on more damage that it just can't keep up with. Depression might be your body's way of telling you that it needs to log all of the work you've been putting in and it just isn't given the chance. If you are battling to sleep well, you might be over-tired; but chances are higher that you might have a nutritional imbalance, could be overtrained or are lacking something else, like other daily needs (too much stress at work?)

The fix

Prioritize sleep. Add an hour a day for a week and see if you feel better. Also, look into making sure that you have an optimal sleeping environment. Aim for a dark and silent room, good temperature and start getting yourself in 'sleep mode' an hour or two before its time. If you jump straight off a bright computer or cell before closing the covers, your brain will take longer to realize that it's sleepy time and shut down.


You could start associating exercise with negative emotions because you've lost your motivation and see exercise as a must-do that is actually a waste of time and energy. You might no longer see the point in why you put so much of yourself into exercise.

The Fix

This is one of the major reasons why it is important to set personal goals. Both long-term and short term goals are important. Take pictures and/or record performances. Give yourself reasonable time frames to beat these goals and celebrate them. Think about how far you've come from where you started. Add another element to your exercise regime to make it fun: add a social element by inviting friends or book yourself into a competition that you can't back out of. Create a picture journal of your transformation and share it on social media.

 Just like everything in life, we have our ups and downs. If winning was easy, it wouldn't be winning. Don't quit, just be smart. STAY STRONG!

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