Physical Fitness Transformed My Mental Health | Guest Post By Cassidy Webb
Over the last few years since being diagnosed with depression, I’ve been on a journey to find ways to boost my mental health. One of the biggest obstacles standing in my way of being happy and finding self-love has been my weight. I had been slightly overweight as a teenager, but my own perception blew it out of proportion. I would find myself comparing my body to the unrealistic expectations set by the media. I beat myself up for the way I looked and had extremely low self-worth.
As I got older, I became addicted to drugs and alcohol. I began to neglect my physical health, but the weight shredded off. I was happier with my body, but mentally I was a disaster. My body looked how I wanted, but my self-esteem was still non-existent. My life revolved around substances and my mental health went down a rapid decline. I got sober the day after I attempted to take my own life.
When I got sober, I was diagnosed with depression for the first time. After treatment, I was put on medication to manage it but wasn’t taught any other healthy activities that would benefit my mental health. I was constantly craving sugar and sweets as a quick fix – and the weight piled on. Even though I was sober, I was just as depressed and self-conscious as before. I didn’t get sober to be miserable. I got sober with the goal of being happy and loving myself, so I decided to do something about it.
How Working Out Changed My Thinking
The first time I went to the gym I spent a good 15 minutes anxiously sitting in the car trying to gather up the courage to go inside. Once I finally stepped inside and got on the elliptical, I found myself smiling. I had this sense of joy and pride – that I was really doing this. I was really, finally, taking action to become healthier.
At the end of the workout, I felt as though I had accomplished something great. I began going to the gym 4-5 days a week and spending extra time walking my dog by a creek behind my house. As working out became an increasingly important part of my daily routine, I became inspired to transform my diet as well. I stopped craving so much sugar and slowly incorporated more fresh fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins into my diet. My journey became one of a healthy lifestyle rather than a diet to lose weight. The weight came off slowly, making the lifestyle more manageable and sustaining.
I found myself falling asleep faster, being more energized throughout the day, and feeling less stressed and anxious. Most importantly, I gained self-esteem before my weight loss became visible. It was as if taking time to move my body each day shifted my focus from my external flaws onto my inward self. It wasn’t long before I had the motivation to do the things I needed to do each day. I started looking forward to not only the gym, but to going out with friends, trying new things, and being more outgoing. I found myself laughing more, smiling more, meeting more people, and developing stronger relationships due to my self-confidence. I was no longer obsessing over what others thought about me or spending time in self-deprecating thoughts. Working out truly transformed the way I thought about myself and improved my symptoms of depression.
Benefits of Exercise on Mental Health and Recovery
Exercise has long been proven to boost mental health as well as support addiction recovery. The American Psychological Association suggests that the link between exercise and mood is strong, as people who are more active are less depressed than people who are not. When you begin exercising consistently, you may find it easier to maintain a healthy sense of self-confidence due to having fewer feelings of both depression and anxiety.
About five minutes into a workout, there is a near-instantaneous mood-enhancing effect produced by a flood of endorphins in the brain. In addition, only 30 minutes of moderate exercise is enough to lower stress and anxiety while increasing feelings of well-being. Fortunately, this means that high-intensity exercise isn’t required to boost mental health. Instead, a slow jog, long walk, dance, or yoga can be utilized to improve mental health.
There are many mind-body exercises that can be used to improve mental and physical wellbeing. These exercises will not only challenge your body, but they incorporate a healing spiritual aspect as well. Addiction is known to be a three-fold disease that affects the mind, body, and spirit. As a result, exercise can aid addiction recovery by treating all three of these aspects. Mind-body exercise is not only proven to improve symptoms of mental health, but it can promote self-awareness for people in recovery and be a crucial relapse prevention tool.
Over time, my journey became less about weight loss and more about increasing my self-confidence and treating my depression. I stay away from the scale and from comparing myself to the ultra-trim girls at the gym and instead focus my energy inward. For me, working out did more for my mental health and recovery than any pharmaceutical ever did.
Cassidy Webb is an avid writer who advocates spreading awareness on the disease of addiction. Her passion in life is to help others by sharing her experience, strength, and hope.