Negative emotions such as anxiety and depression may be worsened by lifestyle habits or physical issues. At the practice, some common areas we look at improving with clients are exercise and sleep. These are both areas where a lot of research has been done, and where you can make real improvements in your mood if you put the strategies into action.
Low levels of exercise are often present when someone is depressed, and starting some form of regular exercise may help you if you are feeling down. There are a few theories about how it works, including:
- improving levels of serotonin in the brain,
- releasing endorphins,
- improving sleep patterns,
- reducing negative thoughts and going over and over these (‘rumination’),
- improved feelings of self-confidence and control,
- and if you do it in a group – improved social connectedness.
For some clients that we see at the practice the improvements after starting exercise are often quite dramatic, and it is a good place to start if you have been feeling down and don’t exercise regularly.
A recent review of the research  showed that moderate exercise (such as walking, cycling, or using machines such as elliptical trainers, treadmills and stationary cycles) done three times a week for 30-45 minutes, ideally for at least nine weeks, lowers the symptoms of depression.
You can get started on this today, by trying to work it into your routine as much as possible – can you cycle or walk to or from work? Maybe you can sneak a work out into the day by getting up a bit earlier, or exercising in your lunch break? Getting a partner or group going will help you stay motivated and consistent, or you could use a personal trainer for this. The main thing is to make it something you enjoy, or it will be harder to stick to it.
One of the symptoms of depression is disrupted sleep. One way you can really start to feel better is to try and get back into healthy sleeping patterns Here are some guidelines to follow, which are collectively known as ‘sleep hygiene’ rules:
- Try to sleep only when you are feeling sleepy, rather than go to bed at a set bed time.
- If you can’t fall asleep in about 25 minutes just get up and change rooms, once you get up leave the lights low and don’t engage in highly stimulating things.
- Try not to nap in the day.
- Use your bed only for sleep and sexual activity.
- Get up at the same time every day.
- Don’t exercise too close to bed time.
- Follow the same ritual before bed each night.
- Try to do something relaxing each day.
- Try not to have caffeine or smoke cigarettes within four hours of bedtime.
- Try to increase the amount of outdoor sunlight you get early on in the day (obviously while staying sun safe).
- Ensure your bedroom is quiet and comfortable.
So there you go – two things which the evidence shows you can do right now to start feeling better. I hope you find this useful!
 Exercise and the treatment of depression: A review of the exercise program variables. Stanton, Robert; Reaburn, Peter Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport 17.2 (Mar 2014): 177-82.