From social isolation to endless Zoom calls to the potential loss of loved ones, the pandemic has had an impact on all of us, especially our mental health. You might be experiencing feelings such as stress, anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, trouble falling asleep, low energy levels, loneliness, or isolation as a result.
As we begin down the road of vaccinations and a new normal together it’s important to address any feelings you might be experiencing and find a way forward. At Barbella, we know exercise can’t heal all pandemic wounds. But the power of fitness has a ton of mental health benefits and could be a great part of your path forward.
Not only can exercise improve your physical health but exercising regularly can have an amazing impact on how you feel. You don’t need to be training for the CrossFit Games or a marathon to experience the difference. All it takes is 30 minutes of movement about five days a week to start to notice a change in how you feel.
Here are some of the mental health benefits of a good sweat sesh:
Reduces feelings of stress, anxiety, or depression
We’ve all experienced some form of isolation, separation, loss of freedom, boredom, and uncertainty throughout the past year. These can often lead to feelings of stress, anxiety, or depression, that might be new or emphasized since the pandemic began.
According to the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF), about four in 10 adults in the U.S. have reported symptoms of anxiety or depression since the pandemic started. This number has risen from one in 10 adults back in 2019.
Those especially at risk are people on the front lines or those more heavily affected by the pandemic. This includes parents and children, communities of color, essential workers, healthcare workers, students, and people experiencing any kind of job loss.
Studies have found that exercise can help reduce these feelings. In one study done by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, for example, they found that running for 15 minutes a day or walking for an hour reduces the risk of major depression by 26%.
This is because as you are moving your body a lot is happening inside your body. This includes:
- Your blood circulation increases which impacts your motivation and mood
- Your brain focuses on your workout which helps you break away from negative thoughts or feelings
- Your body releases powerful chemicals such as endorphins that give you energy and make you feel good
- Through continued movement and exercise your body learns how to react and respond better to stress
- The movement and stretching of your muscles relieves tension and stress you might be holding onto
Boosts your self-esteem
Stay-at-home orders can take a toll on your self-esteem. Your body might have changed from working at home all day or binging Netflix more times than you care to admit. Or maybe you forget how to interact with other human beings and the idea of being “social” again feels intimidating. Whatever the case, we all need a little help feeling confident getting back out into the world.
Exercise has a powerful effect on how we feel about ourselves. Through a regular workout routine, your confidence will build as you feel your body getting stronger and as you start accomplishing your goals.
Getting in shape can also help you feel better about your appearance. Working out promotes a positive self-image. After finally making it to the end of your run or crushing those reps you can’t help but feel stronger and more powerful than when you started. Even if the sweat is pouring and your muscles are crying, your body did it.
By pushing yourself through a tough workout, you start to appreciate what your body can do for you. This allows you to focus less on your pants size and more on how many pounds those legs can squat. Talk about a self-esteem boost!
Improves your sleep
As stress levels rise during a pandemic, a natural side effect is trouble falling and staying asleep. According to a 2020 KFF poll, 36% of adults last year reported difficulty sleeping. Studies have found that exercise can help you fall asleep faster and even improve your sleep quality.
Exercise makes you tired which means it’s easier to fall asleep when your head hits the pillow. Also, the mood-boosting and stress-relieving effects of exercise can clear your mind. This helps to eliminate some of the thoughts that usually run through your head as you toss and turn desperately seeking those needed Zzzs.
This doesn’t take much time to have an effect. Even if you haven’t been regularly exercising, going out and getting 30 minutes of exercise today could help lead to better sleep tonight.
But this doesn’t mean you should be scheduling a late-night workout. The best time to work out is when you have the most energy during your day. And if it gets late in the evening, aim for a more relaxing yoga or soft tissue and breathing exercise instead to transition your body into a state of rest.
Increases your energy
Living, breathing, and working at home all day can be a major energy drain. Human beings are social creatures, we are not used to being pent up inside. As a result, it is completely normal to feel like you have less energy than usual.
While getting up for a workout might feel like the last thing you want to do, it could actually be the answer to your low energy. By getting your heart rate up, increasing your blood circulation, and moving your muscles through a workout you can help increase your energy levels throughout the day.
Does this mean you should work out every time you are low energy? Not necessarily. It’s important to read the signs your body is giving you. Some days you just need a rest day but other days where you feel drained for no reason, it might be time for a workout. You will amaze yourself at how energized you feel after you finish!
Need help feeling motivated? Check out these 12 fitness motivation tricks that actually work.
Manages loneliness or isolation
Staying safe during the pandemic has meant limiting social interaction and potentially separating yourself from friends or loved ones. All this quality 1-1 time with yourself can lead to feelings of loneliness or isolation that can be hard to break out of, even as things open back up.
As you are exercising more to boost your mood, increase your energy, or improve your sleep you can also use exercise as a way to come together with other people. Working out doesn’t have to be an individual activity. Find a group of friends you can work out with outside, recruit a workout buddy to head to the gym, or join a virtual community like our Barbella Family.
Instead of working out solo, a community or group workout sesh can increase feelings of connectedness and up your social interaction. Not only that but it might offer you the opportunity to meet and connect with new people (which we bet is an experience you haven’t had much of these days!).
No matter what you are experiencing as a result of this pandemic, know that your feelings are completely normal! Find a way to build more exercise into your day and see if it helps improve your mental health. Make sure to start small, have fun with the activities that you choose, and build in motivational techniques when you need them!
A note on seeking professional help
If you are experiencing an overwhelming amount of stress, anxiety, or depression make sure to speak with your doctor or another medical health professional. While exercise might improve these symptoms, sometimes we need additional help. Your doctor can point you towards other options to help work through whatever you are experiencing.
Don’t struggle through these feelings on your own! It’s okay to ask for help. Dial 1-800-662-HELP (4357) if you need to speak to someone right away or if you need a referral to local treatment facilities, support groups, or community-based organizations.