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“Why not go out for a walk. The fresh air and exercise will make you feel better.”

If you’ve ever suffered from any kind of low mood for any reason then you’ll have heard this advice. It’s well meaning, it’s caring, and it’s often true. There have been times when I’ve returned from a brisk walk feeling refreshed and ready to take on the world. But while it’s often right, it’s often wrong too, and it’s one of those places where I (and I’m sure others) have difficulty seperating the effect from the cause.

When I have one of those days, when I go out for a walk and feel better afterwards, it’s easy to think that this would have been the result any other day had I only stirred up the energy to go for a walk then too. But the more I look at it the more I wonder… Where did that energy come from in the first place? There have been days when I’ve *had* to go out, for one reason or another, and every step has been an agony and when I’ve returned I’ve wanted nothing more than to curl up and wish the world away. So what makes these walks different from the ones that leave me refreshed and renewed? The only answer I can come to is that exercise, like anything else in life, isn’t as straightforward as we’d like to believe. Yes, it can leave us feeling better… if we have the energy to spare in the first place. Feeling better is the cause of the exercise, which is the cause of feeling better. A spiral, yet again. Spirals seem to be one of the recurring themes in depression!

If you’re wondering whether staying in or breaking out is the best course of action for you right now, then here are some questions you can ask yourself:

Do I really feel that I can’t, or do I only feel that I don’t want to?
Not only are the two very similar at times, but the line between them often blurs. Make sure you’re not using inability as an excuse for laziness. But also make sure that you’re not using fear of laziness to push you farther than you can comfortably go.

Is there any other exercise or activity that I’d feel more positive about?
The choices aren’t just “go for a run” or “watch TV”. If you don’t feel up to going outside then some gentle stretches might help instead. Or if it’s the activity that you can’t face, then try just going and sitting outside for ten minutes for some air and a change of scenery.

Is there anything I can do to make the exercise more fun?
Something as simple as some music to listen to, or a challenge to complete, can make the difference between forcing yourself out to do things and actually enjoying it.

Can I combine things I have to do, to make them seem like less of a chore?
Perhaps running to the shops will be attainable on a day where you can’t face going for a run and shopping separately?

Is it that you don’t want to do the exercise, or that you’d prefer to be doing something else instead?
If it’s really just the brain-gremlins trying to persuade you that watching TV would be more fun than going for a walk, then how about trying to deal with them? If you have time for both then remind yourself that there’s always the option of exercise and *then* TV. If you don’t have time for both then you’ll need to prioritise. Which will actually make you feel better? And once you’ve chosen one, don’t let the guilt in. If feeling less down is your aim then do whichever one makes you feel less down!

So when someone urges you to go out and do something active, and everything within you cries out that you can’t; well maybe everything in you is right. Maybe you aren’t up to coping with that right now. Maybe you need another approach to deal with your low mood. And if you think of trying exercise and your mind says “hey, that doesn’t sound so bad”? Well grab it with everything you’ve got, and keep that spiral going up!