How to exercise with depression and anxiety

If you’ve searched for ‘solutions’ or ‘treatments’ of depression or anxiety, you will definitely have seen that exercise is ALWAYS on the list.


Exercise alone won’t cure depression or anxiety, but it definitely helps ease the symptoms.


However, when you are struggling with your mental health, exercising is easier said than done. It can be infuriating and feels slightly patronising when you go to the doctor about your depression and they say ‘just do some exercise’.


errrrr okay yeh thanks!!!


They seem to not realise that lack of motivation is the biggest challenge. When I was depressed I used to go to the gym, be in the middle of a workout session and actually be close to tears because I felt like I was wasting my life……. wasting my time just being at the gym.


Keeping focus of why you are exercising and what you want to get out of your exercise routine will help avoid this. So before you jump into exercise, it is good to think about why you are doing it first (……to avoid any awkward crying in the gym).

how to exercise depression and anxiety

Why should you exercise?

Exercise has been proven to lift your mood by releasing chemicals in your brain such as seratonin and endorphins.


In addition, after exercising I always feel a much better sense of mental clarity. If you have experienced depression and anxiety you will be familiar with the feeling of your head being like a tangled mess most of the time!! After exercising, things that were making me anxious and bothering me earlier in the day just don’t seem so bad anymore.


Even though exercise won’t completely cure your depression, it will definitely make you feel better and lift your mood. I don’t know about you but I would definitely take that feeling if only for a few hours.


As an added bonus, exercise will also help you be healthier and lose weight. A lot of people who have anxiety and depression also have very low self esteem, so getting toned will help with body image and help raise self esteem.

how to exercise with depression and anxiety


Plan your routine

On average I used to spend about 45 minutes a day, trying to decide if I should go to the gym or not. I know that if I didn’t I would often end up sitting at home, crying and self loathing for my lack of motivation and pro activity. Then I would punish myself by hardly eating anything and feeling even more guilty if I did.


Sound familiar?


Try creating a routine and stick to it to avoid this mental turmoil in your head! If you stick to this routine, you won’t feel so guilty on the days where you have scheduled not to do any exercise. I feel that 3 or 4 times a week is the best amount for me and still leaves me with a lot of free time.


It is very important to make sure your routine is realistic – if you haven’t done much exercise before and suddenly start planning to exercise 7 days a week you are really setting yourself up for a fail. This will be really demoralizing and make you more depressed that you aren’t achieving your goals.


A good way to make sure you are hitting your goals is by sharing your progress with your friends, using an app such as Strava. This will give you positive feedback from people liking your workout and giving you the positive boost you need to continue.


Got no time?


If you use the excuse that you don’t have any time to exercise, you could always wake up 30 mins earlier and go for a 20 minute run in the morning. Once you get into a routine you will probably have more energy and have better quality of sleep too!


Bear in mind you should exercise at the time of day where you feel you have the most energy. There’s no point setting your alarm at 5.a.m if you’ve never been much of a morning person!



How to exercise with Social Anxiety


Some days you might have crippling social anxiety and can’t even bare to be in the company of other people. Don’t let this be an excuse to not exercise!!!



If you have high levels of social anxiety, go for a run outside. Running is FREE, you can whack in your headphones, listen to your favourite uplifting songs and not need to talk to anyone.


Running is great because you can set your own personal goals and then try and beat them, which will make you feel good about yourself. Try running a little bit further or a little bit quicker each day, and you’ll get a massive sense of achievement.


Try not to run on busy roads! This can be extra stressful. Find your nearest park and run there, being in nature for just 5 minutes a day has been proven to improve mood and reduce stress! Bonus!





If you have moderate level of social anxiety, join a gym.


You could do your own workouts in the gym, but I find that a lot harder to motivate myself unless I have a strict routine!!


So if you’re like me and can find it hard to motivate yourself, participating in a class is better. Classes give me a sense of being social, and also you can choose which one you enjoy the most. In addition you usually have to book in advance so you are more likely to go.


If you’re using an excuse not to join like cost, you can get a monthly gym membership for £30. It is definitely worth it. If you get a monthly subscription, every time you go just makes it seem even cheaper!



Joining a weekly sports team would be my biggest recommendation by far!


This counts as a social activity and exercising all in one. Sometimes when you’re having fun it doesn’t even seem like exercising.


In London there are many group activities you can sign up to. If you think that you don’t like sports, maybe you just haven’t found the right one for you!


How to motivate yourself to leave the house


If you know you struggle to motivate yourself, you need to sign up for a group activity! You will feel less tempted to stay inside if you have a routine to stick too.


In addition, you are less likely to cancel if you know there are 8 other people waiting for you (not quite sure what sport that is ha) or your team will have to forfeit the game!


Going to the gym or a class with a friend is another way I used to force myself to workout. I always went because I would feel guilty if I cancelled! Plus it’s more fun and you can catch up at the same time.


Choose the classes and activities that you enjoy doing, so that you actually look forward to doing them. There are always other types of unconventional exercise classes, such as pole dancing, boxing and belly dancing!


If you really don’t want to leave the house because you don’t want people to see you, that’s okay too. A lot of people exercise in their own homes. There are a multitude of YouTube videos that you can chose from! My faves are Kayla Itsines and Joe Wicks, give them a try.


Comment below on your most effective ways to motivate yourself to exercise.


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