A 5-Minute Exercise To Help Ease Depression

Written by Amy Clover

When depression hits, you may be able to hide it from people around you, but you can’t run away from the depression itself. It can zap any semblance of energy or motivation that you had, and it’s hard to fight back. The best thing you can do to keep from spiraling lower is to take action right away.

There's one simple step that offers instant relief from the heaviness of depression. To stop the wallowing before it starts, get out a notebook, open a Word doc or even use your phone’s voice recorder and get ready to journal it out. Before you sigh and tell me you’ve already tried journaling, hear me out.

I recommend using a journal to ask yourself five key questions, and it will only take five to 10 minutes. These questions will spark your ability to analyze the major triggers for depression, and figure out whether one of them was the culprit for you this time around.

When you pin down the reason behind your depression through journaling, it’s easier to understand, externalize (instead of concluding that there’s something wrong with you) and prevent it in the future.

Give yourself just five to 10 minutes to answer the five questions below and see whether you can find a trigger:

1. Have I been sleeping poorly the past few nights?

No: Move on to the next question.

Yes: Going without enough shut-eye is bound to make anyone feel low. If sleeplessness is an ongoing problem, try getting more physical movement during the day, establishing a nighttime routine to quiet your mind in the evening and adjusting your caffeine intake. If none of those options work for you, talk to your doctor or naturopath about insomnia.

2. Do I typically start feeling depressed at this point in my menstrual cycle?

No (or you’re a guy): Move on to the next question.

Yes: Hormonal fluctuations have a lot to do with depression. If you find that you typically get depressed around certain points in your cycle, talk to you doctor or naturopath about the possibility of premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD).

3. Have I been eating a lot of processed foods or foods with added sugars?

No: Move on to the next question.

Yes: Try to fill your diet with whole foods and limit the added sugars in your diet (even if they are natural). Trying to change your whole diet at once may be too overwhelming. Starting with simple substitutions like one glass of iced tea in place of soda, or one piece of fruit instead of an afternoon snack from the vending machine, is a great place to start.

4. Have I been hanging out with negative people?

No: Move on to the next question.

Yes: The people you surround ourselves with have a considerable effect on your demeanor. If your co-workers, friends or family trigger depression in you, consider limiting your engagement with them, practicing protective meditations or — if the relationship is especially unhealthy — cutting ties altogether.

5. Are there any stressful events in my life (past, present or future)?

No: Read the summary below, and if you still answer no, continue past this question.

Yes: A stressful event doesn’t have to be as extreme as a death in the family or being let go from work; it can be an event like a vacation, an in-law visiting or getting sick. Any event that depletes your energy is a stressful event, even if it was a positive one.

We depressives handle overwhelming stress by turning our frustration, disappointment, exhaustion, anger, fear or anxiety inward. If you find that you typically get depressed when stress hits, look into healthy outlets and coping mechanisms like boxing classes, yoga, meditation, coloring books, making to-do lists of realistic and positive actions you can take or any other activity that may help you relieve the stress that you’d otherwise harbor in a harmful way.

Journaling is helpful after a single bout of depression, but repeating this exercise every time depression rolls around can change your life. When you look back at your journal entries for past instances, you can track patterns in your triggers and take action to prevent depression in the future.

If you answered “no” to all of the above questions, don’t despair. Sometimes depression comes out of nowhere. With some of us, it’s a chemical imbalance and all we can do is sit back, breathe and know that it will pass. When this happens to me, I lengthen my meditations, turn to low-impact cardio that feels more calming than intense, and nourish my body with lots of vibrant vegetables. If it lasts longer than a week or two, I’ll make an appointment with my therapist to come up with a plan to feel better.

No matter what your form of depression or your trigger, never lose hope. You don’t have to do this alone; there are so many sources of support available to help you rise up out of this darkness, and you are worth the time it takes to reach out.

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