“Every day begins with an act of courage: getting out of bed.” -Mason Cooley

The hardest part of the day is sometimes just starting it. Getting the momentum necessary to have a productive day is a battle every single time the sun comes up. Whether you suffer from a mental illness or not, a common way to start the day is with exercise.

Good fitness choices have helped me manage my depression and anxiety for over two years. If you are anything like me, exercise is not something you take too serious. Making good fitness choices doesn’t mean you only eat a low-carb, no gluten, super-charged protein diet. It doesn’t require you to run 8 miles every day or embark on rigorous and challenging regimes. It’s just waking up, and doing your best to take care of your body. You won’t see me running any marathons or strutting in some bikini competition. But you will see me in the gym at least 3 times a week trying my best.

That’s what having good fitness is all about. Showing up and doing your best. Some days, my best is running a few laps and walking the rest. Sometimes, all I can muster is to do a short weight machine circuit. No matter how much I do though, it helps me. We all know that “exercise releases endorphins; endorphins make you happy; and happy people don’t shoot their husbands, they just don’t”. If you don’t follow along with my “Legally Blonde” reference, just know that exercise really does make you happier. Not only does it release important chemicals that boost your mood, but it also increases your self-confidence and personal motivation.

The more we exercise, the more we want to exercise. So when that depression standing on your shoulder starts to tell you that you have no worth and staying in bed all day is all you can do, tell him to shut up and go for a jog. It’s worked for me, and it can work for your too.

Below are some tips and testimonials to motivate and encourage those struggling to get active:

1. You can’t let fear or anxiety hold you back.

One of my biggest struggles with exercising, although I know it will help with me depression, is anxiety holding me back. Anxiety whispers in my ear that everyone at the gym will be judging me, that I’m too gross and skinny, that everyone will laugh at my lack of athleticism. It hits me when I’m on a jog in my neighborhood. Are the cars driving by laughing at me? I think about it when I’m using the weight machines at the gym. Is that guy judging me by the little weight I’m lifting? Sometimes anxiety convinces me of these things and I do stay home. I give in to him. But I found a way to get back at Anxiety. I found a workout program I can do in my home on the TV. I personally enjoy the Beachbody program PiYo. It’s a mix of yoga and Pilates in a cardio workout. Sometimes, I even just go through some yoga poses.

2. Try different methods. Relaxing exercise can give you the same positive effects as high-energy activities.

Yoga, Pilates, and meditation are shown to decrease stress. They’re a great release of depressive and anxious feelings. A lot of us think of hippies with incense when we picture meditation. But meditation can be any type of self-reflection. It’s setting aside time to think and unwind, and it can happen during physical activity too like Yoga. So many things can be meditative or have the same effect. Yoga and Pilates both activate an intense state of body awareness. The breathing patterns and positions are all calming. These are really good options for anyone who doesn’t find the gym environment effective, or feels more inclined to exercise that’s a little easier on the body.

3. Embrace the control you feel when you exercise. Allow that to empower you.

When we exercise, we are in control. We control the work out, our pace and our intensity. In this situation, it’s easier to control the pain of pushing our bodies to the limit than to become trapped in pushing our mental capacity. Exercising allows me to push depression and anxiety away for a while. The benefits of maintaining good physical health has greatly impacted the level of depression and anxiety I feel.

4. Take the time to focus on a physical, gratifying fight, rather than the mental one you work on each day.

Depression and anxiety are highly debilitating illnesses but there are so many ways to manage them. Set your goal small at first and continue to push yourself. I was hardly able to work out even once a week when my depression was at its worst, but now it is something that is part of my weekly routine. Take pride in the experiences that help ease the weight of depression and anxiety. Let them give you hope, confidence and power. If your body is healthy it truly will impact the health of your mind, and you deserve every ounce of health and happiness that you can find in this life. Trust me.

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