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Is Exercise Making You Feel Worse?

You're right, the headline is a very strange one! Exercise
is vital to maintain good health and most of the time, the
benefits of exercise far out-weigh the drawbacks. But if you
suffer from a stressful or a depressive illness, exercise
can actually make you feel worse. But how can this be?

I'm sure you've heard the following statement over and over
again: exercise can help you to beat stress, or alleviate
anxiety or boost a depressed mind. This is only true in
part. Because many exercises can actually worsen these
illnesses. And even if you perform exercises that can help,
these exercises will only help temporarily.

The reason many people believe exercise to be helpful in
combating stressful and depressive illnesses is because when
you exercise vigorously for longer than 20 minutes, your
body floods with endorphins. These chemicals give us a buzz,
and this is why it is widely believed that exercise can cure
stress, depression or anxiety.

If you're suffering a stressful or depressive episode,
you'll know that no matter how regularly you exercise, the
bad feelings return. The only way to beat these illnesses is
to treat the root cause: flawed modes of thinking.
Exercise, though great for our bodies, simply doesn't do
anything to address modes of thinking.

When my anxiety was at it's worst back in 2000, I exercised
4 times a week. For 2 days, I'd perform weight-training
exercises. These exercises are the type of exercise that can
actually make you feel worse because you have time to think
about all of the issues and problems you have in your life
at the time. I'd also warm up and warm down on bike machines
or cross-trainers. Again, you can perform these exercises
easily so you can think about your problems.

For my other workouts, I'd perform instructor-led circuit
training sessions. As you're listening out for instructions
and performing sequences of exercises at a high tempo, you
don't have time to dwell on your troubles and worries. The
problem is that once you stop exercising, you return to the
modes of thinking which lead to stress, depression or

As soon as my workout had finished, I'd perform the flawed
modes of thinking, modes that made me anxious and depressed.
Exercising did very little 'if anything 'to stop me
performing these flawed thought processes.

Do be aware of what's happening when you exercise. Exercises
that don't require much concentration may have you brooding
over your troubles as you perform them. Jogging, walking,
exercise machines, weight-training are all examples of such
exercises. Instead, try ones that are more intensive or
competitive so your whole concentration is required.
Circuit-training worked for me, so did sports like soccer
and badminton.

The idea is to give yourself a period of time where you're
not thinking about your problems and worries. And of course,
you'll do your body a whole heap of good too!

The point here is to understand that exercise can only
provide temporary relief. The only way to find permanent
relief from your suffering is to understand and address
flawed modes of thinking. And, just as physical exercise
benefits our bodies, mental skills leading to better modes
of thinking will bring enormous benefits to our minds.

The following quote sums it up in a nutshell:

"Thought can make you, thought can break you."
- Swami Sukhabodhanada

Until next time.

About the Author
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