From the moment my eyes open in the morning until the second that I pull my sleep mask over my face as I go to sleep, I am engaged in battle: I must protect myself with armor against ongoing negative intrusive thoughts that flood into my brain, while sending my prefrontal cortex — the home of logical thought — the green light to make decisions and to take charge of my brain’s limbic system (the emotional hub). That is, before the amygdala (fear center) spazzes out.
I spend more time and energy chasing and maintaining good health than I do in any other aspect of my life — my marriage, family, work — because I know that everything meaningful and good around me depends on a stable base. I hope that one day I won’t have to fight so hard for my sanity; however, until then, here is a list of things I do every day to beat depression.
I start the day in the pool. I show up before I can even think about what I’m doing diving into ten feet of cold water loaded with chlorine with a bunch of other nutjobs. Tom Cruise believes that all a depressed person needs to do to get rid of the blues is to strap on a pair of running shoes. I think a few other steps are needed; however, exercise is the most powerful weapon I use every day to whack the demons.
If I go more than three days without working out, my thoughts turn very dark and I can’t stop crying. All aerobic workouts release endorphins, while helping to block stress hormones and produce serotonin, our favorite neurotransmitter that can relieve depression.
However swimming is particularly effective at shrinking panic and sadness because of the combination of stroke mechanics, breathing, and repetitiveness. It’s basically a form of whole-body, moving meditation.
Volumes of research point to the benefits of exercise for mood, such as the study led by Dr. James A. Blumenthal, a professor of medical psychology at Duke University. He discovered that, among the 202 depressed people randomly assigned to various treatments, three sessions of vigorous aerobic exercise were approximately as effective at treating depression as daily doses of Zoloft, when the treatment effects were measured after four months.