Kickboxing a powerful way to cure depression!
Since the age of 14, I’ve been struggling with depression, anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive disorder(OCD). I’ve tried talk therapy, voluntary hospitalizations, involuntary hospitalizations, electroconvulsive “shock” therapy (ECT), medical marijuana, and various types of medications. I’ve tried cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT). While all of those things can be helpful when combined, one completely natural way I’m able to manage my symptoms of depression is through getting active and exercising. For me, this comes in the form of kickboxing.
When I first started kickboxing, I had no idea it was going to help me manage my mental illness. While my psychiatrist, like most do, stressed a routine sleeping pattern and regular exercise, I never really took his advice to heart. I mean, if laboratory-made medication wasn’t significantly reducing my symptoms, why would something as simple as exercising? I was skeptical at first but the more I went to class, the better my mood would be. Soon after starting kickboxing, my body adapted to the routine and I would leave class feeling both exhausted and happy. For a while, I thought I might be psyching myself out, and that my entire change in mood could be a simple result of the placebo effect, but other people noticed it too. It was after receiving comments from other people that I decided to look into the science behind the results. This is what I found.
The Science Behind Depression and Exercise
I looked into the science behind the way exercise affects depression and I found that it does so in three distinct ways. According to the Mayo Clinic, exercise helps alleviate the symptoms of depression by “releasing feel-good brain chemicals” such as endorphins and endocannabinoids, “reducing immune system chemicals” that can affect the severity of depression, and “increasing body temperature” which causes the body to relax. And because exercise is loosely defined as the “regular or repeated use of a faculty or bodily organ,” basically any activity that causes an individual to exert some amount of energy counts. Some exercises that I’ve found to be personally helpful include kickboxing, yoga, and soccer, although running, lifting weights, and even just walking can work wonders, too.
My Personal Journey to Physical (And Mental) Wellness
At the age of 18, I was the most out of shape, both emotionally and physically, that I had ever been. I was recovering from a particularly rough patch of my life and found myself bedridden – literally. I wasn’t showering, eating, dressing, exercising, working, or communicating with anyone important to me. I remained in bed wearing the same clothes day in and day out and I was unfit in every sense of the word. Though my depression fluctuated between mild and moderate after receiving ECT treatment, my physical wellness still suffered. Months spent doing nothing had caused me to lose muscle mass and my abnormal eating habits left me with a few extra pounds that gave my OCD something new to latch on to. I didn’t look good and I didn’t feel good either, but I couldn’t seem to pull myself out of that funk to do something about it.
Fast forward to age 22 and not much had changed. My depression was finally under control, for the most part, but I still felt as if I could be doing more to manage it. During a routine check in with my psychiatrist, we were sitting in his office and he asked me the regular string of questions. How’s your sleeping pattern been? Have you been exercising? “Okay” and “no” were the two answers I provided him with, respectively, but I was thrown off guard when he simply asked why. Why hadn’t I been exercising? It seemed hard, I had anxiety around other people, I was self-conscious, and I was very obviously out of shape. I relayed the reasons that had come to mind and he seemed to accept them but the question wouldn’t leave my mind, even hours after the appointment ended. If something so simple, so easy, and so natural could help alleviate the symptoms of my depression, why wasn’t I putting in more of an effort? And so I talked to my wife about it and we decided to buy a Groupon for a kickboxing class since I’m better suited to group activities than I am to a solo trip to the gym.
I’ll keep the boring bits, like the registration process, to myself, but I will say that my first kickboxing class absolutely kicked my butt – so much so that I wasn’t sure I was cut out for it. Class started with 15 minutes of high-intensity cardio ranging from jump squats to burpees before it slowed down so we could stretch out our muscles. Then there were five consecutive rounds on the punching bag that called for a series of organized kicks and punches, followed by a round of partner drills that made me feel like I had actually forgotten how to breathe. Although during some parts of the class I had trouble keeping up with the rest of the group, the floating instructors assured me that I should take things at my own pace. By the time class ended, I was exhausted and drenched in sweat, but I felt surprisingly great. My endorphins had kicked in, leaving my body feeling calm, and I finally realized why my psychiatrist always asked me if I exercised regularly. If there’s anything to alleviate the groggy bleakness of mild depression, it’s an activity that’ll make you get up and move.
While I still find it difficult to motivate myself to go work out sometimes, I know that there will be a payoff when I do. Regular exercise has helped me manage my depression day-to-day and put me back on the path to physical and mental wellness.