5 Questions to Ask Yourself If You Feel Depressed After a Workout

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One of the most important and established benefits of exercise is the positive effect it can have on mood. A review paper published in Maturitas in 2017 shows that regular physical activity can relieve depression, ease anxiety, and more.

Not everyone finds that a workout leaves them feeling happier, calmer, or emotionally steady. What's more, if that's the case they worry they're doing something wrong. If this rings true for you, ask yourself the five questions that follow. Your answers may assure you that you aren't to blame if exercise doesn't make you feel happier and also may help you figure out how to glean the mood-lifting benefits of regular activity so many people enjoy.

Questions to Ask If You Feel Depressed After Exercise

Ask yourself the following:

Are You Overdoing It?

When it comes to exercise, more isn't necessarily more. If you're working out too hard you could be overtraining, and one of the symptoms of overtraining is depression.

For example, a 2012 study published in Sports Health found that people with overtraining syndrome have high levels of tension, depression, fatigue, confusion, and loss of vigor. If you’re an overachiever, you might get frustrated that your performance isn’t great and, as a result, push yourself even harder.

Try lightening up on your workout routine. If you're concerned that doing so will set you back fitness-wise, schedule a few sessions with a qualified exercise trainer who can help you fine-tune your workout to be both effective and less likely to leave you feeling emotionally low.

Do You Have a History of Depression?

The effects of exercise on brain chemistry may play a part in increased feelings of depression or anxiety after workouts. Serotonin isn't the only neurotransmitter involved; exercise also affects levels of another mood-lifting brain chemical, dopamine.

Both serotonin and dopamine are affected by exercise and by depression. The interplay of the two on brain chemistry may not always be positive. In other words, if you already have an imbalance of serotonin and dopamine due to depression, exercise could have the effect of throwing it off even more, rather than helping to stabilize it.

What Is Your Stress Level?

Stress can wreak havoc on the body and mind. If you're already stressed out, physically or mentally, a workout may be an extra drain on your energy stores rather than a help. The additional stress may interfere with your sleep, leave you feeling especially fatigued, and flood your body with cortisol, a brain chemical that's released during "fight or flight" situations, causing you to feel anxious and frazzled.

So, instead of heading out for a punishing five-mile run or a hard-core session with a trainer, consider a less intense, cortisol-reducing workout, such as yoga, stretching, or walking.

What Are Your Expectations?

When you work to try to lose weight, eat well, and get fit and aren't getting the results as quickly as you'd like, it certainly can affect your mood. The number on the scale should go down, your clothes should fit less snugly, you should feel stronger and look more buff. The problem is, it can take at least two or three months for those things to happen. In the meantime, if you begin to feel discouraged you can easily become down and depressed.

One way to avoid this is to reset your goals for the time being: Focus on feeling good and being healthy, both of which you can achieve pretty quickly simply by making better lifestyle choices. By taking off the pressure, you can learn to enjoy the changes you're making, which should encourage you to stick to them. Before you know it, your consistency will pay off in a body that not only feels and performs better but looks better too.

Are You Fueling Your Body Enough?

During exercise, your body relies on blood sugar, or glucose, as its main source of fuel. When the levels of glucose in your blood are low, you simply won't have enough energy to make it through your workout—just like a car that's run out of gas.

Before you work out, put something in your body to help prevent your blood sugar levels from dropping too much—a situation that can temporarily put a damper on your mood. It doesn't have to be a full meal, nor should it be: If you're too full, exercising may be uncomfortable.

Eat a snack that includes a combo of protein, carbohydrates, and healthy fats—almond butter on whole-grain bread, for example. And be sure to drink plenty of water before, during, and after your workout.

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Article Sources

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  2. Kreher JB, Schwartz JB. Overtraining syndrome: a practical guide. Sports Health. 2012;4(2):128-38. doi:10.1177/1941738111434406

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