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

person stretching on a yoga mat

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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 you may worry that you are 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.

5 Questions to Ask Yourself After Exercise

Ask yourself the following if you feel depressed after exercising:

Question 1: 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 cutting back on your training 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.

Question 2: Do You Have a History of Depression?

If you are not experiencing the positive mood benefits of exercise, and you are feeling down persistently, it could reflect an underlying depressive disorder.

According to experts, depression can have both physical and mental signs, including:

  • Persistent low mood and sadness
  • No motivation
  • Loss of interest in hobbies and social life
  • Tearful
  • Irritable
  • Feeling worried and anxious
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Loss of appetite
  • Lack of energy
  • Disturbed sleep

If this is impacting your functioning or causing significant distress, it may be time to meet with a mental health professional.

Question 3: 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. Studies have also found that stress can make you more prone to depression.

The additional stress of your workouts may interfere with your sleep, leave you feeling especially fatigued, and flood your body with cortisol, a chemical that's released during "fight or flight" situations, causing you to potentially feel more anxious or down.

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. You may even want to get a workout buddy to help reduce stress and keep you motivated for exercise.

Question 4: 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.

If that doesn't happen, keep these points in mind:

  • Although you may see results with regular exercise within one month, researchers found it often took 8 to 12 weeks to see results. It is important to keep that expectation in mind.
  • 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.
  • Instead of a number on the scale, focus on things like improved energy, better endurance, and feeling stronger.

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.

Question 5: 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.

7 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Mikkelsen K, Stojanovska L, Polenakovic M, Bosevski M, Apostolopoulos V. Exercise and mental health. Maturitas. 2017;106:48-56. doi:10.1016/j.maturitas.2017.09.003

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

  3. National Institute of Mental Health. What Is Depression?

  4. Tafet GE, Nemeroff CB. The links between stress and depression: psychoneuroendocrinological, genetic, and environmental interactions. JNP. 2016;28(2):77-88.

  5. Bershadsky S, Trumpfheller L, Kimble HB, Pipaloff D, Yim IS. The effect of prenatal Hatha yoga on affect, cortisol and depressive symptoms. Complement Ther Clin Pract. 2014;20(2):106–113. doi:10.1016/j.ctcp.2014.01.002

  6. Hughes DC, Ellefsen S, Baar K. Adaptations to endurance and strength trainingCold Spring Harb Perspect Med. 2018;8(6):a029769.

  7. Aucoin M, Bhardwaj S. Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Hypoglycemia Symptoms Improved with Diet Modification. Case Rep Psychiatry. 2016;2016:7165425. doi:10.1155/2016/7165425

By Paige Waehner, CPT
Paige Waehner is a certified personal trainer, author of the "Guide to Become a Personal Trainer," and co-author of "The Buzz on Exercise & Fitness."