Last week the news of Robin Williams’ depression-induced suicide swept the world and left his millions of fans feeling numb. There have been few Hollywood comics as big or as influential as Robin. I first met his acquaintance in the form of the Genie and I proceeded to dedicate many hours of my childhood to watching Mrs Doubtfire again and again. Later in life, I saw a more serious side of the hilarious actor in the eerily foretelling film Dreams Come True and what is now one of my favourite ways to spend 120 minutes: Good Will Hunting.
So now that a legend has left us and stirred up some inspiring conversations about depression in the process, I want to take this opportunity to confess that I’m among the surprising majority of people who have struggled in one form or another with severe anxiety or depression. During some pretty dark days at university, my energy levels plummeted and I started losing weight rapidly due to a combination of high stress and low appetite.
Do the symptoms ring a bell? According to mentalhealthorg.co.uk, I’m not alone. One in four people will experience depression in the course of a year alone. Add up all the years in the average lifespan and you can bet that most people will come face to face with the often debilitating effects of depression at least once in their lives.
A healthier self-prescription
But that’s not to say there’s no solution – and the fix doesn’t always mean a trip to the GP and a hormone-packed prescription. There is one entirely organic means of replacing stress-inducing hormones like cortisol with the much more positive epinephrine (adrenaline) hormone and feel-good chemicals like endorphins: Exercise.
I can speak from personal experience. Through sheer stubborn determination (and frankly fear of where my thoughts were turning), I looked to fitness to restore both my energy levels and my confidence. Each workout made me feel more and more in control of my life. And as I got fitter my metabolism increased, I took a renewed interest in food, started cooking and dining out with friends, and feeling more enthusiastic all around. Exercise is a powerful feedback cycle with exponential benefits you’ll continue to realise as you progress.
The community at my gym did loads of good, too. You can always rely on a spin instructor (and their pop classics of choice) to transport you from your inner thoughts for 45 minutes of thigh-aching lung-burning intervals. You can’t not smile when you survive that!
So if you’re familiar with any form of angst, doubt, anxiety or depression, why not prescribe yourself a healthy dose of exercise?
My five favourite endorphin highs
These are my favourite ways to blast away the shadows of depression…
1. Running. The runner’s high isn’t just a myth. How many runners have you met that complete just one marathon? Most become addicts, and in terms of addiction it’s certainly not the worst option.
2. Spinning. As I said – cheesy tunes and HIIT make a very happy combination.
3. Bootcamp. Especially outdoor ones. A blast of fresh air, high-energy circuits and the motivational company of others. It’s a cocktail of joy.
4. Step. Try remembering a choreography that requires jumping on and off a step without pulling an embarrassing face-plant. Now try to remember what made you feel blue in the first place.
5. Swimming. In colour psychology, blue is associated with calm and tranquility. Surround yourself with a few thousand litres of azure water (your local pool will do if the Aegean sea is nowhere to hand) and start swimming towards a worthy target of happiness and self-satisfaction.
It isn’t easy to say goodbye to heroes like Robin, but hopefully his tragedy will inspire others to search for joy in all possible sources. To channel Robin’s oft-cited quote – Exercise is the right idea. Now spread the word. And change the world.