If you're struggling with anxiety and/or depression you're probably already aware that there are millions upon millions of people who have the same issue. In fact, the 20th century was called by psychologists "the age of anxiety", and they've nicknamed the 21st century as the one of depression.
What has caused this upsurge of mental problems across the world?
The answer is still still not completely determined, but no one can really deny that the lifestyle shift over the last few decades has had a lot to do with it. Most of all, people in the past engaged in far more physical activity. On a day-to-day basic they actually had to chop wood, build and craft various items by hand, or work in the fields.
Nowadays we all live a very sedentary lifestyle.
On top of that, we're bombarded by mental stimulus from all sides. Sitting and starring at the screen, with all the extra noise from the traffic and background music that destroys the peace and quiet humans once enjoyed. You can add to that an unhealthy diet, and excessive drinking, coupled with daily stresses of work and family, and you've got yourself a cocktail for disaster.
The Physical Approach
So where does fitness fall into the equation when it comes to curing mental health issues? Well, there are multiple ways in which it can help. Many of these suggestions may seem like common sense but that is exactly the point. Most people understand the general concept of healthly living and exercise. However, many don't prioritize their basic wellbeing while investing significant time and money into curing their stresses and anxiety. You need to get the basics right before tackling more advanced steps.
Where to start
First of all, getting that physical activity in. Simply doing something, anything that is physical and makes you sweat will provide a sense of relief. It's not anything artificial, it's a completely natural human need to exert ourselves in a physical way.
Arguably the best way to do it is by lifting weights. Calisthenics are also helpful, but it's hard to really go hard with calisthenics until you've mastered more complicated movements. If you're just getting started and haven't been exercising regularly - don't be disenheartened. You will be able to see the largest improvements in the shortest time. Regular gym-goers will look on wistfully at your progress and "newbie gains" (Yes - it's a thing), and remember back to when they could improve so fast.
Clean up that intake
The other factor is diet. Once you start training and seeing results, you'll get far more interested in cleaning out other areas of your life. Diet is the first one since it is closely linked to getting good results. Then comes excessive partying, staying up late etc.
Once you get into the fitness, healthy lifestyle mentality, all of those things become sort of irrelevant. They become a thing that adds value to your life, but it's not the main focus. You become aware that your wellbeing, physically and mentally, is tied to getting in a good workout and taking care of yourself, instead of destroying your body to get an unnatural release.
And with all these passive benefits, it's easy to forget the immediate benefit, which is the release of endorphins during and after the workout. Endorphins, as you may know, are also called the "feel good hormones", which are tied to the "runners high". That's the euphoric feeling you get after a good workout.
As you can see, there are plenty of ways in which fitness can help you deal with anxiety and depression. Some of them include the release of pent up energy which causes anxiety in the first place. The others are more about self development itself. And as the famous saying goes: "Mens sana in corpora sano." (A healthy spirit in a healthy body). Both need to be addressed, and most often when we perfect our control over the latter, the other pieces fall together as well.