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Exercise can help emotion regulation

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New research suggests that aerobic exercise can aid in emotion regulation.

Harvard University researchers measured the amount of change a moderate amount of exercise had on emotional responses to an upsetting film clip in study participants. They found that the clip produced a negative emotional response in all participants, but those who'd participated in exercise before watching it were able to recover more quickly than those who hadn't.

Additionally, participants who exercised reported feeling less sadness than those who hadn't.

Healthy living has always included recommendations for exercise, and this new research seems to suggest the benefits extend beyond physical well-being.

"I don't like feeling this way."

"I just don't want to feel like this anymore," I remember saying to my therapist. I was anxious and sad and didn't know what to do about it, but knew I didn't want to feel that way anymore. I was fed up. 

What I didn't know then was that I was experiencing distress intolerance. We often feel uncomfortable. There are times we're too hot, too cold, have achy or sore muscles. The type of discomfort I'm talking about is emotional discomfort - feeling sad, ashamed, disappointed, etc. Some find they're able to ride out difficult emotions, but for others, they "can't bear," or "must get rid" of these difficult feelings. This desperate need to escape emotional distress has a compounding impact, often interfering with other areas of one's life.

It makes sense to move away from things that feel unpleasant but for emotional distress, it often causes more problems than it solves. Often people intolerant of distress use the following tactics:

Avoidance. Avoiding people, places, or things that trigger an emotional response. Distracting and suppressing the emotion.

Numbing and withdrawing. Using drugs or alcohol to numb the emotional pain. Binge eating or excessive sleep to withdraw from others.

Harmful releases. Taking the distress out on ourselves, including scratching, cutting, and picking.

These tactics can provide short-term relief, but often cause more problems in one's life. From neglecting relationships to drug and alcohol abuse, the effect compounds upon itself. Now, in addition to dealing with upsetting depression or anxiety, you're struggling with an addiction that prevents you from holding down a job. Because you feel so ashamed and cut yourself, you're constantly living in fear that someone will find the scars.

The more we struggle with and fear distress, the worse it gets. In fact, the best solution is to lean in and tackle the distress head on. Since it's impossible to get rid of emotional distress, it's imperative to learn how to live with it. Working with a trusted mental health professional can help you develop a distress tolerance action plan to move through the pain and discomfort.

Are you suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Winter, especially in the Pacific Northwest, can be brutal. Days on end of limited light, the endless drizzle of rain, and a sun that sets at 4 p.m. can take it's toll on anyone. 

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of mood disorder whose onset occurs with the change of the season. For most people with SAD, the transition into winter finds them moody, irritable, and sapped of energy. Researchers believe SAD may be a type of hibernation found in other animals or an imbalance of serotonin or melatonin

Treatment for SAD include light therapy, medication, and psychotherapy. In addition to recommendations from your doctor, you may find the following helpful:

  • Make your environment brighter. Open the blinds, turn on the lights, and sit closer to windows throughout the day.
  • Spend more time outside. Go for walks or spend some time in the park. 
  • Exercise. Finding a physical activity you enjoy doing will decrease depressive symptoms. 
  • Schedule social activities. Plan to do activities with friends to get yourself out of the house and engaged with the world.

It's normal to feel sadness occasionally. If you're finding your not enjoying activities you once did, if you feel overwhelmed or hopeless, you might be depressed. Seek the guidance of a professional for an evaluation.