How to stay motivated for your workout on bad mental health days

Exercise can do wonders for your mind, but it can be hard to work out on bad mental health days. Here’s how to keep moving when you’re struggling.

Here’s a bit of a vicious cycle: exercise helps ease the symptoms of mild depression and anxiety, but when you’re low or anxious, it’s often the last thing you want to do.

Dr Madhukar Trivedi, director of the Center for Depression Research and Clinical Care at the University of Texas Southwestern, says “maintaining a healthy dose of exercise is difficult, but it can be done. It just requires more effort and addressing unique barriers.” If you or someone you love is having a tough time, try these tips to get moving.

Keep it small

Break your workout into little steps: get out of bed, put on workout clothes, leave the house, and so on. Be kind to yourself with each step, and celebrate each goal you reach. If you just make it to your warm-up and can’t keep going, that’s okay – you’ve still done a warm-up. You can then try building up to bigger goals. For example, once you’re out of bed, why not aim to go for a walk around the block?

If you’re having an especially bad day, you can do gentle stretching exercises while you’re still in bed. Don’t be hard on yourself for not doing ‘enough’. If you miss a few days, just resume exercise as soon as you’re able.

Plan for it

Try to set aside some time each day to work out. Remove any barriers that make it hard to keep this appointment – for instance, pack your gym bag the night before and choose what you’re planning to do before you leave the house.

Plus, ticking it off afterwards will give you a sense of achievement. If the very thought of exercise feels too much, think about how to include it in your daily routine: perhaps you could walk up to the shops instead of driving or take the stairs instead of the lift.

Find what works for you

We’re more likely to stick to an activity if we like it – and that’s especially important if you’re not feeling fantastic. If getting out of the house is hard, there are plenty of at-home options.

Try out a seven-minute workout app, which will let you exercise without leaving your home or find a fitness channel on YouTube, such as Tone it Up or Blogilates. Keep your exercises varied and interesting too, so you don’t get bored. Maybe you could do it in your garden, instead of your lounge, or add a new exercise to your routine?

Phone a friend

Being social isn’t just good for lifting your spirits – it also keeps you motivated. You may choose to enlist a family member, a friend, or sign up with a personal trainer, but it’s a good idea to find someone who is willing to help you get out of the house and exercise regularly.

It doesn’t necessarily have to be a workout either – why not suggest walking to a café with a friend?

If you’re finding life hard and need someone to talk to call Lifeline on 0800 543 354.

For more health stories, pick up a copy of the latest Good Health & Wellbeing magazine.

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