Exercising Your Mood after you've had kids
Published: 28 September, 2017
Yvette Done of Channel 9's Today Extra shares her lived experience of postnatal depression, how exercise helped her and positive first steps that you can take to Exercise Your Mood.
September is the Black Dog Institute’s Exercise Your Mood month. It’s a great time of year to get motivated, when the weather is getting warmer and the days longer. But even though many of us have good intentions to start exercising, taking the first step is often easier said than done.
We all know the benefits of exercise. It improves fitness, weight loss, energy levels, sleep and gives a general sense of wellbeing.
But even though there are so many positives, what do you do on those days when you don’t feel motivated? On one hand you know that a walk or a swim would be great, getting out in the fresh air seems like a good idea – but what if you just can’t get out the door?
I have to admit that I’ve found myself procrastinating about exercise on many occasions. But after going through a tough time a few years ago, I now make regular exercise my priority.
After having my third child, I suffered from chronic sleep deprivation which manifested into a period of postnatal depression (PND). At the time, I wasn’t aware of what I was going through. I had two beautiful girls, a gorgeous newborn, an amazing husband, a supportive family and life was great. But even though everything seemed OK on the surface, I wasn’t coping as well as I thought.
The symptoms seemed to creep up on me over a period of months. I was trying to get on with my daily routine in spite of feeling down, scattered, irritable, anxious and overwhelmed by negative thoughts. At first, I could just get on with life. But after a while, all of these thoughts and feelings became too much. I tried my best to keep my chin up and soldier on, and I was quite good at hiding how I was really feeling until it became obvious to my family that I wasn’t well.
The symptoms of depression really creep up on you. It was a very difficult period and at the time, I couldn’t believe it was possible to feel that bad. Extreme lack of sleep triggered my decline into PND. Even though I was feeling terrible inside – negative, tired, anti-social, lacking confidence, withdrawn and having panic attacks – I tried to keep up the façade of normality.
The intense thoughts and feelings became my new normal. I wanted everyone to think I was fine and managing my busy life, but I wasn’t coping. No one really knew how bad it was until, like a house of cards in a windstorm, I fell apart. It took a long time to acknowledge that I wasn’t well and I needed help. On reflection, I wish I’d reached out sooner. If only I knew then what I know now.
It took some time to get through a dark period and manage the black dog but I’m lucky enough to have come through the other side. I’m happy to say I feel better now than I ever have. Regular exercise was a key part of my recovery and now I will get out and about most days to maintain a healthy mind and body.
Of course, some days are better than others, but if I don’t feel great, I’ll get active. You don’t have to run a marathon or do an hour gym session to get the benefits of exercise.
Associate Professor Sam Harvey from The Black Dog Institute says that the benefits of exercise kick in a very low level of intensity: "Even if you can go from doing nothing to an hour per week, that will make a big difference in reducing your risk of developing depression."
Exercise helps boost serotonin, a chemical in the body that plays a key role in regulating mood, sleep, libido and appetite. It can also increase your levels of endorphins, which have natural mood-lifting effects. Exercise can provide a great distraction from worrying and can help give you a sense of control.
People get stuck thinking they have to go to the gym and sweat it out for an hour. But there's no need. Many studies have shown that moving your body for 5, 10 or 20 minutes – whatever time you have – can help elevate your mood.
We know that staying active is so good for you physically and we're constantly learning the benefits it has on our mental health.Yvette Done is a television presenter on Channel 9’s Today Extra and is an Ambassador for Black Dog Institute’s Exercise Your Mood campaign.
You can find tips and resources on the Exercise Your Mood page