Yes, I know exercise is supposed to help fight depression. It doesn’t always. At least, not when I do it. This is one of those weird psychological things that I'm noting here in the hope someone else can make sense of it.
Lately I've been commuting by bicycle. I've been taking the straightest shortest bicycle route home. In theory, it seemed an ideal route: not too much traffic and a straight ride in. In practice, it was a mind-numbingly, bum-numbingly, hell-on-earth ride. I used to get reeeeally depressed just contemplating the ride home.
Merry’s recipe for a depressing workout
- Take one Long Straight Road
- Add in one out-of-shape cyclist
- Throw in the mournful sound of the wind keening through the telephone wires
- Broil for one hour under a relentless overhead sun
Serves… well, serves me right, I suppose.
I tried jazzing it up with sprints or timing different sections to see if I could improve my time, but no matter what I tried, I arrived home tired, dispirited, and dreading the next day's ride.
I thought maybe I found this ride hard because I was so out of shape. Seemed a valid reason, what with developing asthma and not having done much riding for the past year. I figured that the cycling-dread phenomenon would go away as I got back into the habit.
Then one day, I had to run an errand, which meant I had to take the high road home. Literally. Instead of a few little hills, I went up three moderately sized and quite long hills, then flat along a busy road with lots of cars. It was a longer route as well as a hillier one. And I enjoyed myself a whole lot more. It’s amazing how much easier the ride was, even though the route was actually a mile or so longer.
Yeah, Merry, thrilling as this chronicle your daily life is, what’s the point?
Seems to me that what was killing me on these rides was the LSR syndrome, i.e. the Long, Straight Road.
My Big Fat Greek Analogy
Always, I have a tendency to overthink my exercise routine. They say it’s good to visualize doing the exercise before you actually move the muscles. Not in my case. I’ve been known to visualize an entire exercise routine, but only as a Bad Thing. Just the idea of a workout can appear as a huge rock that I have to lift up a hill, only to watch it roll down once I get it to the top.
I tend to picture every possible thing that can go wrong, up to suddenly having a heart attack in the middle of a cardio routine. I can really depress myself by Looking Ahead. (Why I don’t ever use this talent to visualize myself as thin and fit and happy is another question.)
Taking the high road home made it much harder to look ahead. I went along a route that curved up and down and around, going past shopping malls and apartment complexes, shopping malls and parks, shopping malls and empty fields. And then a few more shopping malls. (The Portland suburbs apparently have a great need for lots of shopping malls.)
Even with the traffic and shoppers and whatnot, two things remained constant: there was always something different to look at and I never had to face a long straight vista ahead of me. For some reason that made a huge difference. (Note to self: never try to bicycle in the Midwest. I suppose this means I’ll never make it to RAGBRAI.)
I'm noting this here because hopefully someone who hates their exercise routine will try a different one instead of giving up on exercise itself. Okay, honestly, I’m noting it here also so that there’s a slight chance that I might remember this phenomenon the next time I run into an exercise routine that makes me feel depressed.
Have you ever found that making a small change makes a big difference? If so, why?