I’ve spoken to the benefits of cycling to help manage and eliminate depression recently on the site and in an accompanying vid on the benefits of cycling over 50. And I’ll likely continue to extol the virtues of cycling for depression because, firstly I completely believe the efficacy of exercise as a major factor in overturning the downward spiral of depressive symptoms. Secondly, cycling, in my opinion has merits and advantages in loosening the grip of depression that other forms of exercise don’t. Thirdly, sometimes, I’ve found, especially in the counselling surgery, that certain phrasing or ways of putting things connect better with different clients in there for a visit. Therefore while there’s a chance you, Dear Reader might be looking in, having been diagnosed with clinical depression or experiencing what you perceive as thoughts and feelings symptomatic of depression, and have read articles here such as the above but not felt they’d quite connected with you, well, I’ll just keep trying like this, making the point in different ways! 🙂 I know cycling to be one of the absolute best forms of exercise to elevate one’s self from those oppressive symptoms so I intend to keep chipping away haha, like, forever! 😀
But for now, hello, Dear Reader and welcome back! As ever, it’s wonderful to have you here for this, the first of three parts that build a cycling plan for depression that’s unique to your needs. We’ll be outlining some key ideas here in this first part. We’ll look at the CBT protocol for depression in the second part. And we’ll be customising and assembling the cycling plan specific to your situation in the final part.
Naturally I can’t know what your circumstances are as you read this, maybe you’re experiencing depression first-hand. Maybe you’re reading on behalf of someone you care about. Maybe you’re simply interested. For convenience, I’ll address you, Dear Reader as though you your self have symptoms. But irrespective, I want to let you know categorically that depression can be eliminated. And cycling can speed the process!
No monumental task…
The good news is, eliminating depression is not as monumental a task as it might seem. And I know it likely does seem monumental to lift such a monstrous weight from round your neck especially peering out for signs of hope the depths of the symptoms. But you can absolutely do it if you take the decision. That ain’t no shareable meme off your social media accounts either! Nope, if I didn’t know that possibility as fact (having seen it in action over many years with clients) I wouldn’t suggest it.
Here’s the thing though; here’s the reality check. It is your task to get rid of it. Nobody else can complete this task. Nor can medication be your task-completer by proxy. Nor your therapist or counsellor take on the task for you as much as they’d like to. Why am I stating the obvious? Well, unfortunately, my experience as a counsellor is that many clients with depression subconsciously forget that the onus to do the task, to activate them selves, get them selves up and out is upon them. Sure, they’re not alone. There is support, plenty of it. But they have to be the one to go get it. It seems obvious. Perhaps. Depression (and our society) don’t always encourage our independent action. Dependence keeps us down. That’s the remit of depression. You don’t have to be there 🙂
Nevertheless, only you can eliminate depression that has you in its grip. This requires you to make the decision that you’re going to. If you’ve got to here under your own steam, you’ve begun doing just that. Well done! Take heart from the fact that you’re reading this. Allow this very action to show your readiness to make a decision to rid your self of this condition. You can do it. Of that I have no doubt. Plus, if you got a bike, you’re in the best position to make a start. Cycling is the big boost that can catalyse your decision and send depression on its way with no delay. Stay strong. And let’s see how we can put all this together, demystify depression and take the wind out of its sails!
Buying into depression (or being sold on it)
I talked previously in my article here: Don’t Fight Depression, Ride to the Cure, on being mindful of the common language usage around ridding your self of depression. The language often talks of combat and battle and beating. But I say don’t waste time getting into a fight with depression. You don’t have to, you don’t need to be tough or strong or some glorious fighter in order to be shot of it. Beware this is all part of the language of depression! To ditch it all, you just have to take a decision to act. Once you’ve done that and committed to it, depression has no option but to pack up and gtfo (‘scuse my language haha). Again though, that decision must be yours. If you don’t take it, depression can linger and worsen. So please take the decision that you’re going to get out on your bike. That’ll set the wheels in motion (literally). Depression can’t hang around once you do that, mean it and commit to it.
Of course, depending upon the nature of your diagnosis and symptoms, making that decision might feel beyond you at this point. But what’s happening in that case is that your ego has persuaded you to buy into the whole big idea of depression. It’s sold that idea to you. By ego here I reference the original Greek ἐγώ the “I” or self. I do this not in a general way, but in a pejorative sense. I’m referring to the self that is selfish, the “I” that’s in “I want” and “I come first” and “leave me alone, don’t you know I have depression?” There’s a real, true you beyond this little ego, this little “I”. It’s that you that I’m encouraging to take this decision!
Gettin’ metaphysical on yo’ ass 😀
Haha, yep, this is one thing I don’t want to do, confuse simplicity with my own hobby horse theories. But yeah, don’t buy into this nonsense idea of depression as the big bad bogey man. Depression is simply a combination of automatic negative thoughts (or ANTs) the kind we all have because we all have fictitious negative self-beliefs that are inferred in childhood. I’ll go into that presently. These thoughts cause physiological changes in us: endocrinal and concomitant physical symptoms, and all work in tandem to bring about the ogre of depression. But depression ain’t all that. Depression is just a condition like any other. We can take it apart, fold it up and bin it.
Taking the decision to do so; to get out on your bike is the first step. The second step is in detaching your self from depression. How? Well let me ask you something to illustrate a point. How would you respond if I asked: how are you coping, Dear Reader with your depression? Would you answer me, not so great? Or maybe, I’ve had better days? Or say, I coped a bit better this week? Something like that, answering the question straightforwardly? Or would your answer to that question ever be: “It’s not my depression, I don’t own it, it’s just depression whose symptoms I’m currently experiencing…” ? There’s a difference there, right? See, part of the whole “buying into” depression entails we claim ownership of it. Our little ego has a way of selling us the idea that we’ve taken ownership of this condition. It’s ours. Now we somehow have to tend it. We have to “be” depressed just like it says on the tin. This is a notion that’s validated by everyone in the depression industry, my peer counsellors included. It’s not pity, but it’s the implicit idea that you own your depression and therefore you’re expected to act like it and live up (or down) to that condition. Lord help you if you’re seen to smile or even have a joyful thought! Make sense? Sure, it’s an analogy. The ego isn’t separate from what you are. But you get where I’m going, right?
In simple terms, don’t own depression. Don’t act as if you own it either. It exists. But it’s not yours. Soon you’ll be shot of it. Especially if you’ve made the decision to get out on your bike. All good so far? 🙂 Let’s see next how cycling helps eliminate depression.
How can cycling boost a CBT approach to allow us to eliminate depression?
My main counselling modality is Cognitive and Behavioural Therapy (CBT). It’s the one that’s most recommended for clinically moderate to severe instances of the condition. It’s proven efficacious. As is exercise. I’ll explain the CBT protocol in the next part. But since we’re about the cycling, I wanted to outline the ways in which cycling can enhance the effects of the CBT approach to rid you of depression more quickly.
So exercise is unilaterally recommended for managing and helping eliminate depression, often in combination with CBT, talking therapies, and medications such as SSRIs and SNRIs. But I won’t comment here on those for fear of turning the article into a rant #yikes 😮 The C in CBT refers to the cognitive aspects of a client’s issues. We’ll look with the client at how some of their negative thoughts may be not only adversely affecting their depressive symptoms but are also 1. likely to be automatic and never ever evaluated for actual fact or truth, and 2. likely to be irrational, or catastrophising, or involve mind-reading of some kind, or completely discounting evidence to the contrary. These are what we call cognitive distortions and there are plenty of them for us to choose from! 😮
The B in CBT refers to behaviours. Often our responses to distressing situations or conditions are unhelpful to us. We’d call those dysfunctional coping strategies. Some of us avoid issues, some engage in destructive behaviours as a distraction: alcohol, overeating, self-harm for example. We aim in counselling to uncover options for more functional coping. These behaviours often arise subsequent to rebalancing of irrational and automatic negative thinking (ANTs). But we can make a direct intervention right here with our cycling! Not only is exercise indicated for managing depression, but our cycling can also be a functional coping mechanism within our CBT protocol.
There’s exercise, then there’s cycling!
So I say exercise, but in my experience, which is what I was talking about in my recent CyclingQuestions vid on cycling benefits, and article here on how cycling benefits depression and anxiety, cycling outdoes other forms of exercise because of the space or the buffer it allows between us and our thoughts and symptoms. Some other forms of exercise require such a deal of focus that this isn’t permitted. In cycling, you just hop on the bike and ride a route.
If you do your ride in such a way that there isn’t much conscious thought needed (you’re not doing intervals and monitoring your data etc!) then you’re afforded a clear space to ditch the little ego whispering in your ear, reminding you that you’re depressed and ought to act that way! And even if you are riding intervals, sprints and the necessities of an improvement plan, that too, in its very act of requiring almost all our conscious focus, can act as distraction away from symptoms. The distraction hypothesis is one of several often theorised as the mechanism by which exercise can improve mood.
On the bike, you can, if you choose, ride with a friend or in a group. This interaction can also afford you respite from the drudge of maintaining symptoms. And of course it’s well-documented too that exercise of any kind brightens your mood as well as helping maintain overall health. What better enhancement to this effect than gaining it by being outside in the elements. Check my CyclingQuestions channel on YouTube, I’m riding all winter. It helps mood for sure, and let the weather be what it’ll be 🙂
Okay so let’s grab a quick break. I don’t want to overburden you with ideas as there’s quite a lot covered here. Please familiarise your self with what’s here as we’ll be using this as the foundation of our plan that we’ll customise for you in part three. Coming up next in the second part though, we’ll be looking at giving a brief overview of the CBT protocol for depression. It’s a necessarily brief overview as we’d likely take maybe 6-10 sessions in a usual counselling setting to get through everything. However, this plainly isn’t counselling (nor would I claim it were, nor want you to think it were!) Our aim in the next part is to show you how therapy works and we’ll take from it what we need to help us formulate a cycling plan for depression and get rid of it!
Here’s the accompanying vid…
So I hope this has been of some use as, I guess, a mindset primer to put you in the right place. Please do check my article here on not fighting depression, riding to the cure for more detail on that mindset and on taking that decision to activate your self and shake off depression. And meantime, go easy on your self, find the compassionate inner voice in you – you know it’s there, albeit a little too quiet at times! Find it and grab hold of it! Otherwise, source help because you deserve it. Nobody deserves depression. That includes you! 🙂 And I’ll catch you in the second part. And my kindest, warmest regards to you meantime, Dear Reader, David.