Normally, exercise should boost your mood and leave you feeling energized and ready to face the rest of your day. These feelings largely occur due to the release of "feel-good" chemicals known as endorphins, which are produced by your body when you exercise.
Endorphins serve to reduce your perception of pain and improve your mood. But don't beat yourself up if you feel depressed after your workout. Instead, examine what's going on inside and see if you might be your own worst enemy.
Too Much of a Good Thing
In a 2012 study, researchers at the Teacher's College of Columbia University examined self-reports from a sample of 7,674 adult respondents collected during the 2008 U.S. Health Information National Trends 2007 Survey to determine how much weekly exercise is beneficial for mental health.
The researchers found that between 2.5 and 7.5 hours is optimal -- participants who exercised more than 7.5 hours a week had reduced feelings of well-being and poorer mental health than participants who remained in the optimal range. If you're feeling depressed after your workout, it's possible that you're simply overdoing it.
Ditch Unrealistic Expectations
Sometimes, people feel depressed when they set expectations that are too high or impossible to achieve. Perhaps your feelings of depression are stemming from a heavy mental burden of unrealistic expectations.
Perhaps you've set an impractical weight-loss goal and you feel down about not having met it. Or perhaps you've set out with guns blazing, expecting that you're going to exercise every day for an hour, and your body and mind resist your efforts. Reevaluate your goals to see if you might be setting the bar too high.
It's Not All Black or White
Extremist thought patterns can be another reason you feel depressed after working out. Maybe you feel like you didn't put in 100 percent during your workout and you're mentally beating yourself up for minor or perceived "failures." You might have adopted an "all-good or all-bad" pattern of thinking. You don't cut yourself any slack and you leave no room for error.
According to a joint publication by the University of New South Wales and the Black Dog Institute, a mental health institute devoted to mood disorders, people who think in extremes and have a black-and-white, all-or-nothing mindset are more likely to feel depressed. Replace negative thought patterns with more positive concepts -- it's OK not to be perfect. And everyone occasionally feels like they didn't do enough. Forgive yourself, move on and focus on improving your next workout.
Gaining Instead of Losing
You might be putting a tremendous amount of effort into your workout and busting your butt on a daily basis. But when it comes time to weigh in, you're shocked to find that instead of losing, you've actually gained a pound or two. When you return to the gym, you might not feel as much enthusiasm or energy for your workout.
Afterwards, you might be asking yourself, "What's the point?" and wondering why you've expended so much effort for what might seem to be little or no reward. But don't panic -- according to personal trainer William Sukala in an article for Weight Watchers, a number of factors can cause short-term weight gain after you exercise, including changes in body composition and water weight.
And the scale doesn't always immediately reflect the positive changes you've made to your body. Stick with your workouts and shift your focus to becoming healthier, leaner and stronger -- this might help you fend off post-workout feelings of depression.
- Harvard Health Publications: Exercise and Depression
- Teachers' College: Columbia University: Study Pinpoints Just How Much Exercise Is Good for Mental Health
- The University of New South Wales and the Black Dog Institute: Thinking Your Way Out of Depression
- Weight Watchers: Ask the Personal Trainer: Weight Gain With Exercise?