teen depression and exercise

How to Help Teen Depression With Exercise

April 5, 2018

Growing pains are perfectly normal. But if you recognize that your teenager’s feelings of sadness, irritability, and fatigue are impacting their relationship with family and friends – possibly even detracting from their performance in school – it could be a sign of depression. The good news is, there are plenty of methods to help improve their mood and mental wellbeing. Exercise is one of the best ways to find relief for your teen and get them back on track for a life of health and happiness.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, between 10 to 15 percent of teenagers have some symptoms of depression at any one time. The ups and downs of teen life can be difficult to cope with, as academic challenges, social difficulties, and body changes come to a head. When evaluating your child’s mental wellbeing it’s important to keep in mind that depression symptoms for teenagers can differ from those exhibited in adults. According to the Mayo Clinic, parents should be wary of certain emotional changes such as:

  • Feeling sad and tearful; crying for no reason
  • Experiencing a lack of interest in activities they used to enjoy
  • Conflicts with family and friends
  • Grim outlook on life and the future
  • Suicidal thoughts; a preoccupation with death

And shifts in behavior like:

  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Body aches and pains with no apparent reason; frequent trips to the school nurse
  • Skipping school; poor school performance
  • Isolation from friends and classmates
  • Self-harm or acting-out behaviors; obsession with tattooing or piercing

For many parents, it can be difficult to determine if a teen’s attitudes and behaviors are just a part of “growing up” or the indication of a mental health problem. But oftentimes, if left untreated, depression symptoms can lead to greater issues after high school and in college. Learning the warning signs and possible causes can help parents empower their child to reach out for the right kind of help.

There is no singular cause of depression – everyone is on a different life path and has their own unique health history. But there are some known risk factors, including:

  • Feelings of worthlessness and inadequacy over their grades
  • Social status with peers; sexual orientation
  • Negative self-perception, possibly fueled by an eating disorder
  • Changes in family life or problems at home
  • Substance abuse
  • Chemical imbalances
  • Genetic predisposition

Getting treatment from a professional trained to work with teens is a good first step. That said, some depressed teenagers are at risk of suicide or self-harm even if the signs don’t appear that serious. If you suspect your child may hurt themselves or attempt suicide do not wait to get emergency help. In the US, you can also call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255).

Working with a psychologist will help your teenager find ways to make small adjustments in their life that banish or reduce the severity of depression symptoms. Different types of exercise – weight lifting, jogging, exercise classes, swimming, or yoga – may help different people. Find what makes your teen feel better and encourage them to keep going. Suggest that they bring a friend along to the gym, pool, or yoga studio to help them stick with it.

According to some studies, for some people, regular exercise can work as well as medication to reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression. Just one tough workout can help diminish the blues for hours, and a more regular schedule may help alleviate symptoms long-term. When the body moves and stretches, the brain releases endorphins, the body’s natural antidepressants. Neurotransmitters like serotonin (which boosts mood) are also released. Blood and oxygen flow to the brain increases as well, enhancing overall cognitive function. Improving the “mind-body connection” can help your teenager shift their focus away from negative thought patterns and towards a more positive sense of self.

Of course, like all types of therapy, the impact of frequent exercise is more dramatic for some than for others. For some teens, getting treatment at a facility like Hillcrest Adolescent Treatment Center will help keep them calm and safe until their symptoms are under control. Make sure they follow their treatment plan and continue to monitor their feelings and behavior for signs of complications. No matter what, researchers agree that all teens should be physically active.