Regulating mood disorders with running

A common assessment strategy therapists use when a client is reporting depressive symptoms is a simple tracking calendar.  For a week a person will be asked to record hour-by-hour activities.  As the therapist I'm looking for patterns in the person's routine that may indicate emotional dysregulation. 

Emotional dysregulation---the cause of the depressive symptoms--- is often a result of an imbalance in the brain chemistry or hormonal makeup of a person.  The factors that contribute most to a person's sense of emotional regulation, sometimes referred to as a sense of well being, are things like sleep, diet, and exercise.  

It should be noted that some people require medication to improve any imbalance in this chemistry/hormonal makeup.  This will be true for chronic mood disorders like bipolar disorder or major depressive disorder.  However, all mood imbalances can be improved by treating any of those regulatory factors: sleep, diet, and exercise.  Some mood symptoms are entirely eradicated by making lifestyle adjustment that improve sleep, diet, and/or exercise.  Some symptoms only improve with a combination treatment.  

If a person is sleeping poorly and mostly sedentary it would not be uncommon to see that person suffering from lack of motivation, feelings of low satisfaction, self worth, and well being.  They would seem depressed.  That is because the sleep and sedentary behavior lowers dopamine levels in the brain responsible for motivation, it lowers norepinephrine which softens the ability to focus, and the combination reduces serotonin responsible for feelings of satisfaction and happiness.  And voila, the recipe for a depressed mood.  This article won't get into it, but these things are also impacted by negative self-talk, past trauma's, and stress/anxiety.  

Running, and other forms of cardio exercise are a wonderful treatment option for a person that falls into these sorts of depressive patterns because running increases dopamine, increases norepinephrine, and serotonin.  It is these brain chemicals that contribute to the "runner's high" that is commonly experienced by routine runners.  In addition, people who run consistently report sleeping better, and tend to be conscientious about what they are putting into their bodies.  In short, running helps to regulate a person's neurological chemistry and directly impacts depressive mood symptoms.  

Some runners report that when they run they get into a state of "flow".  Flow is defined by the brain associating hard word with motivation and focus leading to feelings of fulfillment and enjoyment.  What neuroscience tells us is that flow is caused by an increase in dopamine and norepinephrine which is the byproduct of the physical effort behind running.  

I hope this is helpful information for anyone seeking to improve their life through lifestyle changes like regular running.