The trauma that a sociopath inflicts on those who love him/her can be exceptionally difficult to overcome. In the wake of a relationship with a sociopath, former partners can suffer with clinical depression, generalized anxiety, PTSD and panic disorder. All of these conditions are said to respond to SSRI antidepressants like Prozac and to psychotherapy. However, many people have written to Lovefraud.com lamenting that antidepressants and psychotherapy have not been particularly effective for them.
The one good thing about a crisis is that it can be an opportunity to make major life change. I am a firm believer that it is possible to come out of a crisis better and stronger. I am also convinced that exercise is an important part of a life plan to become better and stronger. There is scientific evidence that exercise can actually treat major depression and anxiety disorders. Exercise has been used as a sole treatment and to improve response to antidepressants.
How much exercise is needed?
When discussing the benefits of exercise in treating these disorders, it is important to define the term. Generally speaking, to be beneficial, the exercise has to be of moderate intensity and occur most days of the week. For example, if you are walking, you need to walk 15 minute miles for at least 2 miles, 5 days a week. If you can only walk 3 days a week, you have to walk 4 miles each session. Similar intensity can be obtained bicycling 10-15 mph for 30 minutes five days a week or 1 hour, 3 days a week. You know you have exercised enough when you feel you have exerted yourself.
Weight training and stretching likely will not improve depression or anxiety if used alone. Scientists have used these as placebo conditions in studies of exercise.
How long before I see results?
To avoid injury from exercise it is best to start slow. If you haven’t exercised in a while, build up to the above intensity over a two-week period. Studies show that inactive people who attempt at 40 to do what they could at 20 are the most likely to get hurt.
When you start your exercise program, give yourself positive self-talk about the short-term benefits. These include better sleep, better energy level, improved concentration and improved mood. Clinical studies show that many people experience a resolution of depression within three weeks of beginning an exercise program. Weight loss is a long-term benefit which may not be apparent for many weeks.
Why does exercise treat depression and anxiety?
Exercise improves the body’s response to stress. When a person is stressed, two types of stress hormones are released, the fight/flight hormones like adrenalin and the longer acting steroid hormones like cortisol. Both of these classes of hormones stimulate carbohydrate craving. The combination of these hormones and increased carbohydrate intake produces insulin resistance. Insulin resistance causes changes in brain chemistry, not to mention diabetes and high blood pressure.
It turns out the best thing you can do to fight insulin resistance is to exercise. It is as if exercise resets the body following stress. That exercise counteracts the harmful effects of stress on the body is well known. People with diabetes and high blood pressure who exercise live longer.
Exercise also enhances what psychologists call self-efficacy. Self-efficacy is the belief that one can produce positive change in one’s life through effort. Many people who have been in relationships with sociopaths have lost self-efficacy and enter into a state of helplessness. Sociopaths tend to take over one’s life. That is why getting back in the driver’s seat and making positive life changes is so important for recovery.
Exercise for the whole family
If you have children, you are responsible for others who have also suffered at the hands of a sociopath. If these children are the biologic children of the sociopath, they also carry genetic risk for ADHD, addiction and sociopathy. I have found that parents that are themselves suffering have a hard time managing the needs of their children. I strongly suggest that exercise is an important activity for your entire recovering family. If you exercise with your kids, you spend fun time with them. This fun time is anxiety relieving for everyone.
Exercise may also help children with ADHD. A life habit of exercise also immunizes against substance abuse and later addiction. Again, to be beneficial the exercise needs to be of at least moderate intensity and be practiced most days of the week. US Government public health experts recommend ALL children receive 1 hour of exercise a day. For details on a program of exercise for you and your family see Fit and Smart.