I’m currently in a bit of a rough patch currently from a mental standpoint and I’m not sure if my mental state is having an effect on my physical form or it’s my physical state that is leading to my current mental state. I’m pretty sure the answer isn’t simple but I would like some opinion on this.
A bit of context first. I always suffered from mild depression and anxiety but last fall I got hit with my first real anxiety attack that resulted in me going to the ER fearing I was having a heart attack. Thankfully form a physical standpoint I was safe but obviously my mental well being was at an all time low. I started medication after consulting with my doctor to manage my anxiety and although it took me weeks to start feeling better physically (Because of the crazy stress response from my anxiety attack I was barely able to use my arms for 2 weeks as they were extremely week and painful). I didn’t train for about 1.5 months after but started training in a semi-structured way from December 2023. Although the medication made it a bit harder to manager my energy level and weight, I was able to slowly up my training to about 9-10 hrs a week and completed my first gravel race last September.
All downhill from here though as I clearly raced while being on verge of the flu and with the fatigue from racing 5hrs I got pretty sick for about a full week. Since then my ftp has been on a pretty steady decline (from about 315 to 288) and my heart rate has been higher in all zones even when using my new FTP ( tested last week on the ramp test). So my resting HR seems to be normal but when I exercise it’s usually higher given the calculated power zones.
From a mental point of view, I’ve been feeling pretty depressed over the last few weeks (part of it is seeing my form steadily declining) and I’ve noticed my usual pattern of feeling low energy throughout the day, feeling sad/angry, lashing out and being not fun to be around (which I hate the most for my family as they do not deserve any of this). I’ve taken 2 weeks of work to try and rest but that hasn’t done anything either from an energy point of view.
I’m currently sticking to my mid-volume base plan and is actually pretty happy to train but seeing my numbers after each training I feel like my form is not stabilizing and is still going down.
So I suppose what trying to determine is am I actually simply fatigue from my mental state or my training fatigue is wrecking my mental state and I’m simply stuck in a vicious circles where the physical is affecting the mental and vice versa. I’ll be honest, I feel like taking some time off training would make me feel even worst from a mental point of view but perhaps I’m just hit the wall and banging harder won’t help…
Any advice or sharing your own similar story would help at this point.
Nothing to say from a clinical point of view, but IMO, whatever you do, keep doing some kind of training, even if not on the bike, and avoid falling into a rut of no training/exercise. From my personal experience, crazy hours at work (i.e. 10-14 hour days, 7 days a week) coinciding with the unexpected and tragic death of my favorite pet, put me into a very bad mental state. The lack of energy (mental and physical) meant I stopped exercising completely for two years, as it was so easy to wallow than to try to push myself when I wasn’t working. Big mistake and I really regret it. Went from 125 pounds to 173 pounds in 6 months, terrible blood chemistry, felt like crap. Took years to reverse all the damage I did. Whatever you do, even if it’s just 30 minutes combining jogging around your house, doing burpees every 5 minutes, and performing wrestling sit-outs, stand-ups, and single-leg shots, stay active, keep exercising, do something.
Little left field here but, if you have access to trails, throw some trail running in. I love biking but trail running is the most dynamic mental health boost that I have experienced and without, I may have succumbed to depression. Added to that, it is a new activity so you won’t be comparing to your previous selfs stats. It might not help directly with your bike riding but mental health is more important. Biking empties me in a good way, but trail running fills me up in a way biking doesn’t.
Depression is a bitch , for sure. I know that there are online services like Betterhelp for mental health. It’s all remote, so you don’t have to leave the comfort of home.
Maybe just focus on the process for a while? Drop to a low volume plan during the week and chill out on the weekend. Learn how to bake bread, see some old friends, buy a book you’ve always meant to read, go to the movies.
Anyway, best of luck. Nothing is permanent and you can get back to a higher level of fitness, but maybe this isn’t the season to do it. Keep moving, eat well, and give yourself some grace.
Yeah, I’d say don’t stop training completely either but accept that right now mid-volume might just be a little too much. You won’t lose too much if you dropped to low volume. Do you need to in peak form right now? If not, and you maybe have some events planned for next spring/summer then that’s a long way off and you might dig yourself a worse, deeper hole. You’ve seen a 315 FTP, so it’s achievable again. Pick sessions that are achievable, perhaps some tempo sessions that will leave you feeling good afterwards and not totally demolished.
I’m intolerable also if I don’t get on the bike but training with some big 7-8 rides last spring would leave me feeling strangely deflated for most of the rest of the week. It was absolutely needed but I started to feel better once I backed it off a little.
I suffered from Depression and know what helps me(!).
Take your prescribed medicine.
Go out for a walk, hiking, or ride on a fixed schedule ( a walk every day…or something Like that.
In the Winter months its Essential for me to Do my trainerroad Plan to have workouts on a regulär basis. Dont be over ambitious for Performance (Also in general). The workout (what ever it is) self is the magic.
Riding without your power displayed can help during this period. Even if you’re getting out for a free ride, seeing lower numbers than you’d like to see can be a downer. If your outdoor bike setup doesn’t have power, the same would apply to heart rate, or any metric you’re used to tracking.
When you’re truly ready to get after it again, give yourself time to ramp up steadily. The progress will be quite uneven, so look at multi-week or longer trends, not ride-to-ride performance.
Not to overthink it right now, but this eventually will be a good season to think about what type of training and goals will be sustainable for you for the many years ahead, as they fit into the rest of your life and health. You might come out of it stronger or more consistent, you might find new, supporting activities like people mentioned. Whatever the case, you’ll be more resilient.
All the best.
I’m sorry that you’re going through this right now. What you’ve been through is serious and I am glad you are getting treatment.
I can relate to the dopamine-filled high of seeing my FTP increase. It’s a powerful motivator. But the body isn’t a robot and at some point it stops, needs a break, time to detrain and when ready, to start the cycle over again. Except I am getting older so the FTP high point is getting lower each cycle. If I focus on the numbers too much it can be depressing. But also I have noticed that my race results are getting better - mostly because of experience and mindset. So do the numbers really even matter all that much?
What else do you enjoy about cycling? For me I just love the feeling of being on a bike riding in a beautiful place or enjoying the sunlight filtered through the trees or just ripping on a fun singletrack. Even with an indoor workout, there is a feeling of satisfaction - I did what I set out to do, and my body just feels better having worked out. My husband notices my better mood after doing this. So, my advice when it comes to training is to try to understand your relationship to numbers and maybe even set aside any focus on them for a while. Find other things about riding and working out that are positive for you.
Have you taken regular rest weeks? A couple weeks off, post season break?
Do you monitor training load / TSS?
I know for myself, if I get too fatigued, I’ll feel grumpy and like I’m on the verge of falling in depression.
My problem is that I like getting on the bike or the trainer almost every day so I find rest weeks difficult.
This could be either, however, you are in good physical shape, my experience has been that mental drags down the physical side.
My patience level, coping skills, and decision making abilities drop significantly when I am tired. Try taking a step back and making sure that you are eating, hydrating, and sleeping well, this is the foundation of good health and when these things slide it leads to fatigue, then sickness.
Your work, personal, and family life all factor into your mental state, the body can only handle stress for so long before it starts shutting down, so being aware of the signs can help stop the downward spiral.
Here are a few things that have helped me:
• Cutting out news and social media, these things are depressing, I log in once a week. Sadly Strava can be depressing sometimes too.
• Doing realistic bike events based on time available to train – for me that is shorter single day events
• Making sure to schedule (and stick to) time with friends and family
• Doing unstructured group rides
• Cutting out alcohol
o A guide to the good life, the ancient art of stoicism by William Irvine
o Can’t hurt me by David Goggins
o The obstacle is the way by Ryan Holiday
• Work on process goals instead of outcome based goals (The Sonya Looney show podcast and blog have lots information on this)
• Don’t hold all of the stress inside, find someone to talk to that can offer help.
Thanks everyone, all good advices.
Great advice here and I would add to try to ride outside when you can. A couple of weeks of unstructured outside rides (leave the bike computer at home) can help you reconnect with your training and in my experience, the mental health benefits way outweigh the physical health benefits. If you can’t ride outside then go for a run or walk.
Whatever you decide, remember to be kind yourself. Give yourself a bit of a break as you would no doubt do if you saw someone else struggling a bit.
Hi friend, thanks for trusting us enough to share your story. I also have depression and anxiety. While there is no easy solution, here are some things that have helped me:
- Medication. Once you “break the seal” on having this conversation with your doctor(s), you can start having very productive monitoring of what works, what doesn’t, etc. Keep track of each Rx, dosage, benefits, side effects, etc. You can always ask to try something new if the current plan doesn’t work (or works until it doesn’t . . . sometimes the plan is good for a year or two and then needs a few changes). There are a ton of meds out there, and you can probably find a plan that works for you.
- Exercise is good for you even if your FTP is going down or you don’t like your form. It can take your mind somewhere else for a while. It can relieve stress. And most importantly for me, it can help you sleep. I would probably keep plugging away at it if I could.
- Keep promises to yourself. If you promise yourself that you will go easy today . . . go easy! You have to be a person you can trust.
Might a different drug work better for you? I was in a very similar place to you and my GP put me on fluoxetine, as he explained it was more of an “activating” SSRI. It’s changed my life - I am pumped to start each day and happily train early morning when previously I struggled to get out of bed. I tried everything else before the meds - meditation, yoga, therapy, supplements etc etc. Nothing else has worked. I think it depends what you need really - my partner who has ADHD and takes lisdexamphetamine is on escitalopram as that one is more of a “calm-me-down” SSRI. Maybe discuss alternatives with your doc?
Thanks. I’m already on a relatively low dosage escitalopram and seem to have helped with the most extreme anxious symptoms so I suppose it’s working but the effect is obviously very subtle overall. One other factor that I didn’t mention is that my son (7 yo) has ADHD and life at home is very chaotic which is very stressful for someone like me.
I really sympathise. I grew up with a lot of ADHD in my family, father (undiagnosed), little brother (extreme hyperactive), sister, (extreme inattentive) and now my partner (combined) and his son (inattentive). It can feel overwhelming and like you can never escape it. Its effects on my childhood and the chaotic, as you said, and frankly abusive behaviour from my brother is a big reason I have struggled with depression and anxiety for most of my adult life. It really skews how you see the world. Not sure how helpful I can be other than say I really feel for you and hope you can get through this and find a way of managing it. Have you explored any potential ADHD symptoms in yourself? (I assume so…) You say the effect of the escitalopram is “very subtle” - how long have you been on it? Is “very subtle” enough for you? Although fluoxetine takes a few weeks to build up in the blood, I felt about 50% better after just a few days. Anyway, try not to lose hope. Imagine the love and care you’d express and feel towards someone you love who was going through this, and try to treat yourself that way. Sending a hug.
Re-reading your OP it does sound a little like you might be experiencing burnout - something I have also been through. The emotional toll that raising a child takes, let alone combining that with ADHD and managing and striving for your own goals is huge.
On another note, have you had bloods taken to check for hormone / vitamin / mineral levels? Iron, B12 etc…might be worth checking.
First of all, I want to tell you that you are not alone. Personally, I don’t suffer from chronic depression, but several immediate family members do/did. And I have had rough patches. When my mom was diagnosed with terminal cancer and my job prospects were, hmmm, not great, things were rough.
If I were you, I’d use cycling as a way to get better rather than chase performance goals at this stage. I’m not a medical doctor, but I am fairly certain that physical exercise has a positive net effect on depression.
What is it that makes you enjoy cycling? Is it outdoor rides? Is it the structure? In my case, I really benefitted from the structure, the time on the bike was something I could control and that was beneficial for me.
It sounds to me as if you are doing too much, though. Your body is telling you it cannot recover from the stress, so you need to reduce the stress. In my experience, the right amount of training is like finding the right amount of coffee to drink, always half a cup less than I want to.
Disclaimer: I’m not a medical doctor.
My sister’s antidepressants took a while to build up in the blood stream, and getting the dose right took forever. Perhaps your meds are similar. Give it time. Consult your doctors. And don’t expect quick miracles.
Do you take regular rest and recovery? I read a lot in your story about ramping up training, racing/training sick, and a lot of stress. I see taking off work but not taking off from training. Maybe I’m wrong but it’s worth analyzing.
Also, eat lots of healthy carbs to fuel your riding. Fasted rides and training with chronic low glycogen levels can also make you feel low energy and/or depressed.
As most of you have touched on, I never really purposely taken rest week in the past years (first because I hate how I feel when not riding) and that’s kind of why I’ve returned to TR as it does include frequent rest week and seems like I could certainly benefit from those.
I also have been horrible at maintaining a good diet as well. If I’m being honest, I think I more of less know what I should be doing in order to help my physical recovery. It’s the mental side that’s so tricky…