How to conquer activity withdrawal depression?
June 9, 2014 1:20 PM   Subscribe

I get depressed when I can't surf. Sometimes it's just a day or two because of work, sometimes its weeks because of an injury or a bout of bad weather. The closest I can find to this on Google are runners who get depressed when they can't run. I realize this is a very first world problem. I'm not going to kill myself and the depression lifts as soon as I can surf again. I can perform my job without getting fired. I have mentioned my depression to my other surfer friends and, while they all itch to surf, they don't seem to get depressed. I would love to get thoughts on: 1. Non-chemical solutions to not being depressed on days without surf 2. Deeper questions as to why my happiness is so linked to this activity

Some more background: I was depressed for years as a teenager due to insomnia / teenage stuff, so I notice very quickly when it comes back. I have never taken anti depressants. Depression ended once I was able to sleep again. I am otherwise very happy with my life, relationships, and career. The depression has small but noticeable impacts on my work and relationships.

I feel like it is not normal / healthy for my happiness to be so linked to an activity. However, I have just found out about the book West of Jesus which claims that surfing produces a high / withdrawals just like drug addiction. Have not read the book yet but it's possible that there is actually some chemical/endorphin addiction going on.
posted by puertosurf to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (10 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Exercise is well known to be an anti-depressant.

If you can't surf, there may be other forms of exercise you could do on your off days. Maybe lifting weights, which you can do at home in 20 minutes if you have the equipment, and which could also ultimately help with the surfing.
posted by showbiz_liz at 1:31 PM on June 9, 2014

Just off the top off my head.. seems like it feels very interwoven with your identity perhaps? What else tunes you in with other parts of yourself? Does watching it help/make it worse? Planning something about it for the future so it's something to look forward to to reframe it?

I get this about boxing but I don't think as bad... maybe try and re-channel that energy if you can?
posted by tanktop at 1:32 PM on June 9, 2014

Well, first suggestion for avoiding it would be to find alternate physical activities for times when you're injured or the weather's bad.

If you read back Asks on depression, you'll notice exercise being suggested repeatedly as a treatment. Perhaps this is something you're treating for yourself with surfing, and you relapse when you can't do it.
posted by asperity at 1:33 PM on June 9, 2014

This is why friends took up skateboarding and cycling. They both give a bit of feeling of being transported through the world in a way that complements (does not replace!!) surfing. Even just taking a bike to work or your everyday errands can be so much more fun and endorphin-filled than driving or transit.

Get a bike and learn to skate!
posted by barnone at 1:40 PM on June 9, 2014 [3 favorites]

I can totally understand this. I had a period in my teenage years when I would be depressed if I wasn't downhill skiing. After that it was, when I couldn't play the piano for 2 hours a day.

Just like an artist cannot feel satisfied unless they create, you can't feel satisfied unless you're where you belong, on the surfboard. When you're surfing, you're on a beautiful beach with lots of sunshine, fresh air, and the smell of the sea. you're getting exercise, which releases endorphins, and you're also in a life-threatening situation so you're getting an adrenaline rush.

I think you should keep surfing as much as possible, but on the days where you can't surf, try to recreate some of the experience of surfing. Many of the elements that make surfing so pleasurable can be experienced (to a lesser degree) in the city.

Ie: Go rock climbing (adrenaline), do intense exercise (endorphins), find a beautiful place to go for a walk (sunshine & pleasant scenery). I don't think there's anything wrong with loving an activity so much that you're not happy unless you can do it- that's called being passionate. Just try to find convenient replacements for those times that you can't make it out to the beach.
posted by winterportage at 1:45 PM on June 9, 2014 [3 favorites]

Physical activity helps relieve depression, simple as that. It's not abnormal or a type of addiction. If I go 48 hours without some form of exercise, I just feel wrong. It may help you to have a couple mini-workouts in your repertoire for days you can't surf - something you can do anywhere; bodyweight exercises are ideal for this. It's not the same as doing the activity you really want to do, but it'll help keep you afloat.

The sun may also be a factor; my mood often takes a noticeable downturn when the weather's gray. Again, exercise helps with this, and getting outside even when the weather's gloomy can do some good too.
posted by Metroid Baby at 2:31 PM on June 9, 2014

I have just found out about the book West of Jesus which claims that surfing produces a high / withdrawals just like drug addiction.

So does sex. So does running (see: runner's high.) So do many other physical activities. Is there another physical activity you can do on days you don't surf?
posted by DarlingBri at 2:48 PM on June 9, 2014

Seconding adding additional physical activities, and suggesting that you make them a part of your regular routine so that they don't feel like consolation prizes when you can't surf.
posted by Flipping_Hades_Terwilliger at 2:59 PM on June 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'm not sure it's entirely the physical exercise that's the beginning and end of this - I have a very similar phenomenon with horses and horseback riding, but it's less to do with the actual riding (the exercise component) than simply contact with the horses. I'm sure the exercise helps, but it isn't all there is to it. I used to think it was only riding that I needed, but when I got injured and was unable to ride for a while some time back, I figured out that what I love best is connecting to an animal, finding a common language and working together, whether that's riding or not.

My suggestion, then, is to see if you can disassemble "surfing" into its component parts, and to figure out which of those parts are the most important to you - is it the actual physical activity? Perhaps a substitute activity would help, then. Is it partly the people you're with when you surf? If so, could you arrange to see them off the beach? Is it a sensation of freedom or relaxation or of challenging yourself? Is it being outside with the salt water and the wind? Is it indeed the endorphin rush, or the adrenaline, or both? Et cetera.

Sifting through these aspects might make it easier to come up with a remedy that can soothe your soul when you can't surf. I unfortunately don't have any specific suggestions for you, since I've never surfed in my life, so I couldn't begin to prescribe something - but as I say, I do know the feeling of needing something in my life, heart and soul.
posted by po at 7:46 PM on June 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

I suffer from this too. I've lessened my dependency on surfing by substitution with other water-based activities that give me a similar high. Broaden your scope, your life will be the richer for it.
posted by surfgator at 10:58 PM on June 9, 2014

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