It’s Mental Health Awareness Week in the UK this week, and there is a lot of coverage of mental health issues on the TV, radio and social media. One thing I have really noticed is the amount of people talking about how exercise can really help mental health issues.
I watched a documentary recently called ‘Mind over Marathon’ on the BBC which focused on a group of people with mental health issues, including OCD, anxiety, PTSD and depression. They signed up to a challenge to train for the London Marathon (which took place a couple of weeks ago), with the advice that something like this would be beneficial to their mental health. Supported by fitness trainers and trained mental health professionals, along with others who had themselves been successful in using exercise to cope with their own mental health issues, they embarked on a 20 week training plan. If you get a chance to watch it on BBC iplayer, it was a fascinating watch, and really cemented for me the whole link between exercise and mental health which I have long believed (see my previous blog on Exercise – the best medicine).
Anyway, what made me blog about this today? Well, I had a really positive experience with a run today which really had me buzzing. I woke up in a pretty rubbish mood to be honest and after a day off the healthy eating wagon yesterday, I felt quite sluggish. the last thing I wanted to do was go for a run. But my husband encouraged me and told me to ‘get out there as it would do me some good’ (he knows me so well!). I was about 400 metres into my run when it hit me – my mood lifted, I woke up to my surroundings (I was in the woods which is my favourite place to run), felt the sun on my face and felt the power of the fresh air in my lungs. I felt amazing – buzzing even, and it’s been a while since a felt a run do that much for me. I was raving about it when I got back home and it reminded me of the programme and a quote someone mentioned:
‘Running and mental health are really good companions’
Any form of exercise is good for you, both physically and mentally – you just need to get out there and do it. Running in particular, does not discriminate and is open to everyone. Anyone can run, just take it at your own pace and enjoy it – your mental health will definitely thank you for it!
Mental health has been in the UK news a lot this
week, with many high profile people highlighting their own experiences or just outlining how important it is for us to talk about it. HRH Price Harry is one of these people and has talked openly about how he struggled for a few years after his mother’s death before taking advice and talking to a counsellor – which he said really helped. His brother, The Duke of Cambridge (HRH Prince William) has also highlighted the importance of talking about it – and issued a video with Lady Gaga.
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry are spearheading a charity (Heads Together) campaign to end stigma around mental health. Heads Together aims to change the national conversation on mental health and wellbeing, and it looks like they are making great progress.
It’s great to see all this publicity about mental health, and I hope the message is getting out to people who suffer that it is perfectly normal, and that they need to open up and let someone know what they are going through – seek help. It’s something I am really passionate about, and am looking into becoming a counsellor and coach. There are so many different types of mental issues – PTSD, anxiety, extreme stress, depression to name a few – and people need to feel OK about saying they are experiencing it. Sometimes it is long term, other times it is related to a particular point in life e.g a bereavement, physical illness, or an experience.
We’ve all seen or experienced mental health issues at some point, so it’s interesting that people still find it difficult to talk about it. I struggled after the sudden death of my Dad, and sought counselling which was extremely helpful for me. I have friends who have suffered or continue to suffer with PTSD, anxiety, bi-polar and schizophrenia. The more you look for examples in your life, the more there are – which means we all need to be aware of it, and more open about it and look for signs in others, so we can help.
Our mental health is just as important as our physical health, and if there is something wrong it impacts all parts of our lives. But it is treatable, and you can learn to live with it with coping mechanisms and medication if required. The first step though is to talk – tell someone how you feel, don’t be afraid of a reaction, or what people will think of you. Believe me, they will be proud you are speaking up and keen to support you in whatever way they can. If you can get your mental health in a good place, it allows you to deal with everything else life throws at you.
Here in the UK, the clocks went forward at the weekend, making it lighter in the evenings for a bit longer. Spring has finally sprung, we are enjoying some sunshine and warmer weather, and best of all, we are seeing flowers and plants bloom again. It’s just beautiful to be outdoors.
Whilst my favourite time of the year is Autumn, as I love the colours and I am more of a cold air ‘wrap up warm’ kind of girl, I love the sense of opportunity and new beginnings that Spring brings. After a long Winter when many of us have spent a lot of time indoors, with shorter darker days and sometimes miserable weather, it’s a real treat to see the sun shining, trees budding and flowers blooming. It lifts your mood, instils a sense of anticipation and excitement, and generally makes you feel happy.
This time of year always makes me want to sort things out and clean up – I guess it’s a bit of ‘Spring cleaning’. It also makes me want to try new things and focus on what I can do to improve things. So I’ve been busy about the house painting, clearing and cleaning and having a good sort out has really made me feel good – almost cleansed!
And I’m taking a similar approach to myself – focusing on how I can improve my well being, health and general outlook. To do so, I’m cutting back on sugar and looking to up my running distances (and using my Garmin tracking app to give me stats and focus). And one more thing I’ve decided to do is to challenge myself by incorporating one body weight exercise a day to my routine for the whole of April – I’ve decided on press ups. I’m going to start with 10 a day and build it up each day. Small changes, one at a time.
Spring – it’s time to bloom and progress!
The inner drive to want something is what initially motivates us to do something, and physical fitness or power plays a key part in getting us there. But it is your mind – your mental power – that will determine whether you make it there or not.
Take a fitness challenge – like a race or an obstacle course, or climbing a mountain. You need to be physically fit to complete it, and most people will normally follow some kind of specific plan. But if you aren’t in the right place mentally, or can’t pull on your mental strength to get you through the tough parts, it can all fail at that point.
It’s so important to make sure you focus your training on the mental side as well as the physical. But how do you do that? A few things that work for me:
- Recognise progress
You need to see progress in your training, and remind yourself how far you have come each time. Give yourself that pat on the back for getting through a stage, and focus on the positive elements of your progress.
- Identify the negatives
Yes, look at the negatives, but focus on how you can learn from them and work out how to deal with it when it happens again.
- Look out for the signs of your mental weakness
Learn to notice the signs of when you are feeling mentally weak during your training, and think about how you overcame them – or how you can do in the future. This will help you in the hard moments of your challenge.
- Talk to yourself
Listen to that inner voice, and use it to its full effect. Tell yourself you are good, you can do this, and you will feel proud at the end. This really works! You can do it our loud if you really want to 🙂
- Visualise the end
This really works for me. During a tough moment in a run, or when I have climbed some tough mountains, I’ve visualised myself at the finish and thought about how I will feel. And I ask myself how disappointed I will feel if I don’t push on.
And finally – Dig Deep! When you start to feel the ‘pain’, dig deep and believe in yourself. you know you can do it. As my husband frequently tells me ‘It’s all in the mind’. And it can make or break your determination.
We all do it, and I have been more guilty that others recently – letting the daily grind get in the way of doing things I love, and generally ‘living’. It’s been a busy few weeks, and I’ve just focused on ‘getting what needs to be done, done’ which has meant I haven’t done as much of the good things I like to do – once again seeing them as luxuries rather than requirements for my happiness. So I haven’t run as much, I haven’t seen friends and been out socialising as much as I wanted to, I haven’t baked as much as usual, nor been creative round the house (favouring the need to just keep it clean and tidy in the time I had), and I also haven’t blogged in a couple of weeks – which makes me sad.
So I’ve given myself and good talking to, and realised that I need to MAKE TIME for these things, and give myself a break – do the things I enjoy more. After all, life is too short. It’s also good for your mental health to do things you enjoy doing, and look after your well being. Don’t look on it as ‘spoiling yourself’, look on it as ‘looking after yourself both physically and mentally. A saying I heard the other day really hit home with me, and as I continue to go through quite a reflective period in my life, I’m going to try and use this as a reminder (I may even get it printed out and framed on a wall!). The saying is:
‘Don’t let your search for a happy life get in the way of living’
Sometimes we all get caught up in our day to day being and just existing, so that we can have a good future, that we often forget to enjoy ourselves along the way. As I am sure you have heard before ‘Life is a journey, not a destination’ and this is something I truly believe.
So take time to appreciate the good things in life every day, spend time with people you love, do things you enjoy more frequently, and look around you – there’s lots to smile about along the way, if we just give ourselves the time to acknowledge it. The other stuff will still be there tomorrow…….
Sometimes things don’t work out quite as you planned, and how you deal with it can have a huge impact on the rest of your day and most definitely your mood! I had a day a bit like this yesterday, with lots of things planned out and a to-do list of things I wanted to get done. I was really motivated and woke up with a spring in my step.
The first major task of the day was where it all went wrong, and I actually surprised myself with how I felt about it and dealt with it. I decided to take my two children to a playgroup session which I regularly attend with a friend – this would be the first time I went on my own and I tried not to think about running about watching two of them at the same time without back-up! Anyway, it took me longer to get the two of them out of the car, in the buggy and into the play area in the building, than it did for my son to decide he would have a meltdown resulting in me deciding to leave -after just 15 mins!! I then had two hours of meltdown to deal with whilst trying to keep calm for the other one, so my plans went out of the window.
The rest of the day kind of followed suit – I couldn’t do some of the jobs I had planned as my son decided not to sleep at lunchtime, and continued to test me throughout the day; the dog carried a whole load of mud into the house and decided to roll it on the cream rug (that DID test me!); I spilt a whole carton of milk on the floor (I know ‘don’t cry over spilt milk’!); my son decided he didn’t like any food put in front of him; and then my daughter had teething issues and didn’t want anyone else but me at bedtime, which meant I couldn’t go out to play netball.
I could have had a meltdown myself, and got annoyed, but I actually stayed calm and just decided to ‘write the day off’ or in the words of that famous Disney movie (Frozen) ‘Let it go….’. I decided that I would just have to let it go and deal with my to-do list and every other plan tomorrow. But, one thing I did decide I needed to to to help me with that, was ensure I did one thing for myself that day – because that would help me feel better and I wouldn’t feel I had totally lost it. So, I enlisted the help of my mum for babysitting duties and I went for a run, and I felt so good for doing it.
So if you can do one thing for yourself, something that makes you feel good – read a book, go for a walk or run, take time out to watch your favourite film or TV programme, have a bath etc. it will help you re-focus, put things into perspective and ‘let it go’. everything else will still be there tomorrow and you will have done something for you 🙂
I am an over-thinker. There, I’ve said it. I spend too much time thinking things through to make a decision that I could have made in a much quicker time period, and without all the worry and anxiety that I put myself through (just ask my husband who is usually on the receiving end of this over-thinking!).
I’ve had lots of time to think lately, having the luxury of being away from the usual stressful workplace. But, for someone who usually over-thinks things, I’m surprised at how logical I am managing to be, and how my levels of procrastination are dipping (only slightly, it’s not a miracle).
I’ve worked out that if you over-think, you just create negative energy which is wasted on worrying about things that may never happen. And it kills your happiness. It doesn’t mean I don’t worry about things anymore, I just tend to focus a bit more on the situation, analyse and make a quicker decision.
What I have found myself doing more of, is having conversations with myself about why I feel negative or worried about something, and trying to turn it around. It’s a bit like my blog about Blue Monday – don’t let yourself be dragged down by the negatives and turn your thought process on its head. And I’ve got into the habit of asking myself the following questions when I feel worried or anxious about a situation:
- Why do I feel worried about it?
- Who has control of the situation?
- What can I do about it at this present moment?
- What would make me feel better about it?
Usually by answering these questions I can put it into perspective and talk myself into not letting it take over my day. The key thing is about control, and taking that back. Realise that you are the only one who can control your life and the decisions you make, and stop worrying about what other people think.
It really is an attitude that I feel good about adopting, and it’s making a difference. Stop worrying and enjoy life.
I know my last post was about looking after number one, but once you have that under control and a priority, you know you can look out for others. Isn’t it a great feeling when you make someone else smile?
Being there for someone, no matter how small the task, will always make you feel good. Humans are wired to love others and naturally look to support. It can be something as small as grabbing an extra coffee for a colleague on your way into the office, or looking after your friends children for an hour so she can have a break. Or it can be buying a loved one that really special gift they have been coveting for a while. All of those things will most definitely make you feel good about them and about yourself. Just thinking about it makes me smile.
I love the saying ‘Be someone else’s sunshine when their skies are grey’. It reminds me to think about others and look out for people who may be struggling. And it makes me smile to think that I could actually help someone. Don’t you love it when someone comes to you for advice? It demonstrates to you that they value your opinion, and think you could help them, which in turn should make you feel good.
It happened to me last week and I recall feeling really honoured that my friend was asking for advice, and that I felt I could actually make a difference, even if I was just re-affirming their own thoughts. If it turns out you can help them, then that’s a bonus and you both come away feeling good – creating sunshine all round!
So go on, have a look around and see who could do with your sunshine in their grey day!
So today is being billed as ‘Blue Monday’, mainly by the media and anyone else who wants to breed negativity. Apparently we are all feeling really miserable by now for a number of reasons:
- Christmas is over
- Most people haven’t been paid since Christmas and won’t be for another couple of weeks, so we’re all broke
- Christmas credit card spend hits our bills round about now
- It’s cold outside
- We’ve given up on New Year Resolutions
and there’s more I’m sure….
So, essentially we have a choice – we could listen to all that depressing negativity, or we can use today as a day of reflection and turning things on their head.
- So Christmas is over – get over it, there will be another one. Think of other events that are coming up and write them down so you can look forward to them.
- It’s a while until pay day. Work out what money you have left and look at what things you can do for free until the end of the month. Use today to rally friends and plan a get together at home and have a cheap catch-up. Get planning!
- We have bills – get them all out, write down what debt you have, and work out how to repay them. Being honest with yourself and getting it all out in the open will make you feel better than hiding those bills.
- It’s January, it’s meant to be cold, and will be for a few more months yet so get used to it. Think of things you can do in the weather and wear dress appropriately. Get outdoors for a few minutes each day for fresh air and sunlight – get your Vitamin D. I promise you it will make you feel better.
- So you may have had a wobble with your resolutions. Don’t worry, don’t beat yourself up and most definitely DON’T GIVE UP! Think again about why you’re doing it and re-prioritise yourself. Read my blog about resolutions to re-focus yourself.
Be stubborn and kick those negative vibes been thrown about by the media today into touch. Don’t let yourself believe it – re-focus, be positive, count your blessings, and enjoy your life!
‘Exercise is the most potent and underutilised antidepressant, and it’s free….’
Someone I follow on Instagram posted this caption this morning and it really struck a chord with me as it is something I passionately believe in – exercise is the best form of medicine, the best stress reliever, the best mood lifter. I just wish more people realised it, or thought about it in that way.
I’m not saying you have to go all out and do a 10 km run every time you feel low, but even just jumping around for 10 minutes or dancing to some music can really make a difference. It gets the endorphins going and makes you feel a whole lot better.
I went for a run this morning, and I felt so much happier and ready for the day not only afterwards, but whilst I was out. It did help that it was a beautiful autumnal morning and I was running in the woods and along the canal (and stopped to capture some moments – see pic), but the mere feeling of being out and pushing my body a bit just made me feel happy. I get this burst of happiness inside when I am outdoors, and I can see the beauty of the world. I know I will feel like this when I am out, which makes it easier to talk myself into getting out! I was able to think things through that were bothering me and realise how insignificant they were (I had a moment yesterday when I stressed about something really silly), and I was able to make plans.
Taking the time out for yourself is so important, but we all tend to neglect ourselves over others or tasks when the going gets tough, or find an excuse not to go out for that walk/run/gym class. I’ve seen so many people suffer from stress or just let daily life get on top of them, and in doing so they’ve forgotten to look out for number 1 – themselves. A trip to the doctor in extreme cases can result in antidepressants being prescribed, and whilst I know these are necessary in certain cases, I wish people would try and incorporate more exercise into their lives first. This is especially true for those who suffer from long term depressive episodes, and I have seen friends reap the benefit of exercise in these situations. Don’t let excuses get in the way either – find someone to sit with the kids for 20 minutes, or take them with you; tag team with your other half so you can both get out; or just put it in your diary as a proper activity so you stick to it.
I love the feeling of being outdoors and feeling good about myself and am on a mission to help others see how just a little bit of exercise can help them!
Go on, give it a go, it might even make you happy 🙂