As it’s Mental Heath Awareness Week, I thought it was a good moment to write about how being active can have a huge impact on mental health.
Before I go any further, I must point out that I absolutely understand how frustrating it is when someone blithely says “oh, exercise will help you feel better” or words to that effect. If you’re in the depths of a bout of depression, or at the height of a stress wave someone saying that probably prompts a pretty strong “punch repeatedly in the face” reaction in you, but please bear with me.
It is, however, widely acknowledged that getting more active can help manage the symptoms of some mental illnesses. Sufferers of stress, depression and anxiety can often find solace in exercise. When we exercise, our body releases endorphins, which make us feel good about life; when exercising, one is generally focusing on what to do now and next so there is less space to worry; if you exercise outdoors, the mindful aspect of absorbing nature can also help.
All this still sounds pretty simplistic – get moving and you’ll feel better. Of course it’s not as simple as that, but just as seeing a good friend can help lift the symptoms for a time, so can exercise. Better yet if you can get active with a friend who understands and will let you chat. The simple act of moving forwards side by side, and chatting, rather than trying to talk while face to face can remove some of the reservations about saying what you feel. If you overhear some of the conversations that occur in running and cycling clubs, you’d know what I mean (quite blush-worthy sometimes!).
Give it a try. Don’t ditch the medication – it is definitely doing a job, but try being a bit more active. If work is stressful, try a 10 minute walk when you get home. If you suffer with depression, try getting outdoors and being active. If it’s anxiety, put on your favourite song and have a dance around the kitchen. And let me know how you get on. I’m rooting for you.