Easy ways to work on your own mental health

Following Mental Health Awareness Day Thursday I wanted to offer some ideas of simple things you can do relating to fitness and nutrition to help improve your mental health (whoever you are) and perhaps even help manage depression and anxiety:

1) Drink water

Most of us don’t drink enough water at the best of time and if you feel low the chances are you will drink even less. Fill a water bottle and sip throughout the day. Dehyration causes fatigue and has been linked to feelings of depression so drinking water is a cheap, low effort way of helping you feel a bit better.

2) Vitamin D

This can help make you feel better natutally. You can buy supplements, a light box, possibly use a sunbed or even better get outside and get some fresh air at the same time. Little effort required for a potential improvement in your mood.

3) Fish Oil

Omega 3 has been linked to improving symptons of mild depression. Make the effort to take a supplement each day – you can buy it in liquid form if you can’t swallow tablets (and are brave!). This was one simple habit that has worked well for me.

4) Eat regular meals

When you feel low eating proper meals at regular times can go out the window. Set an alarm for regular intervals and eat a small simple meal when it goes off. This will help stabilise your mood and create a feeling of routine and normality which can help when life feels like it’s crumblig around you.

5) Eat colourful food

Go to the shop and buy lots of different colourerd food. If you don’t feel like cooking buy prepared veg and fruit. Eating a variety of colours will mean your getting a variety of nutrients and will help improve your mood as well as your health.

6) Eat simple healthy meals

Eating healthy foods can have a dramatic affect on how well your mind feels. If I’ve had a bad week a simple healthy meal can help me feel more positive and in control of my own mind and body. It may sound stupid but when I eat well I feel like my body feels better and I’m looking after myself which in turn makes me feel brighter within myself. On days like this I won’t have the energy to cook a fancy meal so I go for a simple piece of salmon I can microwave or grill and a pack of microwave veg. 10 minutes to prepare a good quality meal.

7) Try some alternative meal prep

The holy grail of fitness freaks! Cooking is the last thing you want to do when you feel depressed. So if you find yourself having a good day make the most of it and prepare so batches of food that you can freeze. Then on days you just can’t face cooking you can defrost one of these meals and still eat something homemade.

8) Buy a slow cooker

Slow cookers allow you to make healthy tasty meals with little effort -and a casserole is brilliant comfort food. They are great for preparing a comforting meal without much effort and will make you feel better than turning to chocolate and other quick food sources that we often crave when we feel low.

9) Drink less coffee

Adrenal Fatigue and depression / anxiety are linked. Too much coffee puts you at risk of developing adrenal fatigue – drinking less will help reduce stress levels. You could try a herbal tea instead which many people find helps then relax.

10) Walk

Getting outside helps you move more -that will help your mental health. Fresh air will help lift your mood. Being outside will help increase vitamin D intake. Walking can help clear your head. Walking is free. In short one of the best and most simple things you can do to help yourself fell more positive.

11) Exercise

As I said moving has been shown to help manage many mental health issues. You may not feel much like it but it can be in any form and doesn’t need to be for long periods of time to help. Start small and build up as you start to feel like you can.

12) Dance

Stick music on and just move to the music. Music can improve mood as can moving which makes thos fun activity a win win mood boosting activity.

13) Try group exercise

Nerve wracking and requires motivation. Sounds awful if you aren’t having the best day. But if you can push yourself to walk into the room you can find exercise, motivation, good music and social interaction in one place. It’s hard to leave a class not feeling at least a little bit more positive than when you walked in.

14) Join a team or club

Another nervewracking idea. Another idea which will allow you to exercise which will help your mental health and get to meet new people, another great mood booster. It can also help boose confidence which will help your mental health dramatically.

15) Try yoga

A chance to challenge your body and stretch along with a focus on breathing and mental wellbeing. You could try a class or find a free video on You tube. You could do an hour or even 5 minutes. Whatever you feel like at the start there is an option you could try out and you may feel more relaxed by the end of it.

Do you have any other tips for improving your mental health?

World Mental Health Day 2019

 

World Mental Health Day this year is focusing on suicide prevention, there’s some useful downloads on their website about this topic for a variety of situations and it’s worth a read (website link below).

https://www.who.int/news-room/events/detail/2019/10/10/default-calendar/world-mental-health-day-2019-focus-on-suicide-prevention

There are two school’s of thought with ‘days’- mental health, women’s day and so on.  Yes – in an ideal world we wouldn’t need specific days to remind people are inequalities and reduce stigma.  We don’t live in an ideal world though and what these days do is start conversations – some of those conversations may well be forgotten tomorrow sadly, but for some the onslaught of coverage on one day could set in motion the impetus to make a change- either for someone specifically affected or in making someone more mindful.

There’s so much that I could write about today- from personal experience but I’ll limit this blog to three brief things I think worthy of being mindful of if you know someone who is currently struggling with any mental health condition.

One

It can be frustrating for those around someone who is struggling with depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts.  Often you try and help and feel like you’re being met with resistance at every turn.  These illnesses are not logical though and as well meaning as your advice may be you might not get the reaction you hope for.  You can offer the most practical and solid advice in how someone might feel better but self care is hard when you are really ill and even though it’s the thing that will help it can feel practically impossible to do.  As frustrating as that may be for you believe me the person affected will be equally, probably more frustrated and knowing those around them are frustrated can just add to the difficulty of climbing out of a hole.

If you know someone who is struggling, be there for them, offer an ear, even offer advice, but accept you can’t fix it and you may feel like you repeat yourself a million times before anything lands.  Don’t take that personally – you being there is probably helping even if it feels like it isn’t.  If someone is suicidal, as much of an impact and stress that will place on you and others around them- remember the stress they feel to get to that point is far greater- frustration and anger are normal and understandable responses but when people get ill they aren’t doing it to piss people off or make life hard for others, get time off work or get attention.

Two

From my own experience when I went back to work after being off for a long time due to mental health issues I found it really hard and one reason for this was there was no understanding of mental illness in the way there would be for a physical illness.  The procedures in place just didn’t work for managing what was wrong with me.  I’m lucky I have a good manager who took time to listen to me and understand and that helped me settle back in, but at first it was really hard because I felt like I was having to fight against a system at a time when I really didn’t have the capacity to do so.  It took me to bite the bullet ask for a conversation and try and explain.

You can understand in situations like this how so many people fall between the gaps and end up unemployed, isolated and feeling like there’s no way out.  It’s easy to drop out the system (if you stop going to the doctors because you really just can’t face anything they don’t chase you up for instance), you can have to jump through hoops to get help but often have no motivation to do so.  You actually have to fight to get help (or have someone fight for you) and often you just can’t when your ill.  You may lose your job because your company doesn’t recognise mental illness as a genuine illness and not have the capacity to fight that.

These situations could be improved with education.  I don’t just mean companies educating their staff to understand mental illness, I mean in some cases companies themselves need to understand better how mental illness can affect staff and how best to handle it at a variety of stages- both preventative measures, catching signs of problems early on and dealing with the aftermath of serious issues.

Three

Today is about making people aware of the importance of mental health, of being open about discussing it- because more people than you would ever anticipate will be affected to varying degrees over their lifetime.  Being aware everyday is important though.  If you notice that a friend or a colleague doesn’t seem quite right you haven’t got to have a conversation with them if you don’t feel comfortable.  It might be mentioning your concern to someone closer to them who could check in on them.  But equally it could be dropping them a message or calling them for a chat, inviting them for a coffee or lunch, anything to connect with them.  You know that thing we call being nice, letting people know they have people around them.  On a day to day individual basis that can be the thing that makes the difference, and because you never really know how much people are struggling making not being a dick a general life rule is probably the best way to help others maintain good mental health, not least because you never know what sort of things could affect someones so something you say in passing which means nothing to you could affect that person for hours even days after.

In the News

Two things in the news over the last week you may have read about.

The Fat Shaming PT and Instagram banning the advertising of content that “makes a miraculous claim about certain diet or weight loss products, and is linked to a commercial offer such as a discount code”.

Thankfully the general reaction from most people demonstrates the overriding belief withing the fitness industry that fat shaming isn’t ok.  Most fitness professionals are both welcoming and understanding to people from all walks of life, backgrounds and whatever their previous experience of fitness and nutrition may be.  You could argue this should be a given- let’s be real people who need help with exercise and food are the PTs ideal clients right?  Therefore it stands to reason that understanding the obstacles (be it medical, mindset or education based) involved when creating healthy habits and understanding their effect and how to overcome them should be a key skill for any fit pro.  Of course there are some people who fail to see this.  These people are known as dicks and the less airtime or exposure they are given the better in my opinion.

The banning of the advertising of diet ‘miracles’ is an undoubtedly positive thing.

As a fitness professional you can look at these paid ads by minor celebrities with no fitness qualifications and dismiss them as ridiculous.

But if you think you have wright to lose and see something that claims it will help you do this with minimal work or effort the chances are you’ll be tempted.  The fact they are advertised by people you may know add strength to the claim.

The cold truth is given the choice to listen to a semi famous person you’ve heard of tell you drinking this tea every morning will help you lose weight will often win out over that unknown PT on your instagram feed telling you that you’ll actually have to take some bog standard boring action and change your habits.  That costs less but will take longer and seems a bit like hard work and we are all pretty used to being able buy anything we want and get it the next day.

When these products are given less exposure people will have to go and look for them more actively – and if your willing to actively research a solution to your problem you’re more likely to be willing to  actually work to fix it, which means you’re more likely to actually find a healthy sustainable solution.

This week has shown there are many issues within the fitness industry but also that there are positive moves being made all the time to remove some of the bullshit.

 

 

Fitness Professionals – A Reaction to the Last 24 Hours in my World

If you aren’t a Les Mills instructor you will not be aware of the changes made to the way payments are taken for the materials and education that allow you to teach Les Mills programmes.  To bring you up to speed quickly, in a nutshell people aren’t happy about having the autonomy to pay for what they want when they want taken away from them.  People who teach multiple programmes are not happy that they are now paying more than they used to.  The details of this change affect me but are not really what I want to write about today.

When these sort issues arise in general people take to Facebook to debate them.  I say debate but quite often there is little real debate.  I will normally have an opinion, and I’m happy to express it.  It may be different to the opinion of others, even those I’m close to – I will still express it.  However I also am happy to consider different views, and sometimes my initial view will change based on what other people have expressed as I consider things from angles that I hadn’t originally considered (this is debate).  Sometimes it feels like what actually happens is everyone expresses their view and simply insists anyone who disagrees with them is wrong.  When both the customer and provider do this it creates a situation that becomes harder and harder to resolve.  I sometimes think that people think that listening and acknowledging the validity in an opposing view weakens their own position so they instead aggressively defend their standpoint generating a greater negative response from people (whereas I have also seen some brilliant examples of the opposite over the last 24 hours where listening to people’s concerns has generated much more positive reactions from people who are upset – none of this is black and white).  When we are passionate about something and think it is a good thing we can sometimes be blindsided to the negatives that others may see.  I also believe, by the way, that there is a view that a debate such as the ones over the last 24 hours is always a negative thing unless everyone is pro the change being discussed.  Actually if we viewed not agreeing with each other in a less negative way debates can be extremely healthy, as can being allowed to express your standpoint.  Within my close circle I’ll frequently discuss opposing opinions on topics and we manage to do so without falling out and labeling each other as  negative.

Ultimately this has got me thinking about how we work together as fitness professionals.  It’s a weird situation.  Other fitness professionals are our colleagues in some senses but not in other senses.  I have an office job by day and the people I work with are colleagues, it’s very clear cut – we all work for the same company and have to follow the same rules etc.  If something changes it tends to affect most people in a similar way.  Fitness professionals are self employed / contractors / their own businesses (how we define ourselves if a personal choice).  We may work at the same gyms but we all negotiate our own terms, potentially compete for classes, have different degrees of reliance on different fitness roles (main source of income could be PT, classes, other jobs entirely) so how we view changes will be very different for everyone.  It makes an already quite competitive market feel more competitive.

It seems an odd idea expecting people who in some ways compete to also work together at the same time.  For me it’s become the most positive way to progress your fitness career however.

I work in various ways with a number of different fitness professionals, some in my local eco system (where there is more argument you are competing for the same customers), others in different parts of the country all together.  I also talk regularly with instructors from all over the UK, who I sometimes have different opinions to but am able to discuss them without falling out!  This has made the fitness world so much nicer for me.  Some things are still frustrating of course, but there is a support network, places where you can ask questions or vent about annoyances without being attacked by people who do not agree.  I’ve found new work opportunities through networking and looking at how I can work with people rather than compete against them.  I’ve learnt things because I’ve opened myself up to different people and they’ve helped me with things they are good at rather than guarding their knowledge and I’ve tried to do the same.

A few years ago there was a movement for a fitness union to fight stagnant pay, which struggled because essentially, as was pointed out at the time, if you don’t teach for the current rate there will always be someone else who will – basically the same argument that as we are all self employed we cannot work together at the same time.  This isn’t true.  Of course any partnerships need to be beneficial to both parties (and I mean that as individuals and our partnerships with providers such as Les Mill and gyms) and we need to be aware of what we offer against what we take (again both sides too- including gyms and providers).  In a busy market however, with every changing trends, I think we need to reconsider how we work with other fitness professionals, possibly gyms and providers also need to consider how they work with non staff member fitness professionals also.

For me personally, I’m happy where I am currently at.  My professional connections within the fitness sector are growing stronger and are all positive relationships where I don’t feel I am competing and I feel I can make a difference.  The changes in fees, well it’s not ideal as it makes keeping three programmes I don’t physically have classes in financially no longer viable – but there you go, a potentially difficult head over heart choice made for me so good in a way!  Perhaps Les Mills will listen to the feedback and adapt the new system to assist those with multiple programmes, if they don’t then instructors have the same choice as me and Les Mills can equally make the choice on how to work with those instructors.  What I do know is knee jerk reactions are normal and to be expected and debates are hard not to be drawn into but a) debates don’t need to be seen as a bad thing and b) we will get more done if we try and hep each other.

 

International Men’s Day

Apparently today is International Men’s Day,

Think back to International Women’s Days when from Facebook and Instagram you KNEW it was International Women’s Day because EVERYONE had something to post.

I wrote a blog post that day about needing a day to acknowledge women specifically because as a gender we are still marginalised in many ways in society.  Essentially you could argue the other 364 days of the year are International Men’s Day.

But I think the article below articulates well, why celebrating men is also important in removing gender stereo types and bias.

Sometimes it’s good when you read something to consider your own opinions and their validity and this article made me do just that.

Click here for the link

The Scandal of the Mullerlight Yoghurt

Slimming World have changed Mullerlight yoghurts from a ‘free’ food to having 1 syn.  From what I can tell this has caused something of a shitstorm on social media.

If you aren’t familiar with Slimming World – in a nutshell, there are ‘free foods’ which you can eat as much as you wish of everyday and Healthy Extras (a small portion of foods providing calcium and fibre) which you eat each day on top of your free food. Everything else has a syn value – you can have 5- 15 syns a day.

The bonkers thing here?

Mullerlight yoghurt’s recipe has not changed (from what I have read). The yoghurt today provides the same number of calories, same amount of sugar etc. as it did yesterday – it’s just the Slimming World company have decided that people were eating too many of them because they were ‘free’.

They have also done it with Smash and tinned spaghetti by the way.  Again the nutritional values within these foods has not changed overnight.

So here is my issue with Slimming World.

This whole yoghurt fiasco demonstrates it perfectly.

The company doesn’t teach people how our energy system works. If you follow the plan you can lose weight – but it does little to educate you on how to eat well and be healthy, away from counting syns and eating lots and lots of jacket potatoes.

Background- Back in 2011 I was overweight- I did no exercise and I ate takeaways more than I ever cooked. Diets were started every Monday morning and abandoned on Monday evening. I eventually decided to go to Slimming World. It was practically a last ditch attempt before I gave in to being overweight forever.

Now I have plenty of positives to say about the experience – the people were lovely, for me getting weighted kept me accountable and at first the plan worked- I was generally eating better food than I had been and losing weight.

Fast forward six months.

I’d started a Zumba class at the same time as Slimming World. I’d enjoyed it. The confidence I gained from doing Zumba led me to venture into other classes and I was now doing Body Jam, Body Combat, Zumba, Yoga and Circuits on a weekly basis.  My shape changed (I got smaller) as a consequence- but my weight loss slowed.  The consultant suggested that sometimes you could do too much exercise. This was when alarm bells started going off in my head.  I’d started to educate myself more as I started to enjoy a healthier lifestyle and it felt a little like I was being encouraged to do less exercise to see bigger results on the scale.

Likewise there was little emphasis placed on the nutritional benefits of food. Generally having some good fats such as avocado with your breakfast would probably be seen by most as more beneficial than having a kitkat for breakfast. Yet 100g of avocado is around 10 syns whereas a Kitkat is 5.5.  It is therefore unsurprising that people on Slimming World choose to stick with processed foods over fresh but high in calorie foods in some instances.

I often say I lost 4.5 stone on Slimming World, but in truth the last couple of stone came off through simply making better choices and exercising. I’ve since stayed the same dress size but put 2 of those stone back on. I am now the fittest and healthiest I’ve ever been.

Accountability and support is vital when people want to live a healthier lifestyle but groups such as this focus purely on a number on a scale going down.  There is little emphasis on how calories work – how many you should eat, what they should generally be made up of to get a balanced lifestyle, how they provide you with fuel. There’s limited reasons for people to choose fresh over convenience foods and there’s no education as to why – just because Mullerlights are ‘free’, eating 20 will still derail your progress.  There’s not enough encouragement to get moving and some of the education around exercise in my experience was quite simply incorrect.

I understand the logic behind Slimming World changing these foods from ‘free’ to ‘syned’.  What they could have done however is educate people as to why even with ‘free’ foods you need to eat in moderation.  If they did that they would de- mystify their product however.  Like everything else Slimming World is just another method of creating a calorie deficit.

Not all calorie deficits are created equally however – and I don’t feel like Slimming World helps you understand how calories work, that free foods still have calories and over eating them will slow down weight loss. Equally, unlike a fitness professional say, who would celebrate changes to your physique over changes on the scale, Slimming World aren’t bothered by you dropping a dress size and looking amazing as you shape up via exercise.  They want you to earn stars so you stay hooked and kep paying them a weekly check in fee.

So essentially- if you currently do Slimming World, eat well, have been eating a Mullerlight a day and getting results guess what? You will continue to see those results going forward because the food itself has not changed.

But if this has made you question the sense of Slimming World-  all is not lost.  The good news is you can sign up for My Fitness Pal for free- work out how many calories you need a day, what deficit you want to aim for and track what you eat!