Patience, Honesty, Yoga

Over the last two weeks I’ve taken on my own little personal challenge.

I think I’ve mentioned before how I struggle with my flexibility (I know planks of wood that bend more) and as much as I’m aware I need to work on this and it’s something I would always say to clients and class members it’s an area of my health that I neglect.

With this in mind and knowing that tightness in my hip and quad is very probably the cause of a recent knee injury I sign up for a twelve week yoga course.  Several things appealed to me about this course.

  • It’s all video based so you can do it in your own time following the instructor via a weekly video.
  • The yoga instructor is also a Body Combat instructor and having seen a previous video they had produced on mobility wok for Body Combat I felt this was likely to a type of yoga beneficial to my mobility.
  • Each week has a different focus which appealed to both my limited concentration span and learning a variety of moves to be able to use going forward as and when I want or need to focus on one area.
  • The sessions are around 20-25 minutes long and you are encouraged to practice several times across the week rather than just doing one hour long yoga practice- this for me seemed much more manageable.
  • You are also part of a group with weekly Facebook lives where you can ask questions and get feedback, for someone not from a yoga background that is really useful and increases your accountability.

So far I’ve practiced three times in week one, twice on week two and once so far this week (week three) although I intend to get another two to three sessions in this week.

In my head when I signed up I said to myself – I will practice every single day.  That obviously hasn’t happened, but that’s OK, because I’ve gone from zero mobility work to 50 minutes plus a week over the last couple of weeks.  However you look at it, that is progress.

Another thing that I have gleaned from the last couple of weeks – and it’s been centred around the yoga practice but is really key to how you approach all aspects of your own health / fitness regime – is about being honest with your practice.

By being honest with your yoga practice they mean accepting your body and it’s current ability.  That means not progressing a move to progress it until you are comfortable and performing the current move week.  It means acknowledging when you need to adapt a move to get the best out of your session and not being too proud to do so.

These two key elements of the mindset of your yoga practice are equally beneficial when applied to the rest of your training.

I’ve had lots of conversations with people over the last few weeks, and can openly admit it’s something I’m prone to do as well, about the all or nothing approach to fitness.  We want to be fit and healthy – and we want it now.  Society is result oriented and whilst we all want change we also want it now, we tend to be less keen on the idea that those results can take time and require gradual change.  It’s why we do often start a new plan or course with the intention to commit 100%  and then get disheartened and feel like we have failed when we aren’t 100% perfect in week one.  Then we get the urge to quit, start again, that this isn’t for me.

The reality is few of us will ever do anything 100% perfectly.  Life will get in the way, require adaptations and compromises and if we give up on things when the first stumbling block comes along we will not reach our goals.

What experience does show me however is that if you do stick to things for ‘most of the time’ results come.  Set backs are just that, they aren’t the end of the road, simply something to overcome and move on from.  If you are doing nothing and this week you do something you have progressed.  Results may be slower but they will be more long lasting.  Quick fixes tend to be quickly back to ‘where you were before’ as well.

Equally, being honest about where you are and want to be with your fitness is important.

Your goals need to be reflective of the effort you can put in.  If you can train twice a week then training for a physique show is unlikely to be a realistic goal for you.  However, reducing your body fat and getting fitter in two sessions a week is entirely possible.

You also need to be honest about what you are really doing.  Putting weight on even though you’re eating less? Yet you aren’t using my Fitness Pal to track your calories and aren’t really counting the calories in your two coffee shop coffees or the sauces that you put on food because they are barely anything.  It’s easy to think you are in a calorie deficit but when you track EVERYTHING realise you aren’t.  It really comes down to being honest about what you are doing.

You could even go more specific- what do you lift?  Do you lift it was strong technique?  Would you get more out of your session if you lifted less, better?

My message for this blog, which following the conversations I’ve had recently more than just me needs to remember, is this.

Wherever you are at with your fitness goals, it is a continuous journey, when you reach a goal it doesn’t end, new goals will arise and you will keep on working.  What you can do and, indeed, want to do will change over time.  Sometimes you will not do everything right, maybe for days and weeks on end, that doesn’t mean starting over or failure.  Sometimes you will meet people who can lift more than you, are leaner, more flexible and this doesn’t mean you have failed because the only progress that genuinely matters is what you can do now compared to what you could do before.

Patience and honesty are key tools to have in your fitness armour.

Also, I can highly recommend adding a bit of yoga to your life!

I have been practicing Yoga with The Kicking Asanas 12 Week Yoga Challenge.  You can find more information on the services Michelle offers here:

The Kicking Yogi

Post Marathon Blues

Today’s blog topic is a request (possibly my first ever topic request!) and is focused on the Post Marathon Blues.

This doesn’t just need to apply to marathons, it could equally apply to people who have trained for any big sporting even (half marathon, 10k, big swim or cycle, triathlon, a show, a tournament- anything where all your focus for several months has been working towards being in your peak physical form and at the top of your game for one specific event).

How we feel after an event is not something we tend to focus on.  We put lots of thought into preparing for things and on the day itself and even on the immediate recovery in the hours or days after a physical event.

But many people report feeling a bit down in the weeks after a marathon or other big event.  Words like lost, aimless, flat, down, void, lacking in motivation come up in conversations.  It’s a lot like that feeling you get when you come back from a holiday and the realities of normal life hit you and now because the holiday has been and gone you don’t have anything to look forward to.

This is due to both physical and psychological reasons.

Physically the day itself will probably have left you feeling extremely tired, a cumulative effect of weeks of training hard and the extra effort of the day itself and you may have picked up blisters, bruised toenails and niggles which don’t help make you feel great about yourself.  Your endorphins will have been high during the event and as you settle back into normality this can have an effect of how you feel as you struggle to replicate the high you felt in that moment again.

Mentally, you no longer have the event to focus on and that can leave you feeling like life has no meaning or focus after months of everything you do revolving around training (can’t go out Saturday have a long run on Sunday morning, can’t eat that as I’m in training and so on).  It can make it harder to you to motivate yourself to eat well or train as you no longer have that reason for doing so.  Many of us thrive on routine and having something meaningful to us to work towards and once you reach your goal where do you go from there?

Thankfully, these feelings tend to only last a few weeks and people normally spring back to their normal self but there are things you can do to help yourself feel better in this situation and feel the positivity you probably expected to feel after your big achievement.

Celebrate

Plan to do something nice to celebrate your achievement – a massage, spa break, celebration meal.  Take time to congratulate yourself for what you achieved so it doesn’t feel insignificant now.

Book something nice

Similar to above, you could consider booking a weekend break or holiday- something to focus on that is nice and not exercise.  This is bound to improve your mood

Reflect

Think about what you achieved, all the positives and even what you would have done differently in hindsight.  Think objectively about whether it’s something you would like to repeat or if once was enough.  That way if you choose to train for the same event in the future you know what pitfalls to avoid and if not you know you can confidently say once was enough.  Sometimes reflecting on your feelings can give you more ownership on how you feel and help you both make decisions and manage your emotional responses better.

Recover Properly

Get a sports massage, continue to eat nourishing food (and enough of it) to help the body recover, stretch, get some good quality sleep and take some time to just sit and chill.  Any sporting event which take a toll on your body requires some proper mindful recovery in the days after to help you feel better physically which in turn will help you feel better mentally.

Do some low impact exercise

Don’t feel like you need to be back training he day after.  A week or two off could be exactly what your body needs.  If you feel the urge to exercise though try and stick to low impact options which place less strain on your CNS.  You may want to try some yoga or similar during this time.

Don’t run for a couple of weeks

Similar to above, a couple of weeks not doing the exercise you have just trained hard for can be beneficial, both in allow you to physically recover but also give you that little bit of excitement when you do go back out for that first run after a couple of weeks.

Find a new challenge

After a couple of weeks when your rested and refreshed this could be the time to think about what comes next.  Another run of the same distance, a step up to the next distance (Ultra anyone), maybe looking at trying something new instead.  Setting your next goal will give you a renewed sense of focus.

Above all, don’t stress about feeling a bit blue after a big event.  It’s human nature and being sensible and kind to yourself is the key to letting it subside.

Equally, if you suffer from depression anyway, don’t let the idea of post event blues put you off training for an event.  Research has shown that having something to aim for and the training and self care associated with that training can be beneficial in alleviating the symptoms of depression and as long as you are mindful that you might feel a bit down immediately after the event and have your coping strategies in place this should have a generally positive impact on your mental health.

Mental Health Awareness Week Musings

This week has been Mental Health Awareness Week.

There has been a shift in recent years, with a greater willingness to understand how problems with your mental health can affect people.

Mental Health is not something you only need to be aware of if you have depression or another illness, how you think, feel and process things will affect your well being regardless.  It’s the understanding of this that has led to a rise in the notion of Self Care.

Self care is taking time to look after yourself, and could be as simple as getting an early night, eating a nice meal or going for a walk.  Equally though self care can be about your mindset, about being kind to yourself in the way you view yourself.

That could mean changing those you surround yourself with – be that in person or who you view on Social Media – if they cause you to doubt yourself.  It could be about accepting you cannot change the past and instead forgiving yourself or others for not being perfect.  It could be reminding yourself that whist not everyone will like you or always agree with you that doesn’t mean you have done anything wrong.  That one small mistake doesn’t define you so you don’t need to beat yourself up about it.  That you are allowed to change your opinion on a matter or a person and not be judged.  At one point or another I’ve had to learn how to be kind to myself on all those fronts to improve my own relationship with myself.

Looking after yourself is important and weeks such as this are good at raising awareness of the importance of looking after your mind as well as your body and encouraging people to speak up if they need help.

It is heart warming to see people offer to be there for people if they have problems or worries and need to talk.  From my own experience I can tell you that sometimes, if you have a problem that is affecting your mental health opening up to someone even when they offer seems too hard.  I eventually opened up to someone, not because they invited me to, but because they had shown themselves to be someone I felt I could trust and who would not judge me, so for me this is the type of person I would like to develop into – someone who is (however opinionated I can be at times still) approachable.  So I think awareness weeks such as this encourage us to consider our own actions, mindset and we both how we feel ourselves and make those around us feel, because the chances are, the time you may be able to help someone could come without you ever realising or inviting it.

The actual theme of this years awareness week is body image based.  Being a fitness professional I am extremely aware of the battles people can have with their own body image and it is often a fine line we walk between encouraging people to work towards their goals whilst also not confirming any negative feelings the same people may have about their body.  Much of what I’ve said above applies to our eating habits or training in almost the exact same way.  Learning to be kind to yourself if you didn’t hit your calorie deficit that week, accepting our training will not always go perfectly, not seeing anything less than 100% as failure.  Making these kind of adjustments to your own mental dialogue can improve your relationship with your body dramatically and make you feel so much more positive.

Social Media, Mental Health and Living Your Best Life

Social Media isn’t reality, did you know that?

It feels like recently there has been a lot of acknowledgement that people tend to post a ‘best of’ of their lives of Instagram and Facebook- nights out, impressive meals, pretty hotels etc. and that can sometimes make us feel bad about our own lives; that we are perhaps not exciting enough, successful enough, interesting enough.

More people now, possibly in response to this, post more mundane / normal things on Social Media (if you want to know what I’ve eaten at any given time check my Instagram stories and there will be a not very attractive meal that may or may not have some nutritional value to it but to be honest is likely to involve cake, because I’m a fitness instructor and like to fuel my body with foods that provide it with value but I also really really like cake).  That’s good right- fewer perfect lives and more normality will make people feel less disheartened?

But actually does it?  Is my account any different from someone living their best life?  I would say my social media is reasonably warts and all, I post the days I eat the food I planned but I equally post the unplanned cake and chocolate.  I post pictures on nights or days out but my Twitter account, which is basically a tool for complaining to Northern Rail about their ever worsening service, demonstrates that my daily commute is far from glamorous and my days are simply long most of the time.  Yet even I unwittingly self ‘airbrush’ my own life.  In what ways?  Well, obviously not everything I do or eat gets posted, so I might not specifically hold back certain things and post others, but what I do post can’t totally reflect my day or who I’ve seen / spoken to or how I feel (I’m a historian by degree and we will tell you that all historical accounts are subjective so this isn’t something new with the advent of Facebook).  If I’m feeling a bit anxious or down for whatever reason I’m a lot less likely to post anything, so it’s not that I always feel OK and sarcastic as my accounts may suggest, just that my response to not feeling on top form is to withdraw a little rather than tell the world.  So even if you follow people who are pretty open and honest you still don’t see everything.

This make me sound like I’m not keen on Social Media but that isn’t the case at all.  I use many forms frequently and find the positives outweigh the negatives for me personally most days.  But nothing is cut and dry.

Social Media allows fitness professionals to talk to people openly beyond the clients in their gym and there are many excellent fitness professionals, both well known on Social Media and those only known more locally, who provide great insights to people for free.  This can potentially then encourage someone to go and seek out more advice and make huge strides in their fitness journey.  Equally, advice and posts could be misunderstood or someone could take advice that was meant for a different demographic to them and not get the results they want.  So positives yes, but we also need to be careful about what we say and promote.

Social Media can connect people who would otherwise not have met and provide opportunities to get advice and mentorship from such people and allows businesses to connect with clients on a more human level.  Equally it can cause debates and misunderstandings as people don’t know each other to understand why they have those opinions or view points because their situations are different. It often appears easier to argue with someone you never have to see and that can create an environment where people feel more able to say things they wouldn’t in person.

Social Media has opened up conversations around mental health.  Now I’m still a little dubious about this.  I like how people feel more comfortable talking about it.  I am less keen on how sometimes when people do post things about their own mental health they can be met with well meaning but not necessarily helpful reactions.  It’s tough to know whats really going on behind even the most honest of status.  I think being aware of the emotions of the people we talk to daily is a better way to show support to others.  Watching out for the signs that suggest that someone is maybe a bit stressed or anxious is possibly going to be more helpful on a realistic level.  However well meaning, we aren’t doctors or health care professionals and whilst listening to people express their feelings on Social Media can help both break down barriers and make the person in question feel heard / better understood, it also encourages us to offer advice – which might end up being helpful but equally could not be. Our feedback could end up being harmful to the person posting. Nonetheless the reduction in stigma surrounding mental health issues is a positive thing.

Social Media can help keep you motivated.  I know of many social media accounts which responsibly promote building a healthy mindset and teach hacks and systems which allow you to approach life’s challenges and which don’t try and fix whether you are ‘happy’ or not (if you are interested I can direct you to some people). Equally however there are well meaning posts that show a happy picture and a quote about only wanting to deal with positive vibes.  Those posts are probably normally quite personal to that individual and reflect what they are feeling at that moment and are not a dig at others.  Yet I sometimes feel they could have a negative effect on people who maybe at that point do not feel positive.  Because let’s acknowledge that depression means you don’t always feel positive but that this doesn’t mean you are a ‘negative’ person.  In reality we all have days when we don’t feel 100% positive and that doesn’t make us negative people.  Sometimes we don’t need to be told to be more positive we just need to be able to vent or have a rant and clear out our mind / work though our thoughts. When we post on social media we don’t always think how our words could be interpreted by others, nor can we be held responsible for how someone else takes our words of course – this is just another one of the double edged swords of the medium.

Like real life, Social Media isn’t all great and isn’t all bad – it’s messy and can be viewed differently day by day.  So in reality how we respond to anything whether it be something showing someone’s ‘best life’ or someone posting something real and honest is going to depend on how we feel ourselves that day and on any given day the same post could be viewed as inspirational and motivational or equally something which makes you feel a bit shit. That’s our internal reflection of what we see more than what is actually posted.

So yes, sometimes accounts may only show the best bits, but I think all accounts however honest and real can affect people in different ways regardless iof intention.

How do we deal with that, because for a lot of us, Social Media is a part of life and just dropping out isn’t necessarily an option we want?

Well in part I think just acknowledging that Social Media is always a life through a filter or a censored opinion – even when we think it’s totally real- it’s just not possible to be 100% real via a computer / phone or photo, even when you try. I go back to history as my example, as a historian all sources are tainted by subjectiveness – be they propaganda materials or diaries and personal testimony.  

Some people are more honest and open in how they use Social Media though so you could look to pick people to follow who match with your values and make you feel better / empowered rather than crap – people who will talk to you, respond to questions with honest answers.  If there are people on your feed on any site who make you feel rubbish you can remove them or mute them (because you may not be able to remove your mums neighbour three doors down without causing awkwardness in the supermarket).

If we choose to use Social Media for positive it can be a great addition to our life, it just needs to be something that we are aware of how it affects us and react accordingly to that. That means breaks when needed and setting boundaries that work for us (because everyone’s limit will be different).

Beyond that, I believe working on our own emotions and head space is a really important thing. How we train, eat, feel can be impacted by Social Media only so much when we are in the best place we can be at the time. How often does a post trigger you into a mood on a bad day but on a good day you’d find the same thing funny? That is why when I don’t feel so great I spend less time talking on Social Media. It is also why I haven’t just invested time and money into my physical well being but I also work with a trainer on my mindset as well – our wellness is a much more rounded package than just our bodies.

For me systems and creating habits in the real world, which help me respond differently to triggers than I used to is the key to then feeling healthy towards what I see on Social Media (and beyond).

This blog started as one thing and then sort of meandered elsewhere so apologies for the random nature of what has essentially been a mind dump on how I feel about Social Media and mental health, but as I said I have systems in place that help me process my own thoughts and sometimes this blog ends up being one of them … so here it is a very public social media style way of considering social media.

Also – sometimes we just do nice things and want to post them for people to see. So as reflective as I have been sometimes we really just had a nice holiday and want to share!

Would love to hear your thoughts – whether you agree of disagree!

We all have mental health

10th October is World Mental Health Day.

I have suffered from (do still) depression and anxiety.  It’s an important topic and I’d be happy to talk to anyone – whether they need someone to talk to or want to just gain a greater understanding.

BUT

Mental health isn’t just depression or anxiety or any one singular condition. Mental Health is something we all have – it’s how we deal with life, how we feel.  You might feel great that’s still mental health.  We all need to be aware of how we take care of ourselves, to keep ourselves well mentally and much as physically.  Self care isn’t only for people with illnesses – it’s soemthing everyone needs to practice.

Every year there is a specific focus of World Mental Health Day–This year being “young people and mental health in a changing world”.

According to WHO “Half of all mental illness begins by the age of 14, but most cases go undetected and untreated. Our focus is on building mental resilience among young people, to help them cope with the challenges of today’s world.”

One challenge highlighted is the impact of technology in people’s lives.  This topic can go beyond young people however, there will be few people of any age who do not find themselves increasingly relying on various forms of technology in all aspects of their lives (if you’ve lost your phone recently you will probably have realised just how much this is the case).

Social media is probably one of the most obvious ways in which technology has changed the world in a matter of years. The expanding use of social media undoubtedly brings many benefits to our lives – we can develop social contacts and business relationships regardless of location.  However, the same technology can also bring additional pressures into our lives, as connectivity to virtual networks at any (ALL) time of the day and night grows and becomes the norm.  Being ever connected and seeing more aspects of other people’s lives in a way we previously would not have can have a profound effect on our own mental health and how we view our own situations.

Only this morning I was having a conversation with a member at a gym I teach at who recently removed themselves from Facebook for this very reason.

They have been away studying at university and seeing pictures of friends from home together every week, having fun together as a group, whilst this person was miles away and couldn’t be with them produced negative emotions. Despite speaking to them and knowing that these Facebook posts were not the full picture (during the week these friends barely get a chance to speak and it’s not all constant socialising) the emotions the Facebook posts created wasn’t positive and since removing themselves from Facebook they feel happier.

We all know social media posts create a version of our lives whether we mean to put a filter on things or not it’s inevitable that it happens.  Whether we present something as glossy and amazing or terrible – we have decided how it is presented to the world.  The world then views it from their own prism and puts their own spin on what we’ve said.

All this sounds like I’m anti social media but I’m not.  I use Facebook, Instagram (occasionally Twitter, never really got the hang of Snapchat) and obviously I blog.  I have got work from and made business connections through the advances in social media.  It has so many benefits and can add value to your life as long as you are aware that it can also add new types of pressure.

So here are a few ideas of things you can do to protect your own mental health and help create a healthy relationship with technology:

  • Keep social media buttons organised together in a folder on your phone and keep it away from your home screen so you don’t feel like a slave to the sometimes endless notifications popping up.
  • Decide when you will look at messages and emails (maybe once or twice a day) and ignore all incoming things in between these times – if it’s urgent people can call you!
  • Try not to look at your phone for the first hour after you wake up. Getting some fresh air and thinking about your day without seeing what others have posted can change your outlook on the day completely.
  • Try not to look at your phone for an hour before you go to bed. This allows you time to unwind and relax before you go to sleep which will probably help you get to sleep quicker.
  • If you use a sleep app which tracks your REM cycles they often mute all social media notifications once turned on which helps if you struggle with self control on reducing message checking.
  • Just like parents do with their kids – give yourself maximum daily screen times. Don’t let yourself mindlessly scroll through social media platforms.  Give yourself a limit each day and once it’s been exceeded stop mindlessly scrolling through your feeds.
  • Call people sometimes. Having a chat can be great for your mental health and takes away the anxiety that can be created via the misinterpreting of a text message.
  • Actually arrange to meet up with people too when you can!
  • Remember that what people post isn’t always 100% what you think it is- those pictures of smiling people don’t show the argument they had 10 minutes beforehand because someone forgot to put the bins out.
  • If you find yourself getting annoyed by someone’s posts there are a variety of ways of muting them whilst remaining their friends
  • If you enjoy using an app – use it. If you start to feel it adds stress – stop.  I use Facebook and Instagram and enjoy interacting with people on it.  Snapchat just stressed me out so when I got a new phone I just didn’t install the app.

As much as technology may cause some increased stresses to our mental health it also allows people to talk about it more openly about the topic of wellness and to a much wider audience so there are lots of positives to our changing world.

Talking about and being aware of the potential issues arising from change can help us work though them and stay well.  We all need to be aware of our mental health and develop systems to help us maintain a happy healthy life as our surroundings change.  That’s not easy- believe me I know – but days like today and discussions like the ones created by days like this can all play a part in helping work towards better mental health.

Buddy Box Review

Earlier this month I received the September Buddy Box in the post.

Buddy Box is one of those subscription boxes a product which has grown in popularity recently often boxes filled with the latest beauty products – that you get in the post once a month, filled with products you don’t know you’re getting until they arrive.  The appeal here coming from not knowing what you will receive ahead of time, and getting to try new and different products you may not otherwise.

These boxes have a different purpose however.  They are designed to promote self-care, with each months box having a theme related to looking after yourself and taking some time out for you.  You can buy the boxes on a subscription basis or as a one-off box.

I first came across the company, Blurt, a couple of years ago when I was going through a period of severe depression and a friend gave me a subscription to these boxes – now every now and then I buy one and it gives me a little push to look after myself a bit more than normal.

Blurt, in their own words “exists to make a difference to anyone affected by depression. Being diagnosed can be overwhelming – there’s a lot to learn and plenty of prejudice to battle. Telling people is tough, and not everyone will understand. That’s why we’re here for you, whenever you need us, for anything at all.”  One of the ways they do this is by their subscription self-care boxes.

https://www.blurtitout.org/

This is what I got in the September box:

https://www.blurtitout.org/product/grotty-times-buddybox/

  • Bath bomb for the shower – I’ve not tried this yet but the Lavender smell is designed to help you sleep – something which can help you feel better when you’re stressed and down. I’m not a huge fan of baths so I like he idea of  a bomb for the shower.  I’m saving it for the next time I want a chilled early night – possibly this weekend.

  • 54 Self Care Idea Cards – A set of 54 cards- each with a self-care idea on them. The idea is when you need to take a moment for yourself you can pull out a card at random and try the idea on the card.  I’m not sure how well this will work if your already feeling unmotivated but I like th idea of small actions creating self care and it does take away the need to have to think of what to do away from you- which during low periods can help in iself.  These might live on my bookcase so I can grab them as and when.

  • How To Grow Your No map – A map guide of how to learn to Say No! Not sure how I’ll use this but it’s an interesting little guide into how you can build up slowly to saying no when you really don’t want to do something – a great tool for those who suffer from anxiety and find themselves saying yes a lot.

  • Peopled Out Door Hanger. Pretty self-explanatory but a cute little door hanger to brighten up a room.

  • 365 Days Self Care Journal – This is Blurt’s second book. A journal which you can use in any way you wish with the idea that every day you jot down how you feel to help you work through any low periods. I’ve not started using it yet but plan to get into the habit in spending a few minutes each day jotting to see what impact it has.

  • Magazine and Postcards – little extras to read / use as you wish.

If you’re looking for a little pick me up, or even a nice gift for someone else who could do with a bit of a mental pamper these make a great buy – whether it be a subscription or one-off purchase.

No Jazzy Title, Just an Honest One Today

I’ve struggled to train recently. I’ve also struggled to hit a calorie deficit in the last few weeks, having some really good days food wise and then some days where I’m dramatically overeating all the wrong stuff. This has coincided with not feeling 100% myself.

I don’t know why – nothing has happened to make me feel down and there hasn’t been any reason for my training or food intake to be affected. Often I find the two go hand in hand though – so if my training or diet isn’t great I will feel a bit low and when I feel a bit low I’ll eat my bodyweight in chocolate and train less.

I’ve realised that I, like most people I imagine, get myself caught in self – destructive cycles where if one thing isn’t perfect it feels like nothing is right, and in turn I let myself sabotage other areas of my life. I get a downer on myself where I feel like everything I do is substandard. The last few weeks I’ve questioned myself on so many things that to others may seem ridiculous and been upset about things I should have brushed off.

One thing I’m getting better at though is recognising this in myself, because this is when you can step back, get some perspective and draw a line.

  • Realistically I’ve still trained 2-3 times every week for the past few weeks, as well as teaching and running a half marathon – so I’ve not really been lazy.
  • I’ve finished the last two weeks in a calorie surplus which isn’t great, but I’ve hit my protein goals and I’m not overweight so I’ve not done any lasting damage.
  • I’ve been a bit down but I know I’ve had some stressful situations to deal with plus been poorly so this isn’t the start of something terrible, I’ve just let myself get a bit stressed.

What I’ve started to try and do when this happens is train – no pressure- just go to the gym and do something (and enjoy it) and then eat nice but fresh food that isn’t processed and sugar filled. Normally I’ll start to feel more positive quickly just from this little system.

Three points from this:

  • A week or so ago was Mental Health Week and there were lots of great posts- but people struggle all year round so don’t be afraid to speak up at other times if you feel like everything is getting to be just a bit much.
  • Sometimes depression doesn’t affect you all in. Sometimes you are perfectly fine and functioning just not feeling 100%. This doesn’t mean it’s any less important to recognise and deal with it – and being aware of how you feel and how you can improve your mood can sometimes help you catch yourself.
  • For me – physical wellness and mental wellness are closely linked. Small habits make a big difference to my mind-set.

15 Tips to Help Improve Mental Health

As part of Mental Health Awareness Week I wanted to offer some ideas of simple things you can do relating to fitness and nutrition to help improve your mental health and 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 thab 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.

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 hars 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 and 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 relaxes by the end of it.

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

It’s Good to Talk

This week is Mental Health Awareness Week and I’ve seen lots of people open up on Social Media about their own experiences in the hope that it may help encourage those who are currently suffering to reach out and seek help.

I love this. It’s such a positive thing to do and I try to be open about my own experiences with others as I believe that being honest about depression and anxiety will have a more positive impact than trying to hide it and allowing the stigma that still exists in some people’s mind to win.

I suffered with, first, anxiety and later depression for a long time until eventually it caused an almost complete breakdown of my life. I’ve spent the last couple of years slowly rebuilding and in many ways the experience has made my life better as I have a different perspective on many things now.

I have to be honest. I’ve had (and still have) set backs. Life generally throws up road blocks from time to time and trying to beat depression sometimes feels like taking two steps forward one step back. But there is help out there in lots of forms. Some things will work for you, others will not.

One thing I would say to someone who is suffering from depression right now and doesn’t think it can get better is to try everything suggested to you. Some things won’t make much difference (no one thing works for everyone) but something you try will help, and whilst it will take time, things can improve. Not overnight, but slowly they can get better.

There’a a chance you don’t believe me. I wouldn’t have believed me a couple of years ago. But to be honest if you’re currently suffering you don’t have much to lose from at least trying things.

This of course assumes you have reached out already.

And for a lot of people their mental health issues are made worse because they are dealing with stresses that nobody knows about. I know full well that just saying your problems and worries outloud is hard.

So the other thing I would say is talk to someone. Today, tomorrow – Find someone – anyone – and tell them what is causing the problem.

I eventually turned a corner by complete accident.

In a general chat one day I just suddenly splurted out everything that was causing my stress and anxiety. Once I started speaking it just kept coming and eventually I’d said outloud for the first time all my fears. I didn’t even know the person that well at the time.

It was the catylst for beginning to tackle the things that were causing the stress and drastically improving my mental health.

As I talked they didn’t react with shock or disgust. They listened and then we talked about it. Saying it and not being judged was the starting point that gave me the belief I could fix things and wasn’t a failure

It doesn’t matter who you talk to – a friend, family memeber or stranger. It will help reduce the load and allow you to move forward and start to improve your mental health.

Almost everyone is affected by Mental Health issues in some way at some point so if this week can remind us one thing it is to not be ashamed to speak up and ask for help.

Tomorrow as my own contribution to raise awareness (because it is a fitness blog!) I’m going to share my tips on how exercise and food can help improve your mental health – something that everyone would benefit from.