Mental Health Awareness and Loneliness

You may have seen already that this week of Mental Health Awareness Week and there will be plenty of people sharing their own experiences with their mental health struggles, raising awareness of the struggles many people face on a daily basis, as well as lots of practical advice.

As ever, however, there is a specific theme to the week and this year it’s loneliness and how this can affect people’s Mental Health, so, to keep with the theme, I wanted to focus this blog on this particular topic in the fitness arena.

Exercise is accepted as being good for our mental health, but if you don’t currently do much in the way of exercise it may seem like exercise is often a pretty solitary pursuit. The first instinct for most of us when we think exercise is going to the gym or maybe for a run, things where it’s going to be you doing something alone. The idea of training with other people if your new to exercise can also seem pretty intimidating, even just going to the gym when it’s busy can feel like a lot. So it’s not surprising that for many people struggling with their mental health and feeling isolated and lonely, the idea that exercise could help not only with their mood but also with meeting people, seems a bit of a stretch.

When I first started exercising I persuaded a friend to come to a Zumba class with me because quite frankly I was overweight, unfit and no way was I going alone. I loved it, she hated it. As much as it made me feel unreasonably nervous I went back for class two by myself and then class three, class four and so on. Over time I tried more classes: Body Jam (ironically now the first Les Mills class I tried and one now I couldn’t do well if my life depended on it), Circuits, Street Dance, Body Combat, HIIT and Body Pump. I started seeing the same faces each week, started saying hi (always having a spot helps here!) and over time met people, many of whom are still friends to this day. In fact some of my best friends I met through classes. As much as attending classes involves only me and I don’t need anyone with me to attend it’s certainly led to me meeting a lot of people and realising gyms can be very much a community.

So if you are feeling isolated, maybe you’re in a new area or life has changed recently and you’ve found yourself with time on your hands and fewer people you feel connected with, exercise can be something that provides more than just an endorphin boost.

Now, granted training in the gym isn’t always the easiest way of meeting people. If you’re lifting or on a piece of cardio kit you won’t naturally meet new people (although you might start to see the same faces if you go at regular times and again get to know those people, but there are plenty of other options which lend themselves a little more to widening your social circle.

– Group exercise classes allow you to keep to yourself but you will see the same faces every week so getting to know people organically is much easier

– Group PT / Small group training, much like classes will mean you end up training with the same people each week, and will involved more interaction, making it easier to get to know new people. This can also be a more cost effective way of trying PT sessions.

– Lessons. Do you want to learn to swim better or dance or try another skill. Signing up for lessons in something active is another way of meeting people who you have an interest in common with, which is great if your nervous about small talk!

– Joining a sports team can be a great way of enjoying training whilst also getting to know new people, there will often be team socials to help you get to know your team mates away from the pitch.

– Running clubs, much like sports teams, often have social events planned as well as runs, meaning you can run at your pace then meet people after.

-Cross Fit, a bit like group exercise, if you join a box you’ll often find you see the same people each week, making it easier to get to know new people.

– Online apps, as much as these seem a bit anti social, you will often find online PTs also have a social media group for their clients. Whilst not immediately a face to face option for meeting people these can allow you to connect with similar people and many people find people they connect with and can chat with even if they are miles away in groups such as this.

These are just a few ideas of ways you can help your Mental Health with exercise whilst also connecting with new people, which in itself can also benefit your Mental Health.

You can read more about the official campaign, including downloading some resources for specific populations below.

https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/campaigns/mental-health-awareness-week

Ways to help your mental health

Some of my favourite things to do relating to fitness and nutrition to help improve my mental health and help manage depression and anxiety that might also help you:

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 (with caution) 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

Hardest one on this list for me! 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?

A different side to panic attacks

I had an anxiety attack. When you hear this you maybe think breathing into a paper bag and feeling like you’re having a heart attack? Thats certainly what a panic attack can be like but anxiety attacks can also be a little different.

Where a panic attack might last a few minutes anxiety attacks can last hours, and can build for even longer (even days) and because they’re less dramatic in appearance you can almost go through the day in some king of foggy trance without anyone realising, and even if you realise yourself at the time what can you do? You can’t exactly just say I need to go home can you. Most work places don’t have the policies to recognise this sort of thing or allow for staff to easily say things aren’t right and I need to take time out.

Nothing specific caused it, (it was a little ptsd trigger related I think), a general feeling of being unsettled and over sensitive to noise for a few days became feeling red hot like my skin was on fire, irritable, my heart beating faster and hearing every little noise. As the day went on I felt restless, a bit foggy and like I could cry at the drop of a hat and my skin felt itchy.

As it eased I started to feel almost hungover, tired, a bit sick. Like all my senses had been heightened and as a result I was drained. i couldn’t sleep though.

The annoying thing is I knew I didn’t feel great in the days leading up to it and I’ve had anxiety for a long time. I know why and how to help keep it h see control but sometimes you just can’t. But it’s a weird thing because it’s kind of hidden, you might think someone was a bit ‘off’ but it’s not so obvious that they’re laying there with a broken leg so you don’t know they’re struggling. They might be so distressed at that moment but just come across as having a bad day.

Anxiety Disorder is more than just being a bit of a worrier and people can have anxiety and be totally fine for long periods of time but then have an attack when it is concentratedly worse. Attacks are also more than just being short of breath like you see in films. I don’t think I knew this even when I first started being treated for depression / anxiety and I’m not everyone understands this, but the more people do the easier it might be for people to deal with it.

Obligatory #WMHD Post

Today is World Mental Health Day. This year’s theme is ‘Mental Health for All’, fitting given this year has been a strange one to say the least and the concept of mental health has been pushed into conversations and workplace / policy considerations much more frequently.

Today, as normal I’ve seen a variety of view points displayed across social media. From the ‘reach out if you need help’ type posts to practical tips, to posts arguing the topic needs to be focused on every day not just on specific occasions, that often when people do reach out they are poorly supported and all sorts of topics in between.

The truth is that, at this moment especially, mental health is a difficult subject.

It always has been. It’s difficult to really understand unless you’ve had some kind of experience and it’s difficult to know what to do to help yourself and others in the midst of a mental health crisis. It’s really one of those things where hindsight is an amazing thing. In the moment, advice, even if it makes sense to you, even if you know it’s right, is difficult to take or put into action. The very things that would make you feel better are the hardest things to do and ‘self care’ is difficult to practice in the worst moments.

Of course recovery is possible and once you learn how to help yourself when you are struggling it’s easier to identify early, if not stop, when you feel yourself slipping and makes it easier for you to anchor yourself in those moments. Sometimes that might mean doing things that seem weird to others (and even yourself) but that you know will help you short term get through rocky patches. I think people with longer term mental health struggles come to terms with the fact that sometimes you might come across as ‘odd’ with some of your habits because those habits just help keep you feeling well.

This year however there will have been a host of people who have struggled with their mental health, with anxiety or depression, for the first time. They might not even think what they are feeling is a mental health ‘thing’, feel like it’s something to just get through because of this year, feel bad because they’ve got it far better than lots of other people, feel weak because other people are coping just fine with all this pandemic stuff.

The truth is that in any other year that’s what lots of people think when they first start reacting to signs of depression or anxiety – I have no reason to feel these feelings, I’m weak, selfish and so on. I think adding a layer of ‘we’ve all been affected in one way or another’ into this whole situation of a year might actually make it harder for people experiencing mental health problems for the first time.

And talking about it is hard.

I openly talk about mental health – on here, on social media, I’ve spoken to lots of people about their mental health over the last five or six years and I believe it’s a really important thing to talk about all year round.

Talking about your own mental health struggles is hard.

I’m ok acknowledging when I’m struggling but much less likely to reach out and talk about it because I feel like it will bother people. It’s not that I’m not comfortable talking about it, it’s that I want to feel like the person I’m talking about it to wants to listen (this is probably an anxiety thing). So if someone knows I’m not having a great time but doesn’t ask how I am I’m less likely to bring it up as I’ll assume they don’t want to talk about it. Maybe I’m odd, but I actually think that scenario is quite common. I think lots of people who struggle want to talk, but they want to talk to someone who they know wants to listen.

So sometimes saying generically on social media I’m here reach out to me, whilst well meaning, isn’t enough to make someone do so. Equally within business, a company saying in emails come and speak to us if you have any concerns, whilst yes, technically an invitation, doesn’t actually encourage people to come forward and speak. What actually is likely to encourage people to open up is to approach individuals and ask how they are one to one, especially those you’ve noticed are quieter than usual or seem a bit ‘off sorts’. I’ll say from experience, for someone with anxiety in particular, to approach someone ‘cold’ and open up voluntarily requires a certain degree of trust and confidence that it will not all end up very badly (and we tend to think everything will end badly) so if you take anything from World Mental Health Day, I think knowing that being there for the people around you does not require public statements of commitment to the cause online, it just requires checking in on your friends and work colleagues and ensuring you are ‘open’ to being there if they need. And if someone does open up to you, understand they don’t expect you to have solutions or fix things, often just being able to talk without someone judging or laughing at you is more of a help than you think when you’re heads all over the place.

And if you’re the one not feeling great right now, it’s ok to ask for help, whatever the reason, and your local GP surgery will be able to signpost you to the most appropriate help so I’d urge you to contact them as generally these things are easier to learn to control the quicker you identify them and seek help.

Mental Health Awareness Week Post

I haven’t written a blog post in two weeks.  To be honest up until yesterday I’d also not done a podcast for two weeks.  I’ve worked (many many hours overtime) and I’ve done what I needed to do and I’ve trained a bit but apart from that I’ve really not done much.

I’ve found lockdown hard, I live alone and I’m used to be being very active, very busy and seeing lots and lots of people every day.   I’m lucky I’ve continued with most of my work (obviously not teaching classes) so I’ve been able to keep busy.  Busy only helps for so long though and whilst to start with being even busier at work probably helped the days go quickly it’s built up to the point of feeling really quite overwhelming in the last couple of weeks.  That’s fine, it happens, I knew that as Social Distancing started to ease I’d end up being under pressure for a while.  Equally knowing stress is coming and so not feeling overwhelmed by it don’t necessarily go hand in hand.   I think there’s a lot of guilt in the current world as well, not intentionally, but a feeling that you should always know there are people worse off than you.  My nan passed away during Lockdown (suspected but not confirmed Covid case) and you find yourself saying well she was old and had underlying health conditions and it’s happened to lots of families, it’s almost like you feel you need to underplay a loss that at any other time you’d acknowledge it for what it is, the loss of a family member.  I think in general I’ve felt ok but overwhelmed with ‘stuff’ in the last couple of weeks.  I wouldn’t say I’ve been depressed or suffering with anxiety (I’ve suffered from both and I know the difference for me in those to what I’ve felt like in Lockdown) but I’m also not loving this and I’m tired and struggling to sleep and restless and in a kind of limbo.

I can imagine that is how lots of people feel right now to be honest.

So that’s why I’ve just not really blogged recently, because some things needed to be dropped to stay sane.  But this week is Mental Health Awareness Week and I felt like that deserved a blog, especially right now, especially in light of what I’ve just shared – right now a lot of people’s mental health are potentially fragile, and a lot of people who have perhaps never struggled before are starting to feel strain.

There is always a theme to Mental Health Awareness Weeks and this time it is Kindness.

I feel like this period has shown lots of incidences of kindness but equally a lot of judgement too.  I’ve seen more posts of Facebook than I’d have like to see judging other people for their actions, their opinions, their geographical location!  There’s been a lack of appreciation that what might seem bearable for those with families, gardens, nice local areas to walk in has probably been quite horrible for those alone, isolated, ill, in tiny flats with no outside space in inner cities.  There’s been at times I think, a lack of ability for people to express things without being jumped on or attacked or a lack of willingness to listen and consider another point of view.

Kindness takes lots of forms.  It of course means showing appreciation to those doing great things, it also means understanding other’s situations, appreciating that those who have views right now that you might think are terrible may have those views for reasons you know nothing about, it means accepting that what might be manageable for you might not be for others and it means being kind to yourself as well as others.  It means sometimes accepting you were wrong, or that you weren’t necessarily wrong but neither was the other person.  Being kind to yourself doesn’t just mean doing nice things like having a bubble bath or a face mask, it can mean cutting yourself some slack, it can mean doing practical things to help improve your mood (for instance for me I always feel better if I’ve trained, especially if I get a run outside, it’s a complete game changer).

It’s so complex because you need to look after yourself but you equally want to look out for others.  I’ve seen quotes about checking in with people during this pandemic and quotes about those around you owing you nothing and of course both are true.  It’s a balancing act, but then it always is and our mental health relies on us taking time for ourselves but actually as we are social creatures at heart it does also rely on us interacting with others- and checking in on others can have as positive impact on your own mental health as having someone check in on you.

I feel like when week’s like this happen it’s so easy to post a meme or a quote when actually these topics are so complex and have so many points of view to them, often contradictory but it’s good that they are covered and that it creates conversations because just raising awareness is a great step in promoting better mental health.

I know this blog has been jumbled and that’s probably a good reflection of how organised my thoughts are at present so I’m not even going to try and tidy it, I’m just going to post it as it is.

Be Kind – but please also read this

This is a blog post written in the aftermath of the death of a British celebrity who following a couple of months of intense (not positive) press coverage took her own life.

Yesterday and this morning there has been an outpouring of posts about being kinder, saying that they are there for anyone who wants to talk and other variations of these.

One hundred percent I agree, and this post will echo much the same but I also wanted to delve a bit deeper into a couple of my own thoughts that arose from the news and subsequent comments and posts.

Be Kind –

Variations of this will appear many times over the coming days. Fact is every person no matter how nice has at some point done something not kind.

We have all at some point said something mean, taken the piss out of someone, vented about people who’ve upset us, talked about people we don’t like. We will have always seen our reasons as just at the time, probably said something or written a comment and then thought nothing more of it. We didn’t think this could have a massive impact on the other person, had we thought that most of the time we probably would have shut up. But we’re humans – it’s natural we react then think, that doesn’t make us bad. I’m not saying it’s ok not to be kind – I’m saying you can say something and then reflect and change your mind and shouldn’t be lambasted forever for your past. Because if we can’t forgive each other or ourselves for what has happened then actually we still aren’t being kind.

I can’t say I’ve never said unkind things. I can’t change that, it also means I’m not inherently unkind and doesn’t mean I can’t try and be kind. Life is complicated right.

Speak out-

Again lots of posts saying I’m here if you want to talk. This is nice. To be fair I’ve always said the same – I’m an open ear.

But actually – beyond the specific mental health days etc. are we there to listen? Have you ever said to someone to stop moaning, be more positive? Posted a ‘Positive vibes only’ quote or meme? So we’re you there for that person when they tried reaching out? Did you put that person off from even trying to reach out because they were feeling the positive vibes?

Often people who need support will struggle to reach out to start with. We need to notice more of the people around us and try and help those people if we notice a change.

I’ll be honest this week my mental health has been shocking (nothing I can’t fix I’m tired and I know how I can help myself feel better and I’ve done that this weekend) but I’ve sat at my desk at the point of tears all week – nobody noticed or if they did nobody reached out. A death of a famous person shouldn’t make you offer help. Seeing someone you see or speak to daily a bit off form should (because actually just a do you want to grab a brew or something is a better start to helping someone than a do you want to chat might be)

Nothing is ever clear cut –

It isn’t. The press published a lot of stuff, she was in the news because of a court case. The police had to investigate because they had to. She chose to be in the public eye. That made the court case more reportable. Did you have a water cooler conversation about it? You did because she was famous.

It’s not as simple as people said mean things so she took her own life. It’s a disservice to Caroline and everyone else if we simplify this. It’s awful but also how do you think the people who reported on her in the news, the CPS person who decided to prosecute her feel today? They were doing jobs, they didn’t do that knowing this would be the outcome. In condemning those people we also affect their mental health. Everything in life is a circle. Our actions affect us but also other people. That doesn’t mean doing what isn’t right for us because of how it affects others but it doesn’t mean not acknowledging that fact either.

I think it’s entirely right people mourn but we can’t put everything down to right and wrong good and bad. In no situation are we ever in one camp or the other and all sides in every story are affected in some way.

I debated writing this – I worried this post could be taken as negative to some, but isn’t that the point – your words at any time, however you mean them could upset someone else. Your well meant advice could be perceived by someone else as mean. For every person you might be able to help there will be people out there you’ve upset or hurt at some point because by the time we reach adulthood we’ve all at some point behaved in a way that wasn’t the best. If we really think about every single one of us who writes ‘be kind’ at any time about any thing could be described as a hypocrite because every single of us has at some point in our lives, not been kind.

Social media exists and could be both viewed as the cause of much upset but equally a positive force. A few years ago I couldn’t have expressed my thoughts on fitness to as many people as I can now (be clear my blog gets 50-100 reads a time I’m in no means a wide reaching writer but that’s still a lot more than I could have reached before Facebook), hence the realisation this year that I now have the tools to open discussions on topics that are traditionally less discussed. This is why I’m in the process of writing a series of blogs in conjunction with people where I hope to look at topics which affect many but are less discussed than they should be. I strongly believe talking about stuff honestly and openly can be beneficial.

This will never cancel out the bad aspects of what has, and probably will still, happen on social media but we can all move forward, learn from the (our own/other peoples) past and hopefully be more understanding and forgiving of each other and ourselves.

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.

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