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.

Being Busy

Quick blog today because I’ve had a busy couple of days at work and want an evening off to relax!

I say I’ve been busy, I’ve actually been pretty productive with what I’ve got done.  When I set to do a job I’m good at focusing and not distracting myself until it’s done.  This week I’ve boxed off a fair few tasks that have been sat on my to do list for a while and were at the point they HAD to be done.

That causes a bit of stress though, leaving things until you HAVE to do them.

What I much prefer to do is plan stuff in and get it done in comfortable time so I don’t feel that stress.

What has held me back from doing this has been my routine, I’ve not allowed my self the time to be in control.  This means on occasions I’ve had to be reactive.  That’s not how I like to work.

This in turn has a knock on effect on my training and nutrition as I’m rushed and sometimes some things have to give.

So my plan for the next few weeks is to nail my morning routine.  Alarm goes off and I get up, no snooze button, no waiting until the last minute then having to rush around.  By allowing myself time to stat my day right I know the rest of my day will fall into place as I’m generally good at time blocking my day, I just need to avoid the domino effect that happens if I start the day on the back foot.

To be honest there isn’t really a point to this blog, it’s more just my internal musings…. but if you are feeling overwhelmed at the moment, take a look at your week and pin point why, then work out what one change you can make that would improve that situation.

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.

The Art of Doing Nothing

On Saturday, I took a friend for a spa afternoon (hi Jane!).  We swam (well she swam I paddled), had a steam, chilled in the Jacuzzi and then had a Mud Chamber experience.

This involved using exfoliating salts and then coating ourselves in mud before chilling in a little chamber for 45 minutes as the temperature and steam increased.  There were no clocks – the whole thing was automatically timed for the showers to come on after 45 minutes of heat (they didn’t as it happens but that’s not the point of the story).

So, we were pretty chilled out after a lie in, leisurely breakfast and an hour by the pool and as we hadn’t seen each other since Christmas we had plenty to catch up on as we sat in the chamber.

But, you know what, 45 minutes (which eventually due to a malfunction turned into 75 minutes) is a really long time to just sit.  As time went on we both found ourselves remarking how strange it felt to be so cut off – we were chatting away but quite simply neither of us were used to just sitting still and doing nothing for an hour.

Of course both of us can sit on the sofa for an hour doing not very much of anything productive with the best of them.

But, we are almost always on our phones mindlessly scrolling, chatting online or maybe making a to do list or watching TV as we sit.

Put simply neither of us every really just sit, with just our thoughts, or even without our thoughts.  We constantly feel the need to fill time or occupy our mind.

I think it’ got a lot to do with Social Media- having a constant stream of information available.  Even if I’m doing something else I’m often multi tasking.  I fill my journeys, runs, time cleaning the flat with listening to podcasts, talks I’ve saved and want to hear, music that I need to learn choreography to for classes.

Whilst that might make me productive it also makes me very bad at switching off and stopping my brain from overloading – no wonder I frequently stress myself out.

Taking some time out when possible to sit and relax- be that via meditating or going for a walk and focusing on your surroundings or going for a massage and just focusing on the feeling etc. is actually a skill which I need to learn to be better at, because being able to take time out will ultimately be better for both my metal and physical health.

One for the Ladies

Solidly aimed at 50% of the population this one.  Sorry.

When I’m on my period I literally crave fatty, sugary, salty foods.  When you spend a lot of time trying to eat well this is pretty annoying so I’ve spent a reasonable amount of time looking into why and what I can do to try and make myself feel better (because I suffer from horrible cramps most months and bloat enough to feel like I may actually be pregnant with a baby Elephant) without giving into eating 10,000 calories of pure fat and sugar a day.

Just before and during our periods our Serotonin levels lower (less feel good hormones), our stress hormones spike (not helping in the feeling good department) and our bodies use more calories making us feel hungry more often.  It’s therefore not hugely surprising we want to comfort eat- but apart from eating too much of the crap stuff affecting your body shape aims (I won’t say weight!) eating too much sugar will also cause a spike followed by a crash and burn which also doesn’t make you feel good in the long run.

I’ve therefore been making an effort to read up on what foods will help make me feel better without having a negative affect on looking after myself in general to try and implement them more into my diet .

Foods To Eat:

  1. Water – Not really food but hydrating well helps keep skin clear, prevent bloating (the better hydrated you are the les likely you will retain water) and reduce cramps.
  2. Almonds – also sesame seeds / flax seeds- these have calcium in them and calcium (but not dairy) can help reduce cramps.
  3. Dark chocolate – A little dark chocolate can help relax muscles and so reduce cramps, it will also help release some happy hormones.
  4. Celery – Full of water but not full of calories so a good option if you feel the need to constantly graze!
  5. Hummus- This one may be a bit controversial. I have read that chickpea’s can help you sleep better and also help improve mood. I have also read however that they can be classed as a Legume and cause bloating so perhaps eat in moderation.
  6. Pineapple – Help relax muscles (less cramps) and reduce bloating
  7. Bananas – Helps relax muscles (reduce cramping) also contains Vitamin B6 which can help improve your mood. Banana’s are also good at helping to regulate the digestive system, which some women can have problems with during this time.
  8. Tea – Yes it has caffeine in it, but it’s apparently better for you than coffee (which can increase anxiety levels and cause you to and retain water). Other types of tea can also help: Green tea for instance provides a little caffine still, peppermint tea can help soothe an upset stomach, Chamomile tea is relaxing and can help reduce anxiety.
  9. Spinach / Kale- These Superfoods have Calcium in them which assists in alleviating cramps. They are also Iron rich (our iron levels can drop whilst we are on our period hence why we crave iron rich foods).
  10. Salmon – This is full of omega 3 and Vitamin D. If you can eat it the week before you are due on it can have an anti – inflammatory effect.
  11. Oranges – Provide Calcium which can help relax cramping muscles and Vitamin D (can help regulate your mood).
  12. Brocolli – Full of Magnesium, potassium, Calcium, Vitamins A, C, B6, E – Good for improving your general mood and fighting fatigue.

Foods To Avoid:

  1. Fizzy drnks – Can cause bloating, plus sugary.
  2. Processed foods – Tend to be high sodium – sodium boats. Making food from scratch can reduces salt intake).
  3. Fried foods – Can elevate estrogen levels.
  4. Legumes( – I mentioned this before – some things I’ve read say hummus can help, others say avoid Kidney beans, blackbeans et.c due to their bloating effect.
  5. Refined grains (- refined foods can interfere with blood sugar levels and regular control of appetite, so whole grains are a better option than cookies, white bread etc.
  6. High fat foods – Can affect hormone activity and contribute to inflammation (and cramps)
  7. Coffee – Can increase anxiety / stress levels and contribute to water retention.

Really, this list is not too different to the type of foods I’d want to eat more of / avoid at any other time of the month but if you tend to feel a bit rubbish at certain points in your cycle knowing how you can help manage those symptoms (painkillers and hot water bottles aside) thinking about your diet isn’t a bad starting point.

Note- I’m not a trained nutritionists this is simply based on my own research about something that affects me- I would always recommend you see a qualified dietitian should you need advice!

If Nothing Changes, Nothing Changes

I haven’t posted anything for a couple of weeks as I’ve been busy preparing for my Level 2 Gym Instructor exams, which I took the weekend just gone (and passed!).

The days leading up to the exams were stressful.  Some parts of the course came naturally to me but other parts definitely did not and I suffered severe self doubt that I would be able to pass certain elements.

I almost decided to cancel and not even try to sit them because I was convinced I wouldn’t pass.

In the end pass I did though, so I’m glad I didn’t give into my own self doubt.

Does that mean I was stupid for worrying, getting so stressed out about it?  Some people I know would probably say yes and that I’m just a stress head but I don’t think I was – I was genuinely concerned I wasn’t adequately prepared and was scared of hearing that I’d failed.  Actually just deciding to go and try my best and see what happens meant me having to fight my own anxiety and fears.

People will often say walk away from things that cause you stress but sometimes to get to where you want to be you have to accept that you have to face up to rather than walk away from difficulties, to face up to potential failure and give it your best shot regardless.  If you really want something, you need to sacrifice things / do things, which make you uncomfortable short term to get results.

Next up for me is Level 3 Personal Training and I know this course will be harder and I will need to try and get less stressed before I give myself a heart attack!

But this has also enforced the idea adage that if nothing changes nothing changes.  If you don’t occasionally push past your own comfort zone and challenge yourself you won’t move forward.

Relationships- Facebook and Reality

I’ve had a few conversations recently that made me think about our relationship with social media and how social media affects our relationships with others.

How many friends do you have on Facebook you haven’t seen in more than 12 months? more than a month? How many have you never met?

Social media has warped our perception of what it means to be friends.

I’m old. To me my friends are the people I speak to daily, weekly, sporadically but often as well as those who I may see less often but have deep seated connections to (old housemates, best friends from school etc.).

Then I have friends I know via my jobs but don’t really know well enough to have a one on one conversation with. We all have friends who fall into both categories sometimes people can cross from one to the other over time, others stay in one camp all the time.

This is how I see the distinction. The number of people on a friend list, number of followers and number of likes and gushing comments on posts do not define my worth. The people I speak to all the time – who know what’s happening in my life not just what I post on Facebook- their opinions matter to me.

I feel like for some, perhaps more so those bought up in an age of social media, this is less the case. The distinction between quality interactions and connections versus instagram fame are less defined.

This has more to do with fitness than you would first think it does.

Fitness is big social media business these days. The platform allows you to make yourself well known and carve out a reputation by depicting yourself in a certain light.

This is a brilliant tool and I’m not knocking it at all- I know many people who have used the medium well and carved out reputations that are genuine and true to who they are.

These people tend to understand the difference between real life relationships and Facebook relationships. This ability to understand what a real connection is allows their personality to show on social media and whilst they may come across less polished than others at times they tend to be pretty happy with how they are perceived, largely I think because they are comfortable within themselves – they have their people, their support – the reaction to something they post therefore becomes ess important to them.

I also know of fitness professionals who post to boost their business in the way they think will win them clients and likes, but which is maybe more detached from who they are in real life. To be fair I’ve seen this method build profiles and large followings of strangers – make people recognisable to people they’ve never met – so for some people this works really well. Again, those people still tend to nurture a group of positive relationships away from social media.

But I worry there is a risk amidst all this Social Media hype of people getting swept away – because having lots of friends online doesn’t help you when you need a shoulder to cry on or you are having a crap day. If we focus all our energy on growing followings we risk loosing opportunities to build personal connections with people we actually see or speak to daily. That’s not saying I think we should all quit social media – but perspective and balance are lovely things!

To be honest when I’m enjoying someone’s company I normally forget to log onto Facebook or Insta. The people I speak with most often – when I meet up with them I’m less likely to tag that on Social because I don’t need to tell the world I’m there to make it worthwhile for me – although obviously if there isn’t a selfie it didn’t happen still, that’s jus the law these days – which is unfortunate because if it isn’t food I’m unlikely to photograph it!

This has been a bit deep and rambling (sorry) but my takeout from my brain dump is pretty simple.

I think we should embrace social media- I have great banter online, love sharing photos and Insta stories along with my random opinions and gnome updates. Sometimes it can be used to great effect to get your message and opinions out there. You can meet some lovely, like- minded people. We just need to remember to cultivate real life relationships at the same time. Because, if nobody online likes your photo but you best friend messages you and says it looks great which matters more?