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Mental Health Awareness Week 2017: “Physical activity is a tool rather than a solution”

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Mental health is a confusing and highly misunderstood topic. However, with backing from celebrities and the Royal Family, an important message is reaching millions- mental health is a priority! Just recently the BBC aired ‘Mind Over Marathon’, a 2-part series following 10 people with varying mental health problems and their 20-week journey to the 2017 London Marathon. The mental trials seemed to out-weigh the physical ones and it showed an insight to just how hard it is to push through a mental health disorder. Despite this, 7 out of 10 of the team completed the marathon- an amazing result. The positive correlation between their levels of exercise and their mental stability was evident throughout.

If you find yourself trapped in a depressive state, it is often difficult to see a way out. However, scientific research shows that one of the best things you can do is exercise.

If you find yourself trapped in a depressive state, it is often difficult to see a way out. However, scientific research shows that one of the best things you can do is exercise. The release of hormones and neurotransmitters that is caused by exercise can give an immediate mood-boosting affect. Short –term, you may feel energised and more focused, and long-term effects include improved memory, higher self-esteem and better cognitive processing. Conversely, over-doing it can have the reverse affect. Physical activity is a tool rather than a solution and, like all tools, when used incorrectly it can become very dangerous. Obsessive behaviour is associated with many illnesses, in particular the highly-misunderstood realm of eating disorders. It’s difficult to understand the relentless thoughts of self-loathing and incompetence. Sufferers can turn to restricting/purging (anorexia/ bulimia) and/or excessive exercise (orthorexia), something they feel they can control. Nevertheless, with the correct guidance and safe practice, getting active can help them to stay in control in a healthy way, rather than letting their illness manipulate them.

Physical activity is a tool rather than a solution and, like all tools, when used incorrectly it can become very dangerous.

It has taken me years to come to terms with my own mental health problems, and as a child I was completely oblivious to all the problematic thoughts I considered normal. I was very active, fit and physically healthy.  At 16, school became a priority. I got my first part time job, my fitness levels plummeted and the stresses of life were suddenly all too real for me. I became introverted; doubt shrouded me; my self-esteem took a nose dive and the anxiety attacks started. I found coping mechanisms, some of them healthier than others. It’s a constant battle, with your opponent being your own thoughts. Personally, exercise plays a huge part in my day to day functioning- it makes me feel as though I can accomplish something. This is a much-needed reminder when a long day of wrestling with my thoughts has gotten me nowhere.

Personally, exercise plays a huge part in my day to day functioning, it makes me feel as though I can accomplish something.

From my own experiences, I can say exercise is a very effective and healthy coping mechanism. It isn’t necessary to sign up for the next London marathon, although watching the participants of ‘Mind over Marathon’ was incredibly inspiring. I admire their progress hugely, including those that didn’t take part in the marathon itself.  For us, a new habit of walking, yoga, or kicking a ball about with friends could help make a difference. When done in a social environment the positive effects of exercise are multiplied. However, if you are concerned or unsure about your mental health, it is always best to seek professional help. Warwick Counselling services, MIND and your GP are all great ways to get the information and advice you need.

 

 

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