EXERCISING WITH A MENTAL ILLNESS IS NOT EASY…
When you’re unwell it can be extremely frustrating when people keep telling you to be more active and how it will help you. It’s okay if you don’t feel ready for it yet and you may just need to wait and focus on other aspects of getting better before building this into your routine. You may go through days when working out simply isn’t in your reach. A day when you’re too fatigued and feeling too hopeless to even get out of bed, brush your teeth or make a cup of tea. Listen to your body and your mind; you’ll know when the time is right as you’re the best person to judge your own limits.
Exercise is not a miracle cure but for many people it can help achieve a better sense of well-being and to feel more energetic throughout the day, sleep better at night, have sharper memories, feel more relaxed and positive about yourself and your life. It’s been shown to have a hugely positive impact on depression, stress, anxiety, ADHD, and many more conditions and is now being prescribed by some NHS doctors for those suffering with mental health issues along side other well-known therapies.
But you don’t have to be a fitness fanatic to reap the rewards. Research indicates that even very small amounts of exercise can make a real difference. No matter your age or fitness level, you can learn to use exercise as a powerful tool to feel better and there’s some tips below to help you to get started when you’re feeling up to doing so.
HOW PHYSICAL ACTIVITY HELPS MENTAL HEALTH
It can help you to sleep better
It can improve your mood
It can help you to manage stress and anxiety
It can calm your mind
It can improve your self-confidence and positivity
It can reduce the likelihood of experiencing depression
It can give you more energy and make you feel less tired
EXERCISE AND DEPRESSION:
Exercise promotes all kinds of changes in the brain, including neural growth, reduced inflammation, and new activity patterns that help to promote feelings of well-being. Exercise releases endorphins (powerful ‘feel-good’ chemicals) in your brain that make you feel good and lift your mood. Hormones like dopamine (motivation hormone) , serotonin (mood hormone) and noradrenaline (productivity hormone). When you put these hormones together it creates an awesome bio hack and helps to make you feel great, think clearer and feel more motivated. It can also work as a good distraction, allowing you to find some quiet time to break out of the cycle of negative thoughts that feed depression.
EXERCISE AND ANXIETY
When you exercise it relieves tension and stress, boosts physical and mental energy, and enhances well-being through the release of the 3 endorphins we mentioned above. The best way to really relieve the stress can be to really be mindful of your actions when exercising to fully switch off from everything else, for example, if you are running then really listen to your feet hitting the ground and the sound of you breathing in and out. This mindfulness approach can help you to stop thinking about your stresses. Many people find that practising yoga can be great as you are stretching to relieve stress, releasing endorphins and controlling your breathing to calm your body and mind all at the same time.
OVERCOMING THE BARRIERS:
We are all unique and living with any sort of mental health condition can impact us in different ways. For some of us this can mean that exercise is even more difficult to do. Whatever your main struggles are, it’s important to remember that exercise can be really beneficial to your mental and physical well-being and finding something that you can enjoy is key. Don’t feel pressured though; if you’re having a particularly low or tough day then it’s okay to leave it until you’re ready.
I’M TOO TIRED AND ENERGYLESS:
Many people that suffer with a mental health problem can also feel that they don’t have the energy to exercise. The best advice we can give here is to take it slow and build it at a pace that works for you, your health and lifestyle. Remember, that even small bursts of activity will help to boost your energy and mood and even help you to sleep better too. This could mean a short 10 minute walk or just 7 minutes of exercise from home. It is probably best to listen and to work with your own body and mind too; for example if you struggle more in the mornings and when it’s dark then try exercising at a time where you feel stronger and when any medication you take will have less difficult side effects. If you’re particularly anxious in group settings then perhaps exercising from home is more for you. Remember though, that getting out and socialising with other people in an exercise class could be just what you need to take your mind off of things so do what feels right for you.
I DON’T LIKE MY BODY AND DON’T FEEL CONFIDENT ENOUGH:
Trying anything new, or being somewhere different with people you don’t know can be difficult for many of us and could be a cause of much anxiety and fear. Many people fear gyms and gym wear … you’re not alone here! A great way to get started in this instance could be to go along to a new activity with someone you know like a friend or family member that you trust. This might help to lift your mood and confidence as you get fitter too. Also, many leisure centres, pools and gyms have women or male only sessions and specific areas or times to support people who feel uncomfortable about attending mixed-gender sessions. Remember though, there’s always the option of exercising from home if this is something you feel more comfortable with and there’s a free sign up HERE for a great 7 minutes a day home exercise programme for all levels of fitness.
I DON’T HAVE THE MONEY OR THE TIME
For many of us, buying gym memberships, attending classes, having personal trainers or buying clothing and exercise equipment is simply just not in our budget. But, the key here is to remember that you don’t have to spend anything at all to be active if you don’t want to. For example, finding activities that you can do outdoors at not cost such as going for a walk or a run can be great. For running there’s the free Couch to 5k app to help beginners get active and there's a link to this below. If you would prefer to not to leave the house then you could try these free 7 minutes a day exercise programmes you can do from home and you can sign up using the registration form below. In addition to this, you can also talk to your GP about getting an exercise prescription and more support.
I DON’T KNOW WHERE TO START AND I’M TOO UNFIT
You might think your not the ‘sporty type’ of just not a ‘gym person’. Well, that’s fine! Many of us have bad memories of school sports lessons and stay inactive for that reason. It’s about finding something that you enjoy and works for you and your life. This could be dancing, walking, boxing, swimming, or even extra housework and gardening or perhaps if you have kids then taking them to the park or soft play and playing with them is a good start for you.
But remember, you don’t have to dive in at the deep end head first; just start with a little amount and you can gradually build this up when you feel more able and confident.
There's some of our fave YouTube workouts here you could try too:
Boxing With an Olympian:
Low impact workouts with Joe Wicks:
Dancing With a Choreographer:
At home with a PT:
REMEMBER THE TORTOISE AND THE HARE?
There once was a speedy hare who bragged about how fast he could run. Tired of hearing him boast, the tortoise, challenged him to a race. After the Tortoise crossed the finish line first, the Hare always reminded himself, "Don't brag about your lightning pace, for Slow and Steady won the race!" So remember, the key here is to start small and be realistic with what you aim to try to do. You don’t have to be running marathons, lifting weights or dripping with sweat to be active and reap all of the benefits. We really think that for exercise to work as a treatment method for a mental health illness, you need to have a positive and healthy relationship with exercise and enjoy what you do. You might need to be forgiving with yourself at first; this might mean that you aren’t able to complete exercise every day at first and that is okay.
Love Moodit x