I’ll start this article by stating that I am in no way a mental health expert. If you are suffering from any form of mental health disorder or illness then always seek the help of a medical professional.
As today is World Mental Health Day I wanted to talk a little abut this subject and share with you a few tips I’ve learned during my 15 years of coaching and personal training.
In recent years people seem to be opening up about their battles with depression or other mental health issues. In fact it seems that our sport of Ultra Running is, for many people, their medicine, their way to deal with depression, stress, addiction, anxiety or low self esteem. It’s great that people feel they can open up about their battles, it helps remove the stigma of mental health problems and gives hope to others in similar positions. People like Rob Krar and Tim Olson have been very open about their struggles and have demonstrated incredible resilience to bounce back and achieve great things in the sport.
Again, I want to stress that if you are suffering from depression or any other mental illness then please seek professional help but if you just feel down from time to time, have periods of low self esteem, or just generally feel a little lost then maybe this 5 point system can help you. I call it the 5 E’s
There have been countless studies showing a direct link between exercise and good mental health. The following is an excerpt from a recent article in Psychology Today by Sarah Gingell Ph.D.
“Put simply: Exercise directly affects the brain. Regular exercise — in part through better blood supply that improves neuronal health by improving the delivery of oxygen and nutrients; and through an increase in neurotrophic factors and neurohormones that support neuron signaling, growth, and connections.
Of critical importance for mental health is the hippocampus — an area of the brain involved in memory, emotion regulation, and learning. Studies in other animals show convincingly that exercise leads to the creation of new hippocampal neurons (neurogenesis), with preliminary evidence suggesting this is also true in humans.
What does this all mean? Theories suggest that newborn hippocampal neurons are likely to be particularly important for storing new memories and keeping old and new memories separate and distinct. Thus, neurogenesis allows a healthy level of flexibility in the use of existing memories, and in the flexible processing of new information.
Much mental ill health is characterized by a cognitive inflexibility that keeps us repeating unhelpful behaviors, restricts our ability to process or even acknowledge new information, and reduces our ability to use what we already know to see new solutions or to change. It is therefore plausible that exercise leads to better mental health in general, through its effects on systems that increase the capacity for mental flexibility.”
“OK, I’m in. But how much exercise?”
Psychiatrist Madhukar Trivedi, has shown that three or more sessions per week of aerobic exercise or resistance training, for 45 to 60 minutes per session, can help. Effects tend to be noticed after about four weeks (which incidentally is how long neurogenesis takes), and training should be continued for 10-12 weeks for the greatest anti-depressant effect.
We’ve all heard the saying “It’s good to talk”. Well it’s true. Don’t bottle up your feelings, your fears and anxieties. Get them out. Think for one moment about how you would react if your partner, friend, or family member opened up to you that they were feeling down and generally struggling a little in their day to day life. Would you judge them? Would you think less of them? Of course not! You would listen and offer any help that you could. It works both ways.
Another useful way to work through anything that may be causing you stress or anxiety is to write your problems down 1 by 1. Then write down the steps you can take to fix each of these issues in the short term, medium term and long term. Just to see everything on paper with the beginning of a plan of action can be a big stress relief in itself rather than constantly going over things in your head. Try it.
Don’t be a passenger in your life, drifting from day to day without a clear purpose. Really engage in the areas of your life that need work however daunting it may seem initially. Taking action, no matter how small is empowering and often the first steps are the most difficult.
Engage with likeminded people. We’re social creatures, we enjoy the security that comes with being part of a group. We like our achievements to be recognised by people that we respect and admire so surround yourself with these kind of people. Most people who read my blogs are runners so you may find that sense of belonging in a running group, a gym class or somewhere completely different. If you’re part of a group that meets at the same time each week it gives you that structure and accountability that breeds security and feelings of belonging.
Understanding why you’re feeling the way that you are goes a long way to helping you feel better. Speak with a professional, learn relaxation techniques and stress management techniques to help you deal with negative emotions. Don’t hide away from your feelings and hope they’ll go away. Learn as much as you can and take action.
Try to be a little better than yesterday, make some progress in some area of your life everyday. Excel in comparison to the you of yesterday. Work towards the things that you really want to achieve in life and reward yourself along the way. Don’t judge yourself on how far you still have to go to achieve your goals, judge yourself on how far you’ve come since you started. Take satisfaction from the process. No matter what you’re working towards you’re going to have setbacks along the way, accept it, don’t lose heart, you can’t change things that have already happened but you can learn from them. If you can learn to enjoy the process then you take a lot of stress out of trying to achieve anything.
If you can devote a little time to these 5 areas of your life each day it may just give you some peace of mind and help you to work towards being the person that you want to be.
Thanks for reading