Tina is contributing editor at Women’s Running magazine and is the author of The Divorce Survival Guide: how running turned my life around and the runner shewhodaresruns. You can follow her on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Strava @shewhodaresruns
10 Ways To Look After Your Mental Health
Saturday October 10th is World Mental Health Day. Whilst anxiety and stress are an issue for many people, this is even more so this year with the Covid pandemic and consequent lockdowns. During the summer of 2020 research from the Mental Health Foundation showed that almost 20% of UK adults feel hopeless, with the data even worse for 18-24 year olds, where almost one third have a feeling of hopelessness. So what are the best ways to manage anxiety?
1. Ecotherapy - Take a run or walk in nature
You don’t need us to tell you that being in the great outdoors can often shift your perspective, lift your spirits and alleviate negative feelings such as anxiety and depression. And it’s free. A study by MIND revealed that 71 per cent of participants taking a walk in nature had reduced scores for depression, compared to only 45 per cent of participants who took a walk in a shopping centre. This ‘green effect’ can also lead to a boost in energy.
71% of participants taking a walk in nature had reduced scores for depression
2. Animal therapy - Get a pet
Research from the Mental Health Foundation revealed that 87 per cent of people who owned a cat felt it had a positive impact on their wellbeing, while 76 per cent said they could cope with everyday life much better thanks to the company of their feline friends. Owning an animal like a dog will also provide feelings of companionship, social connectedness and the motivation to exercise regularly – all of which will impact positively on your mental health.
3. Do a good deed - Join GoodGym
The perfect way to combine regular exercise as well as helping your local community can be found in the nationwide GoodGym community. This is arguably even more important during the Covid pandemic, as many older people are fearful to go out to the shops. Now established in 58 different areas in the UK, GoodGym was originally founded 12 years ago by Ivo Gormley, to tackle the problem of isolation amongst older people. If you’ve lost your running mojo and need some motivation to exercise, this community group will provide both, while also giving you an opportunity to make a difference to where you live. “GoodGym is a fun way to get fit and do good at the same time,” says Gormley. “It’s a way to really make your workout count.” It’s easy to sign-up and get involved with your local GoodGym group. Simply visit their website: goodgym.org and hear more in our podcast with Ivo.
You don’t have to pay to become a member of GoodGym, but you can decide to make a donation.
4. Food and mood - Substitute sugar
Changing your diet can not only improve your mood, it can also boost energy levels and clarify your thoughts. This may mean ensuring you eat the right foods at the right time. Reducing your intake of sugar may help even out feelings of irritability, as will eating at regular meal times. Aim to increase your intake of slow-release energy foods, such as whole grains and carbohydrates (pasta, rice and oats). Swap your sugary snacks for nuts and seeds, which will also boost your omega-3 fats to boost your brain power.
Your diet can also help regulate the production of the neurotransmitter serotonin, a chemical that affects your mood and controls sleep patterns. Serotonin is produced from the essential amino acid, tryptophan. A high carbohydrate, low protein meal can raise the rate at which the brain produces serotonin. You need both B6 and B3 to convert tryptophan to serotonin, but also folic acid and zinc. B6 can be found in bananas, cabbage, yeast, wheat bran, peppers, beef, eggs, wholegrain cereals, avocado, nuts and seeds and some green leafy vegetables, so step up your dietary intake of these during autumn and winter.
Consuming foods such as avocados will help you increase your intake of vitamins B6 and B3, both of which encourage the production of serotonin.
5. Mine’s not a pint please - Have 3 alcohol free nights a week
Alcohol prevents the release of glucose from the liver and can cause hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar levels). This drop in blood sugar often produces a craving for foods, especially foods that raise blood sugar, such as alcohol or sugar – not good for anyone. Giving up alcohol completely isn’t required, but having three alcohol free days a week will quickly improve your wellbeing; you’ll find you’re sleeping better, craving less sugary foods, less irritable and have more energy.
6. Reduce energy robbers - Replace coffee with herbal tea
Tea, coffee and stimulants are all energy robbers; colas also contain high amounts of caffeine so avoid these too. Replace coffee and teas with drinks like Barley Cup, Caro and herbal teas, and replace colas with plenty of fresh water; two litres a day!
7. I can’t get no sleep - Try a herbal recipe
We all take our sleep for granted, but being in control of your sleep has powerful benefits for your mental health. If you’ve suffered from stress you’ll know how it can dramatically affect your sleep. If we don’t get enough sleep we can find it harder to function at work. Magnesium, known as ‘nature’s tranquilliser’, can help relax your muscles and nerves. Try KalmAssure Magnesium Powder by Natures Plus. Or alternatively Nytol herbal elixir, that contains extract of valerian root.
8. Positive thinking - Use traffic lights to halt negative thoughts
We all experience negative thoughts; sometimes they grow so loud they can stop you achieving the smallest of goals, whether that relates to running and exercise, or other daily tasks. An effective way of reducing negative thoughts is through using ‘thought stopping’.
This is a technique to stop your negative thoughts and to switch to more positive ones. When experiencing negative thoughts visualise a road stop sign or a red traffic light as a cue to stop them and then think more positively. This is a powerful tool, so use it! Try it with your running, then carry it through to more everyday tasks. For example, if you think: “My last tempo run was terrible,” stop the thought and replace it with something positive such as: “I had more energy than normal after my long run on Sunday.”
9. Try yoga and meditation - 5 minutes a day
Yoga isn’t just about improving your flexibility. Yogic postures work on your internal organs, glands and nerves. Due to the release of physical and mental tension they set free vast resources of energy. “Pranayama or breathing exercises revitalise the body and help to control the mind, which in turn can make you feel calm and refreshed,” says the British Wheel of Yoga. “You may also experience some welcome side effects: reduced stress, increased strength and improved sleep.”
Just five minutes of meditation can also help you feel in control of feelings of anxiety or stress, and achieve peaceful reflection. Try an app such as Insight Timer (free) Calm or Headspace; many offer quick morning, midday and evening meditations that last less than 15 minutes. Or simply do one sun salutation every other morning - this will take no more than 5 minutes.
Yoga releases physical and mental tension and subsequently sets free vast resources of energy.
10. Set realistic goals - And write them down
Decide what you want to achieve today, tomorrow, this week and this month. In a journal, write down some of your goals, and how you can achieve them. Be realistic; this will allow you to feel a sense of accomplishment and self-worth as you progress toward your goal. Every night, before you head up to bed, write in your journal any worries you have about how your day has gone. Then write a list of just three things you would like to achieve the next day. This will help you focus on what is important, rather than feeling overwhelmed.
This blog has been updated since its original publication.