Over the past few years it has become more acceptable to talk about mental health, and, in particular, mental illnesses. And the more we talk about mental health, the more we realise how widespread mental health issues are, whether they require medical intervention or not. Many people live with mental illnesses, coping with them most of the time, and only at times, needing extra support.
Some of the statistics around mental health make depressing reading (no pun intended); 1 in 4 British people experience at least one diagnosable mental health problem in a year, and between 8 and 12 percent of the uk population will experience depression in any year.
So, with this knowledge in mind, what can we do to help stay mentally healthy, or help cope with periods where we are struggling. Obviously, you should go to your GP if you are really struggling to deal with life, for a diagnosis and options for strategies to deal with the problem. As well as medication, psychological therapies may be suggested, as well as alternative therapies, including mindfulness and meditation. But exercise can also be prescribed as a therapy.
So, we know that we often get “a buzz” after exercising, due to the release of endorphins (our happy hormones), so this can be used to help improve your mood if you are feeling low or are trying to control mild mental health problems. The issue can be having the motivation to actually go and do the exercise, even though you know you will feel better for it afterwards, so arranging to go to a class with a friend can be a good way to help you overcome this. Or booking a class directly after going to the previous one so you are committing to it while you are still feeling the benefits of the previous session. You also need to remove as many other barriers to going to exercise as possible (we talked about some ideas in my blog in September 2018).
Group exercise classes are the best option to help with mental health, as they offer social interaction, with support from other class members as well as the class instructor, and they are often more fun and enjoyable than simply going to the gym. It is important to find a class that you enjoy so that you want to go; if you are new to exercise, it is wise to try a specific style of class a few times, before deciding whether you enjoy it or not, as it takes a few sessions to get used to what is involved. If you have been exercising a while, then perhaps add another style of class to your weekly routine to help you stay motivated. At Fitness Fairy, we are constantly looking at ways to offer a wider variety of classes, so that you are sure to find one or more suitable for you. Music is also a great way to lift your mood, and we choose our music to help motivate and inspire you.
One of the other things to think about, is that exercise can actually be a preventative option for mild mental health issues; if you experience the exercise induced highs several times a week, you are more likely to be able to cope with small setbacks, than if you are constantly stressed and never do anything to relax in your weekly routine. Talking about relaxation, if a more traditional group exercise class doesn’t inspire you, what about yoga, or box-fit; yoga is widely recognised as an excellent mind body class, and for many people there is nothing quite as stress-busting as popping on some gloves and throwing a few (controlled) punches at some pads (if you haven’t tried it, I highly recommend it)!
And if you are feeling like no-one understands, just realise that in most classes of say 20 people, the statistics would suggest 5 of them will have had a mental health issue in the past year and even more will most likely know someone who is suffering or has suffered.
Mental Health Foundation: A charity that supports and campaigns for persons with mental health conditions: www.mentalhealth.org.uk
Mind: A mental health charity supporting persons with mental health conditions in England and Wales. www.mind.org.uk
Time to Change: A social movement in England to Challenge stigma attached to mental health: www.time-to-change.org.uk/home