I DON’T think there is any denying that the last 18 months since the world fell under siege to Coronavirus has been tough on absolutely everyone.
For those who lost family members and jobs, those who haven’t seen family members who live abroad, those home-schooling, and the intensity of it all, the ups and downs, the lack of social interaction, I don’t need to keep going... suffice to say it has been hard on almost everyone. I go through phases of being fine about it all, hidden away in my own little bubble, but undoubtedly there are days where I am exhausted from the feeling of it never ending.
Don’t worry, this article isn’t going to continue along that spiralling theme of despair, what I want to touch on is in fact how we can put into practise better habits in our days to ensure that, despite all that is going on, we try and keep our mental headspace in as good a place as it can be.
The Echo Women’s Mini Marathon is on September 19 and I absolutely loved taking part in it (and being the ambassador for it!!) last year, it gave me a focal point during the summer to remind myself to take some time out for me in the evenings. This year is the 40th year of the Mini Marathon so an even better excuse to get involved.
I am fairly confident we are all aware of the importance of exercise, how it is good for us physically in terms of keeping our bodies healthy, but what I want to focus on is the positive impact of sport on our mental wellbeing.
Many of us have started into the summer, home with children or juggling childcare and work again. Routines have changed again for many of us but I always take that as a great opportunity to reset and to put in place some of my better habits that tend to slip from time to time. Like taking time out to get some exercise for myself, be it walking or running.
My girls went back to school in March and back to after-school activities not long after that, so for me it went from having every evening free to go for a walk or a run for myself to suddenly never having the time to sit still. I help out with their activities so it feels like I have been running and racing, but I haven’t taken any time out for myself lately and it has without doubt left me mentally drained.
There are hundreds of scientific studies that show the indisputable link between exercise and mental health wellbeing. Exercise releases endorphins, those wonderful positive chemicals we can create quite easily ourselves by getting out and getting active. Those chemicals energize your mind and spirit, they make you feel good and can help ease feeling of anxiety and stress.
Exercise can you give you the time and space to be mindful, which is a brilliant way of breaking a cycle of negative thoughts you may have during the day. If you go for a walk or a run, for example, try and focus on the moment, listen to your footsteps on the road, listen for birdsong in the countryside, focus on your breathing and pay attention to your body. This practice, along with the release of endorphins, should give you a window of time in the day where you get a break from worries that you may have.
I personally find that a walk gives me the headspace to be mindful but also the time to process thoughts that build up during the day, I can work through them much more positively on a walk or a run, especially as my brain is producing endorphins which keeps me in a positive frame of mind.
Physically, exercise can help with stress in that it can relieve the body of any tension that is building up throughout the day. Start whatever exercise you are doing with some light stretching especially the shoulders, the neck and upper back as those are areas where stress can build up especially if you are sitting at a desk all day. Gentle exercise can help relax and loosen out your muscles relieving some of the effects that stress can put on your body.
Stress is something we probably all experience and often we may not even realise that we are stressed until it starts to manifest itself in a physical way in our bodies.
To get benefit mentally and physically from exercise, you don’t need to portion away hours in the day and push yourself to the limit, even a brisk 15 minute walk will do, or if you don’t have time during the weekdays. get out at the weekend for a longer session.
Aim to get yourself to a point where your breathing is a little heavier than normal and your body is warm but not overheated, and that is a good guide as to the level of exercise that will really benefit you. And enjoy it!
Summer is a great time to reset and put into practice some good habits — like going for a walk or jog... and signing up to The Echo Women’s Mini Marathon says EIMEAR HUTCHINSON
I have been running and racing but I haven’t taken any time out for myself lately, and it has without doubt left me mentally drained.