I really wanted to do this blog on mental health because it is a huge problem today, particularly amongst my generation, with more and more young people taking their lives each year. This is a sensitive topic as it has touched the lives of many of us, but it is a topic which needs to be addressed urgently. A report by Junior Health Minister, Kathleen Lynch, on the mental health of young people in Ireland was published in 2013 and the findings were shocking. They showed that Irish youth may have the highest rates of mental health problems in comparison to their peers in Europe and the USA. The report showed that 1 in 5 young Irish adults, aged 19-24, and 1 in 6 young people, aged 11-13, were experiencing mental health problems. The findings of the report also indicate that high numbers of young adults aged 19-24 are engaged in the misuse of alcohol and drugs and almost 1 in 5 have thought about suicide. These statistics are heart-breaking and in my opinion, needs to be addressed as a national problem to start saving the lives of our younger generation.
Of course it’s not only a problem amongst our youth, you can experience mental issues at any time in your life. You might experience some trauma, a death in your family, stress from work, relationship problems, friendship problems, or you just might feel a bit down for no particular reason at all. Whatever it is, know that you are not alone, and that there is always help out there for you. But, what I think really helps, is exercise. Trust me, I personally experience a lot of stress and anxiety and I worry about everything and anything, and exercise is the one thing that I know I can do which will take my mind off whatever is going on in my life at that moment in time. It’s funny how people tend to talk about the mind and body as though they are completely separate – but they’re not. The state of your mind hugely affects your body, for example, ever feel low or anxious and just want to sit on the couch and do absolutely nothing for the day? When you feel like that, you tend to be a lot less active. So, you need to stop thinking of them separately and start taking care of yourself, both body and mind.
So, how can exercise make me feel better?
When you are dealing with some mental health issues, which can be as serious as depression, or even just some anxiety or stress, exercise often seems like the last thing you want to do. But once you get yourself motivated to get up, get out and do something active, it can make a big difference. Physical activity has very obvious physical benefits to your body, but most importantly, it has psychological benefits too. Research has shown that exercise actually releases chemicals in your brain that make you feel good which will help to ease any of those feelings of anxiety and sadness. Taking regular exercise has so many great benefits for your own emotional state such as:
- Gaining confidence – Meeting your exercise goals or challenges, even small ones, can really boost your self-confidence. Not only that, you will get in better shape which will make you feel so much better about your appearance and again, this will help build up those confidence levels. Feeling good about yourself is so important, I cannot stress this enough. If you are happy with yourself and the person you are, you will live a happy life.
- Take your mind off worries – Exercise is a great distraction that can get you away from the cycle of negative thoughts that feed anxiety and depression. I love to do a yoga class once a week to gather my thoughts and try and work through any negativity I might be dealing with. I absolutely love it!
- Get more social interaction – Exercise and physical activity may give you the chance to meet or socialise with others. Taking a class or even just exchanging a friendly smile or greeting with someone whilst on a walk can help your mood. Also, especially with the younger generation, the majority of their lives are spent on phones/laptops on social media (which isn’t very social at all!) so getting out and meeting people and being active is fantastic for them.
- Coping in a healthy way – Doing something active to manage anxiety or depression is a healthy coping strategy. Trying to feel better by turning to alcohol, dwelling on how badly you feel or just hoping those feelings will go away by themselves can lead to worsening symptoms. So stop dwelling and get up and do something about it.
Now, another important point I want to make, being active doesn’t always mean taking out a ridiculously expensive gym membership, or running the roads at 5am in some very uncomfortable lycra! There are so many different ways to be active and they can all help to look after your mental health. If you take anything from this blog, take this message; do an activity that YOU ENJOY. That is the most important thing! If you absolutely hate the gym, then don’t go to the gym. If you hate running, then don’t run. It’s as simple as that! Being active shouldn’t be seen as a chore, you need to be enjoying yourself while you’re doing it or else there is no point in doing it at all! So, try out a few different things, do some different fitness classes, go to the gym, go for a walk, hike up a mountain, do some gardening, try out a new sport, go for a swim, and whatever you find that you enjoy doing, incorporate that activity into your daily living! Also, if you do an activity that you enjoy, you’re much more likely to stick with it long-term.
Last but very not least, my last point: Enjoy life. I’m not telling you here to ditch the glass of wine you enjoy at the weekends for some hard-core spinning class to be happier! There needs to be a happy medium in my opinion. So, try and incorporate being active in your life without neglecting the other parts of your life. You need to enjoy yourself, spend time with the people you love and not be worrying about the few drinks you had at the weekend with friends or going out for a meal with your family. It’s all about balance! Being healthy and active is a lifestyle choice, it’s for life, and not something you do for just a few weeks.
So, for anyone reading this that may be dealing with some mental health issues, try and make the effort to get up, get motivated and get active. I promise you, your body and mind will thank you for it. And just to end this blog, I just want to say that exercise and physical activity are really great ways to ease the symptoms of anxiety and depression, but they aren’t going to substitute psychotherapy or medications. So if you exercise regularly but anxiety or depression symptoms are still interfering with your daily living, please ask for help from either your doctor or health care provider or simply just talk to a close friend or family member. And remember that you are never alone.
As they say, life is too short, so start living it!
This article was written by ACLAÍ Coach, Claire.