20 May, 2023
This week is Mental Health Awareness Week, and we think it is incredibly important to support your mental and physical health by getting outside & active. Here are some tips on how you can do so.
This week, May 15th - May 21st, is Mental Health Awareness Week. A week which aims to promote the awareness of various mental health conditions and provide support and comfort for those who need a comforting environment to learn and speak about their issues. The theme of this year's awareness week is anxiety. As mentioned on the Mental Health Awareness Week website.
'Anxiety is a normal emotion in us all, but sometimes it can get out of control and become a mental health problem.
Lots of things can lead to feelings of anxiety, including exam pressures, relationships, starting a new job (or losing one) or other big life events. We can also get anxious when it comes to things to do with money and not being able to meet our basic needs, like heating our home or buying food. But anxiety can be made easier to manage.
Focusing on anxiety for this year's Mental Health Awareness Week will increase people's awareness and understanding of anxiety by providing information on the things that can help prevent it from becoming a problem. At the same time, we will keep up the pressure to demand change - making sure that improving mental health is a key priority for the government and society as a whole'.
If you have been reading articles on the Outside & Active website, or listening to our podcast, for a while then you will know that we are big believers in the positive relation between mental and physical health. Being ingrained in the outdoors allows us to step away from the hamster wheel of life and gives as an opportunity to connect with nature.
I was helping to organise Outside & Active's first ever live webinar that took place earlier this week titled How to manage my anxiety through physical activity. We asked for questions beforehand for the panelists to answer and there were a few standouts that I want to talk about in this article. These are things that might prohibit us from going outside, and I don't mean tangible things such as the weather or a broken ankle, I mean those obstacles we put up mentally to justify not taking a break and doing something that will benefit us mentally and physically.
The buzzwords that I kept on seeing in these questions were motivation, ability and support. By absolutely no means am I a mental health professional, but I can draw from my own experiences to write about how I have tackled each of these sections, and maybe you can take some advice or inspiration from that.
This is probably the word that cropped up the most, 'motivation'. Motivation is defined as 'a reason or reasons for acting or behaving in a particular way'. I think most people reading this will have been through periods where they do not feel a shred of motivation. Whether it is for arbitrary tasks like, making your bed or cooking dinner, or bigger life moments like preparing for a job interview or going to an exam. Then you hear about friends that are up early and heading out on their runs at 7am, or see on social media an influencer who has quit their job and set up a dream business. Why is my motivation not as good as theirs?
I have been on both sides of the coin, I have felt like things are getting away from me with exercise and work and I don't feel motivated to get back into a good life-flow. I've also been on the complete other side of the scale where I am overloaded with motivation and I feel as if I can take over the world! From my experience, it is when I am in a good flow that I often feel the most motivated. I don't jump straight from feeling in a pit to peak motivation, there are plenty of small steps I have to make to get there.
For example, if I haven't been for a run in a while, I feel rubbish. My stamina isn't the same, I can't go as far or as fast and I feel a tad useless. A few months later I find myself searching on the internet for ultra marathon events that I want to enter for later in the year. But I don't jump straight from one to the other, I begin by trudging through the tough 5km runs, to eventually growing the distance and the amount of times I run a week, and over time I take these small steps which build my confidence and ultimately motivate me to reach out for more.
This can be relatable for more than just going outside, I realise that actually people with diagnosed mental health issues can have issues just getting out of bed and starting their day. Finding motivation to go to work is your 'ultra marathon', so the 'starting point' might be just sitting at the end of the bed for 5 minutes, taking deep breaths and letting the blood flow. 'Building up your stamina' might be brushing your teeth or having a shower, 'increasing the mileage' is getting changed and planning your trip to work', at this point you have ticked off so many little 'wins' that you find the motivation to get to work. Breaking down my objectives into small wins has helped massively.
One of my favourite anecdotes from the webinar came from Sarah Stevenson MBE when talking about motivation. She boiled her thoughts down to a simple frame of thought which I think is blunt, but powerful. You've just got to do it. Ultimately, the only person who is going to make a difference is you, and you've just got to count to 5 and do whatever it is you need to do.
If I circle back round to earlier in this section when I was talking about those people in your life and social media that seem to be full of motivation and energy, the strong likelihood is that they are met by the same mental barriers that you are. I don't think anyone actually enjoys getting up at 6am to go for a run, but you force yourself to do it.
I like to thing about how I will feel after my run or gym session, I will be full of adrenaline, I will have ticked something positive off for the day and I will feel so much better mentally. Also, it gets slightly easier over time, the first run / gym session / day at work is always going to be the hardest.
This one is something I see every single week with family members, colleagues, friends and people that submitted questions to the webinar. 'I can't do this'. Yes, you absolutely can
Okay look, I know where this argument goes. No you can't fly, no you probably can't go to the moon, and no you definitely can't do a quadruple somersault from a standing start. But in the bounds of realism, you are capable of so much more than you think you are.
Two years ago I hated running and I had come to absolutely peace with the fact that I would never ever run a marathon. I put it in the same category of things like shark diving and skydiving. It just was a non negotiable thing that I would never be capable of physically or mentally. Fast forward two years and I have completed two marathons and a 57 mile ultra marathon. This isn't me showing off or communicating my physical prowess, it is me outlining that once I pushed through barriers, I realised that I was actually capable of much more than I think I am. In two years I have come from hating running 5km and barely being able to do it, to planning a time when I can take on my first 100 mile event. Ridiculous - but this is transferable to any walk of life and scale of ability.
'I could never run a Parkrun at my age' my own mum has said to me frequently since turning 60 earlier this year. Not only do I assure her that she absolutely has the ability to do so, but I also show her my podcast with 80 year old Eddie 'Irongran' Brocklesby who at the age of 82 is taking on RAAM later this year. I am completely aware that a few paragraphs ago I advised that you should not compare yourself to other people - but I think there are two ways of looking at this. You can negatively compare by convincing yourself that you are never going to be able to achieve something someone else has achieved. Or, you can use it as inspiration and affirmation that actually you can break through your own boundaries and achieve a lot more.
The great thing about ability is that it isn't fixed, you can improve your ability to do certain things whether it is running, public speaking or even something as simple as walking or getting outdoors. The only way you are going to positively affect your ability is by working at it.
As much as I have spoken about getting outdoors and motivation being from within, the element of support can play such a massive role. I would say the second most asked question ahead of the webinar was around supporting other people around them who are clearly going through a difficult time. How can you help someone who might be struggling with the two topics above.
Providing good support reminds me of a section from Harrison Ward's (aka Fell Foodie) story about his recovery from depression and alcoholism which he told on the Outside & Active Podcast. His first transition to connecting with nature was provided by a friend who encouraged him to go on a walk to the fells, it was out of the blue this person turned up at his door with a pair of hiking shoes and said 'right, we are going for a hike'. This could have backfired and Harrison could have slammed the door in his friends face, but instead he was willing to take the step.
I think the word 'willing' is extremely important. I would recommend against forcing someone to do something they don't want to do - you might find that this has the adverse effect and will actually push someone further back into their shell.
What I have generally found is that people who are struggling don't want to feel the way that they feel but they just struggle to find the willpower to do something about it on their own. It often takes a person to be there to lean on for them to make that first step forwards. This doesn't necessarily have to be in a sense of physical activity, being there to talk to a person who is struggling mentally can make a massive difference.
'Hey, do you want to go for a walk and catch up'? can go a long way. You're killing two birds with one stone by getting outside and active with someone but also providing them with a platform to speak about their feelings.
I hope this helped in your personal journey. Getting outside and active can be tough when you are feeling low, but emotions are also temporary and the reminder that you will not always have this negative mindset is a step towards bettering yourself.
Hi! I'm Dom and I am the Digital Communications Manager at Outside & Active. I manage the content and marketing for this site and sometimes document my experiences and thoughts. I absolutely love to be outside and active in any way possible.
I have been playing all varieties of sports since the age of 5 but in the past few years I have somehow become a 'runner'. This has opened my eyes to a whole new world of adventure, I still love playing team sports and heading to the gym - but managing this website has helped me explore different ways to enjoy the outdoors.
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