The benefits of walking: A personal perspective

Over the last year and a bit since the pandemic first struck, walking has been one of my main activities. I’d argue it has kept me and quite a few others (relatively) sane. 

At the height of lockdown in 2020 I would walk with my father and sister for between an hour to an hour and a half around West Kirby/Caldy/Hoylake/Greasby – anywhere within walking distance really. Different routes each day to vary it, but almost without fail every day around noon we would leave the house and go for a walk. This was almost certainly good for our physical and mental wellbeing at the time as it gave us a little bit of structure to the day when a lot of things we used to do had fallen by the wayside such as groups and activities that would normally be on a certain day of the week. Routine and structure to the day or the week is important for me personally, so having these walks each day was very beneficial to have a little something to look forward to when so many beneficial activities had stopped.

At other points when restrictions have allowed us to meet up I have met small groups of friends for a walk which has been nice. The social side of group walking is great. As you are busy chatting and catching up, you barely realise that the step count is going up and up so you can get a good walk in whilst barely noticing you have covered 3 miles as you are engrossed in conversation. Of course the calorie burn goes up as well which for me has been a good thing in terms of losing some weight over the last year or so. 

You can also see some lovely scenery whilst out walking. It can make you more appreciative of where you live and grateful for the beauty of nature if you are walking in the woods or by the beach. At a difficult time for many people across the world during the pandemic, noticing and appreciating these things can be a good way to bring you more into the present moment which is often beneficial rather than dwelling on the past or worrying about the future. 

Very recently we had our first monthly group walk since the pandemic. It was lovely to see members of the group I had not seen for over a year due to the pandemic. As long as restrictions allow, it will be good to do these monthly walks again and to explore a little further afield hopefully to places such as Liverpool and Southport. Seeing new places and meeting new people through group walking does a lot of people good I believe and new friendships and experiences can happen as a result. 

So overall I have found walking, but especially group walking, to be of great benefit over the last 15 months or so. It has been important for both my physical and mental wellbeing to do these regular walks and I would encourage anyone who wants to do some form of exercise to take up group walking as you get the exercise benefits as well as the social side which is vital in this day and age where we have been more isolated than ever before which is not good for our very social species. 

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View of Liverpool whilst on a group walk, May 2021

Sport and Mental Health

Sport and Mental Health – Reasons to play sport if you struggle with mental health

Admittedly, I cannot say that sport solves all my problems, but playing both a winter sport and a summer sport definitely provides both internal and external benefits that help me with my mental health. Take cricket for example. Although I by no means love the game unconditionally, the feeling you get on match days does help me to take me out of myself and my own head space, with all the thoughts, feelings and emotions that can ensue daily.

For example, once you arrive at the ground, be it home or away, you know you’ve entered a space that is structured both physically and mentally, in that the game follows a specific pattern, and all engaged are involved and included in that pattern. This structure to a day can in itself help you to rise above any feelings of self-doubt you might have, because once at the ground, something switches inside yourself and you automatically switch mental states, where suddenly you have to be focussed and alert, thus transcending any pre-game anxiety and self-doubt.

Then there is your personal role within the game, which can be nerve racking, but can also give feelings of joy and jubilation. Cricket is unique in that some of the grounds can feel almost like amphitheaters, and any spectators that come to watch, add to the feeling of being involved in a drama or a sporting play. Perhaps, it could be said that a lot of the feelings you get playing cricket are ego based, and ego driven, nonetheless for that period whilst you’re in the middle, you feel as though you’re centre stage, and any personal success definitely improves mood and makes you feel like you’ve helped the team you play for triumph in the sporting cauldron that is cricket.

Ultimately for me though, it is the feeling of comradery you get when playing cricket, which is most rewarding. You often form new relationships with people you may not ordinarily click with, but because you have something in common; you are on the same team, with the same goals and the same ambitions, you form new friendships that in themselves can make you feel part of a social group or body. Consequently, feeling part of a community definitely helps to alleviate feelings of isolation and loneliness, as well as low self-esteem that anyone can suffer with, whether diagnosed or undiagnosed.

Football is a different ball game. Whilst cricket can feel like an elongated play that bubbles to the surface as it reaches its’ crescendo, football for me is like a 2 hour war, played at a much higher intensity than cricket, that culminates in feel-good emotions fueled most probably by endorphins. Playing football for me is most definitely enhanced by it being a winter sport. The atmosphere in the air, the temperature, the surroundings of autumn and winter, all lend themselves to playing Football. You want to breathe the cool air and feel it leaving and entering your lungs as you run. This is all part of the feel good factor that can come from playing football.

Arguably football is a much more aggressive game than cricket, and for me, winning your personal battles on the pitch can help you feel better about yourself, because you have to work for it, and often when we have to work for things to get them, the feeling of success and happiness is enhanced. This then is the essence of why I play football in winter. It is the mental and physical battles you put yourself under, that results in a sense of happiness and achievement, which for me is worth all the self-doubt, nerves, low self-esteem that may come before you play sport, yet get defeated more often than not, when you play sport. Therefore, to conclude, I urge you… if you can, get out there and play sport!!!

EXERCISE – GO FOR IT!

EXERCISE – GO FOR IT!

Exercise has always helped me with the stresses and strains of life. I find it a good way of processing the negative things that have been happening in my life.

If you’re exercising with someone else or in a group, you can encourage one another – and also talk about your emotional state too.

Humour is also involved as you gently enter into competitive spirit, but don’t overdo it!

Even if it’s just a walk to the end of the road and back, it’s better than staying static. From here, all you have to do is build on it, until eventually you are getting your heart rate up and running.

It’s all about overcoming your fear and anxiety and turning it into bravery and confidence.

I must admit that in the first year after my diagnosis of psychosis, I found the drive to exercise extremely difficult.

I was deep in the throes of depression, and the thought of leaving the sofa, even to go for a ten minute jog, was extremely daunting.

As my mood lifted, I joined the local council gym and began training, alongside my middle brother.

I returned to academic life after a year, switching course and university – a significant change.

In the first year of my new university, Leeds, I went to the university gym a few times with a friend who was a good source of motivation.

The next year of university, I joined a new gym on the outskirts of the city, although I must confess, I spent as much time in the sauna, solarium and hydrotherapy seeing off bad hangovers than I did in the gym!

Third year was spent in Valencia, Spain (I read Spanish). This year was the ERASMUS year spent studying at The University of Valencia. I was part of a big circle of students and workers and some of the young men would play football every Friday night before the partying, undoing all the good efforts on the pitch haha! I also swam with a friend who was a magnificent swimmer who represented Northern Ireland at the sport.

In final year I continued swimming and got the bus to the pool, or if feeling sprightly I’d walk there.

Since graduation, I have particularly focused on triathlon training. It is indubitable that it has been absolutely essential for my mental good health.

Having been given a noticeable steer by my mother to take it up as a discipline, I have made good progress. I really enjoy the running with coach Jon, and swimming with coach Jane, both of whom have been incredibly patient, instructive, positive and thorough. I get significant enjoyment from getting out on my bike with family too.

Coronavirus has scuppered race events but I will start hopefully with a 5k Parkrun with my middle brother later in the year.

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I have found the Strava app a brilliant motivational tool for my endeavours. My triathlon and running friends log in and record our exercise data and spur each other on. You can post photos and it’s a superb way of networking in a sporting context when on your smartphone or online.

I’d like to end by thanking everyone who has offered words of support in my journey of recovery. It’s a wonderful feeling to look at the race numbers and photos from my sporting endeavours at my flat and I gladly treasure my medals I have earned along the way.

Exercise has had a monumental impact on my life and I would encourage anyone thinking of taking it up to summon the courage – you won’t regret it!

There are plenty of groups to join if you are feeling like you may struggle to get out alone and they are pitched for all abilities.

I do not hesitate that exercise should be prescribed on the NHS – for everyone 🙂

The Tree Searching For The Light

Taking
it a bit more easy

Not
being so hard on myself

No-one’s
perfect and has life all sussed out

Self-compassion
is the way forward

Learning
slowly but surely from experience

I
prefer the circle to be virtuous rather than a vicious downward spiral.

Spotting
the problem as it arises in the mind.

Then
taking a few steps with some help to stop the darkness coming again.

Instead,
like a tree growing it is best to search for the light again.

 

Love Is

Love is to feel

Love is real
Love is in the heart
Love is just a start
Love will conquer us all,
Love is to feel no shame,
Love is not to blame
Love is my name,
Love is no game
Love is to love,
Love is a dove
Love is heaven above
Love is the beauty of nature and the sun
Love is glorious
Love that I can feel
To love is to care
Love is fair,
Love is pain
Love is the beauty of rain,
Love is in all of us
and each one the same
Love is the beauty of life
Love is giving
Love is to be free
You and me
Love is in your eyes
Love never says goodbye
Love is here
Have no fear
Love everyone

Peace

At first I thought

It was the voices

All around that

Had changed.

Their soothing melodies

Turned acrid

In the afternoon sun.

But as the stars

Of my soul

Came out to play

Glistening for the

First time

in the inky blackness

I realised;

It was not those voices

That had changed

But my ears:

I could hear a

Smaller voice

Calling out

From the chinks

In the white noise chatter.

That small voice

Was mine.

Quieter but

Sweeter.

More peaceful,

More true

 

The Positive Impact of Creativity

 

‘What keeps life constantly fascinating is the creativity of the soul’  Deepak Chopra

Sometimes, even for people without a mental health condition, the brain can feel overloaded with stress that cannot be calmed even through strenuous physical activity, meditation or countless other purportedly helpful techniques.

At times, and I know for certain in my case, the best thing to do is power up the computer or pick up and pen and paper, and just let loose. Just let go; let conscious thought slide and allow your subconscious to express itself. You may end up with something closely pertaining to your current struggles, or alternatively you may have something completely at odds with how you have been thinking and feeling. You may even find a thread to two worth further exploration – perhaps your financial concerns are actually symptomatic of something more long-standing or important.

It doesn’t need to be writing either. Try drawing, playing an instrument, painting, a collage, photography, embroidery etc.  Anything that can allow you to switch off from what’s bothering you. And I defy anyone to say they can’t – we’ve all done something creative we have carried through to adulthood to some degree or other.

I find my breathing slows when I write and likewise my heart rate too. As a result, I feel more relaxed. It’s important to find the right place and conditions for creativity too. Some people like silence, others to be distracted by others as they go and some like being outdoors. Experiment, and eventually you will have the right fit. Be careful about staying up into the small hours – good sleep means good mental health!

Depending on what medium you choose, you may get some good quality time mixing with people, for example playing music or working in collaboration with other creatives to produce a mixed media work. 

Above all, it’s about de-stressing and enjoying yourself. Have a go, and hopefully it will pay off. And if it’s not for you, don’t worry – it’s very likely there is something out there up your street.

 

 

 

 

 

Everyday Joys

I try my very best to be in the moment every day.  From being mindful of a cup of tea I’ve drunk to the feel of my shoes on the pavement.  I think we can all get caught up with worries, feeling we have to look and act a certain way.  We can get caught up in arguments, trivial upsets with family, friends and work but fail to see what’s right in front of us.  The joys of being alive – living: just being ourselves and enjoying the moment.  I’ve started writing down little things I’ve found joyful at the end of the day, or even in thee middle or beginning of it; such things as a lovely shower or a cup of tea, the way the sun shines into my room when I first wake up.  I name it my grateful list.

There Is Always Hope

When you are despairing,

There is always hope,

When times are tough whether financially or emotionally,

There is always hope,
When you feel you’ve had enough and can no longer endure the symptoms of your depression and anxiety, all the shaking, thoughts whirling round and round your head. Not to mention the tummy upsets,
There is always hope
Because with the right support from loved ones and friends,
There is always hope,
You just have to believe in the word hope.
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