Mental Health Awareness Week 2024 | Our blog

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Mental Health Awareness Week 2024

It's Mental Health Awareness Week from 13th to 19th May 2024, the theme "Movement: Moving More for Our Mental Health" takes centre stage. This week highlights the crucial role movement plays in nurturing our mental well-being and provides an opportunity to integrate more physical activity into our daily lives. 

The Importance of Movement 

Many of us recognise the benefits of movement but incorporating it regularly can sometimes be a challenge. This week, let's explore how we can make small adjustments to our routines to find moments for movement, helping us to boost our mental and physical health. 

Movement is essential not only for our physical health but also for our mental well-being. Engaging in regular physical activity can help improve mood, alleviate stress, and increase energy levels.  

As Haddy Quist, Deputy Head of Nursing PMOA, suggests:

Adjusting your daily routine to include outdoor walking, gardening, cycling, or anything that is active will improve your sleep and your overall health and well-being.

Enhancing Mental Wellbeing through Movement 

Dr. Nicola Funnell explores the connection between physical activity and mental health. Discover strategies for integrating movement into your daily routine.

Lilian Maloba, Clinical Team Leader, shares insights on incorporating movement into your daily routine for improved mental wellbeing. From starting small and finding enjoyable activities to scheduling movement into your day and listening to your body, she offers guidance that can make a significant difference in your overall health.

Below are the stories of two remarkable individuals, Angel and Julia. They've each harnessed the power of movement to navigate their mental health challenges, discovering newfound strength and resilience in the process.

Angel's Story

In my early teens, I started to have difficulties with my mental health. It started out with anxiety - specifically social anxiety - and depression but by 17, I was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder. For years, I avoided social interactions, distanced myself from my friends and family, pushed everyone away and was stuck for a very long time in what felt like an inescapable sadness. I’ve been in therapy for over ten years and trialled different medications but I never believed it when people told me that getting outside and exercising would help.

Last year, I joined my local rugby club, Streatham and Croydon Ladies, and have since felt such an improvement in my mental health. My anxiety has improved dramatically, and I feel a lot more capable to deal with stress which is one of my biggest triggers. Rugby training and games gives me something to look forward to every week and really pushes me out of my comfort zone. I’ve never been sporty. I was one of the kids who would always have a note explaining why I couldn’t do PE that week. But joining the team has made me not only engage in exercise during training and games, I’ve also found myself going to the gym more, working on my strength and even working on running my first 5K which is something I never thought I’d be able to do.

Being part of the women’s team with over 40 members has helped my social anxiety so much. Being part of a community and knowing that I can leave any issues from my day at the door gives me two hours of an evening to relax, unwind and feel better. When playing rugby, there isn’t space for the negative thoughts that usually pop up. There isn’t time to worry if I’ve done something wrong or overthink a small talk conversation I’ve just had. It’s the closest feeling to complete tranquillity. Additionally, it has given me a safe and comfortable outlet for my anger – an emotion I usually bury or ignore – which in turn has made expressing, feeling and sitting with my wide range of emotions a lot more comfortable in my day to day life.

Trying something new can be daunting (terrifying even!) but taking the time to find a sport or form of exercise that works for you and let’s you shut off for a few hours a week is one of the best things you can do for your mental health.

Julia's Story 

My eighteen-year-old self would never have believed that, edging towards the big 5-0, I would be running half marathons and getting up at 6am to fit in strength training or a run before work. She would be shocked to the core to hear I even look forward to these workouts and prioritise them over a lie-in!

But at age eighteen, I hadn't yet been diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), and wasn't aware of the grip it was to hold over me, at least periodically, for years to come. 

I can't really explain how exercising helps, as I don't fully understand it myself. Perhaps it's the release of endorphins or maybe it's the fact that I'm taking 30-45 minutes out of each crazy busy day to focus on me, but I know it definitely makes me feel good and helps with the high levels of anxiety I can experience due to my OCD. I'm also hoping it will help with perimenopause which is likely fast approaching!

I particularly enjoy running and cycling outside in nature- the sense of freedom and being able to explore places you can't by car is fantastic. I often listen to podcasts while I run, a great distraction from any aching muscles.

I've also used running to fundraise - a 10km mud run with friends helped raise money for Ovarian Cancer, I completed the Brighton Half for Macmillan and last year I ran an emotional half marathon for The Throat Cancer Foundation as my younger brother fought and beat the illness. 

My 15 year-old son has recently started joining me for runs which has been a lovely shared experience, although he always leaves me for dust! 

My favourite running story is when I jogged past Dame Kelly Holmes in the Brighton Half Marathon. (We'll ignore the fact that she had twisted her ankle and was being treated by the side of the road...)

I would recommend running or cycling to anyone with anxiety - I started off running really short distances, and combining 5 minutes running with 5 minutes walking - but it's amazing how quickly you can do more if you keep pushing yourself. Just getting out of your own head for a while and focusing on putting one foot ahead of the other can be transformative. 

Practical Ways to Incorporate Movement 

  • Find Activities You Enjoy: Choose activities that you find enjoyable and sustainable, such as dancing, yoga, or hiking. 

  • Set Movement Goals: Set achievable goals for incorporating more movement into your day, whether it's walking a certain distance or trying a new fitness class. 

  • Make It Social: Invite a friend or family member to join you for a walk or workout. It can make movement more fun and motivating. 

  • Take Active Breaks: Integrate short bursts of movement throughout the day, such as stretching between tasks or taking a quick walk during your lunch break. 

  • Walking around Bethlem: If you're seeking somewhere new to walk, why not explore Bethlem Hospital and drop by the museum or gallery while you're at it. 

Prioritising Movement for Mental Health 

During Mental Health Awareness Week, let's embrace the benefits of movement. By incorporating more physical activity into our daily lives, we can build stronger mental resilience, improve our mood, and enhance our overall quality of life. 

By staying active throughout the day, we can experience the positive impact it has on our well-being, helping us nurture our mental health for a brighter, more active tomorrow. 

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