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May 2024 - Mental Health Awareness Week

Once again, May has arrived, bringing with it the anticipation of the two traditional Bank Holidays on the 6th and 27th, along with May Day on the 1st. Additionally, for those keeping track, the 68th Eurovision Song Contest is scheduled to take place in Malmö, Sweden, following the country's victory with the song "Tattoo," performed by two-time winner Loreen. This will be the seventh time that Sweden has hosted the song contest.


For those unfamiliar with this song, its lyrics can be interpreted in two different ways: first, the main themes around love and commitment, and second, the symbolic connotations that relate to mental struggles and emotional pain. Notably, the line "No matter what you say about love, I keep coming back for more" hints at this. Drawing parallels, individuals with tattoos often experience initial pain but willingly return to a tattoo parlour for more, even undergoing multiple sessions for the satisfaction of the end masterpiece they want to show off, often pleased with the result of their "fresh ink".


But instead of being willingly drawn back to a tattoo parlour for a second masterpiece, what about those who feel they are constantly dragged into situations that leave permanent marks, both physical and mental, that can be difficult to erase?


This is why we want to highlight Mental Health Awareness Week. Taking place on the second whole week of May (13th to 19th), this year's theme is "Movement: Moving more for our mental health".



Let us first look at a few of the common barriers that can put a halt to our movement:

Lack of time

  • Have you ever felt so overwhelmed that you couldn't find a spare moment to move?

When feeling overwhelmed and hopeless, try taking small steps to regain control. Break tasks into smaller, more manageable steps and tackle them individually.


Remember to take short breaks throughout the day and be mindful of periods of idleness you can seize for movement. Instead of idly waiting for the kettle to boil for a morning beverage, why not warm up alongside it? You can use that downtime to stretch and take deep breaths, which can help prepare for the busy day ahead and give you something to do. Incorporating moments of brief exercise, such as walking to the restroom, can subtly enhance your blood circulation, joint mobility, calorie burn, core engagement, posture, and mental well-being. Take every possible opportunity to move around, and you'll notice a significant improvement in your physical and mental health.


 

  • Have you ever refused to go to the gym due to errands and felt you could not exercise?

If the gym is your preferred environment for exercise, missing a day can feel disappointing. It's natural to feel frustrated or even guilty about missing out. However, it's important to remember that consistency over time matters more than occasional missed workouts. When you find yourself skipping the gym due to other commitments, remember that exercise doesn't have to happen in a traditional gym setting. 


Look for opportunities to incorporate physical activity into your daily routine, such as taking the stairs over an elevator, parking farther away to walk more, or doing bodyweight exercises at home. 

 

  • Have you ever thought time is better spent doing something enjoyable or productive?

The idea of a rigorous exercise can be off-putting for some, and that is alright. Instead, take time to incorporate subtle periods of activity into daily activities. 


This can be as simple as putting on an enjoyable playlist in the background while cleaning (or enjoying a cheeky dance since it still counts as movement) to power through the grime. You can also set a small challenge during TV commercial breaks to do a series of short exercises, turning an otherwise passive activity into an active one you can look forward to.


 

Social Influence

Low Energy / No Willpower


The Science Behind Staying Active

Most people can easily say that physical activity is good for the body, but few know that the mind and the body are intertwined. Taking care of our bodies positively impacts our mental state and vice versa - which is okay for something everyone might do without realising already in some capacity.


Many forms of physical activity enhance our mental and physical health. As they involve moving, these activities trigger the release of a chemical called endorphins in the pituitary gland. 


Endorphins, often referred to as the body's natural painkillers, are neurotransmitters that help to reduce feelings of pain and stress while promoting a sense of well-being, euphoria and relief. When we engage in physical activity, regardless of the type or intensity, it can help contribute to:


  • Reduced tension, stress, and mental fatigue

  • Alleviated symptoms of depression and anxiety

  • Increased natural energy levels

  • an improved appetite


Of course, each activity also has unseeable advantages that can accumulate in addition to benefits for the brain. For example, research into ecotherapy (a formal type of treatment that involves participating in outdoor activities) has shown that doing more outside can help those who experience seasonal affective disorder (SAD).


How active should I be?

How active one should be depends on individual factors such as preferences, age, overall health, goals, and medical conditions.


Government guidelines in the UK advise that adults between the ages of 19 and 64 should aim to do 150 minutes of moderate or 75 minutes of vigorous activity a week, alongside muscle-strengthening activities on at least two days per week. These guidelines are recommended for everyone, including those who are pregnant or disabled.


Two men preforming a fistbump in wheelchairs holding basketballs
Wheelchair basketball is accessible to all, regardless of age or ability.

These intensity levels are based on a simple talk test: Moderate means you can talk but not sing during the activity, and vigorous means you cannot say more than a few words without pausing for breath. The talk test is also a way of understanding how different types of physical activity can affect heart rate and breathing.

Moderate - Able to talk, yet cannot sing

  • Brisk walking

  • Cycling on level ground

  • Water aerobics

  • Doubles tennis

  • Pushing a lawn mower

  • Skateboarding

  • Rollerblading

Vigorous - Unable to say more than a few words


These guidelines provide a concise overview of recommended activities; not every individual must participate in each activity listed, as it may not be feasible. For instance, individuals who rely on wheelchairs for mobility may experience tightness in their chest and shoulder areas due to repetitive motion. Engaging in specific exercises while seated, such as performing a series of overhead punches, may be beneficial in targeting and strengthening these areas of concern.


Previously, we alluded to the benefits of pranayama (breathing exercises) and asanas (poses) during International Yoga Day in 2023. Still, it is worth reiterating that some breathing exercises can go beyond stillness and integrate physical movements. Tai chi, for instance, blends slow, rhythmic movements with slow breaths to cultivate a sense of calmness and balance. These techniques can help with cognitive disorders by grounding you in the present moment and reality.


A (Mental) Matter Of Balance


We have probably all heard the old trope of "no pain, no gain" regarding exercise. However, this is not always true. It is crucial to remember that exercise should be comfortable and gentle, but as with most things, there is still a slim chance of injury. Similar to the individual factors that determine how active someone should aim to be, those with certain conditions or circumstances may have underlying factors that could lead to complications in maintaining a healthy balance.


It is vital to find a healthy balance when it comes to physical activity, especially for those who have mental health problems or eating disorders. Excessive exercise can have a negative impact and, in some drastic cases, can be likened to acts of self-harm and addiction. For some, a simple walk can quickly become a long sprint driven by a distorted perception of being unstoppable or needing to burn calories as soon as possible. This can be a difficult struggle, and it's crucial to approach it with empathy and understanding.


Over-exercising and Exercise Addiction

Over-exercising (also known as compulsive exercise or exercise addiction) is a pattern of exercise that becomes excessive and may lead to negative consequences on a person's physical health, mental well-being, and social life. Although regular exercise is generally beneficial for health, over-exercising can lead to problems when taken to an extreme. It can happen unintentionally when someone is deeply immersed in an activity or intentionally when someone knows what they are doing is unsafe but continues to do it anyway.


Individuals who are over-exercising may be able to stop with some peer support. It can be difficult to distinguish right from wrong and determine the consequences of too much exercise. 


Exercise addiction is when this pattern becomes a need. Like other forms of addiction, individuals will prioritise exercise above anything else and neglect other responsibilities, relationships or even their physical injuries or feelings. They may experience intense guilt if they miss their opportunity or become anxious if they cannot engage in the most enjoyable activity.


Some signs and symptoms of exercise addiction may include:


  1. Exercising for long periods, often to the point of exhaustion.

  2. Displaying withdrawal symptoms when unable to exercise, such as irritability, restlessness, or anxiety.

  3. Proceeding to exercise despite injury or illness.

  4. Obsessively tracking exercise metrics, such as calories burned or miles run.

  5. Neglecting social, occupational, or recreational activities in favour of exercise.

  6. Experiencing negative consequences on physical health, such as overuse injuries, hormonal imbalances, or weakened immune function.


It is important to differentiate between healthy exercise habits and exercise addiction. Regular exercise is essential to a healthy lifestyle, but when it becomes compulsive and interferes with other aspects of life, it may indicate a problem. 


Seeking support from a healthcare professional or therapist is crucial for individuals struggling with exercise addiction to address any potential underlying issues and develop healthier coping mechanisms.

Eating disorders or BDD (Body Dysmorphic Disorder)

Episodes of Mania and Hypomania



 

Discussion Points for Health and Wellbeing & Safeguarding


  • How much do you move in an average day?

  • What activities get you moving?

  • Should the recommended guidelines be mandatory? Why or why not?

  • Are there any community-run activities that you participate in?





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