Daily Physical Activities Can Boost Your Well-being and Mental Health:

It's been that time of year again when my daughter and I head out to take part in the Ely Festive 5k in support of the amazing people at the Arthur Rank Hospice Charity. 

My daughter tells me that this is the fifth year we have taken part, although as you might expect, this year was a little different and so rather than a few hundred of us racing together, we headed out around Ely in a virtual version of the event. Every year she says she never wants to do it again, followed by changing her mind (a few dozen times), telling me she is going to train this time, not training, and having me push, cajole, and occasionally encourage her over three miles (and this year someone from her school bubble ran with us too, which apparently made it sooooo much better than previous years!).

I've written many times about the benefits of exercise for your mental health and well-being. Certainly I find exercise, like running and boot-camp, play a massive role in maintaining my own good mental health and in making me feel better in myself. Most of this research has tended to look at more structured exercise when evaluating the mental health benefits. So what about the mental health and well-being impacts of more common daily physical activities, like walking, gardening and going up stairs?

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Reduce Anxiety and Stress With Nature During The Pandemic:

Winter is coming! Or so they keep saying in Game of Thrones which I've finally given in to and started watching (so many hours of my life are passing me by as I work my way through series after series!).

It's starting to feel like winter is now well and truly here. As I headed out for my run this morning it was still dark, there was frost over the cars and the thermometer was reading one degree.  It took all my will power to persuade me to get up and out of bed and to go and run five miles around the streets of Ely in the flipping cold! And as always, I felt loads better mentally and physically afterwards from moving, exercising and getting out. 

And to be fair, it wasn't as cold as the time I sat in a dark, cold student flat in Leeds all weekend one winter waiting for the shop to open on Monday morning so I could buy an electric meter token, only to discover that there had been a reserve amount in the meter that just needed a button to be pushed!  

When I head out for a run or a walk, I love to take in as much time around nature as I can. This morning I ran over the fields, along the river and through Ely nature reserve. And then afterwards I walked to the office through the same fields, only at a more leisurely pace where I could see the birds and squirrels and take in the trees and greenery.

Spending time in nature is good for your mental health. It helps you to reduce stress and anxiety and boosts your mental health and sense of well-being. I've written about this and suggested it a number of times before, but now a new research study has added even more weight to it by specifically looking at the importance of nearby nature for mental health during the Covid-19 pandemic.

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Anxious Thoughts - From What-If To If-Then:

With anxiety, you can find yourself imagining all sorts of worst case scenarios that might happen. You can worry about all the 'what if' possibilities and they can seem to take over your thinking, especially in the quieter moments. Even though you know logically that many of the things you are anxious about are unlikely to happen or are even irrational, you still find yourself worrying and worrying. 

And the more anxious you feel, the more you experience those anxious thoughts, which in turn leads to more anxious feelings and even more unwanted thoughts. It becomes a cycle and a pattern that may be linked to something specific yet could just as easily be more general and pervasive. Essentially your mind responds to all those perceived threats of things going wrong or badly in some way and starts to prepare you for taking action. You feel uncomfortable, you get a funny feeling in your stomach, you get tense and restless and your mind keeps overthinking it.

There are many steps you can start to take that will begin to interrupt that pattern of anxiety and start to reduce and diminish it.  

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Anxiety and Surviving Covid-19:

As I write this article, the coronavirus lockdown continues here in England, and the pandemic itself rumbles on. Whilst there seems to be optimism over a vaccine, infection levels remain high and sadly Covid-19 related deaths continue.

I've written a lot about anxiety and Covid-19, in terms of the impact of coronavirus on mental health, what you can do about your anxiety and the fear of contracting Covid-19 (coronaphobia). Most of the research I've come across up until now has been focused on how the pandemic is impacting on our mental health and the fear and anxiety around getting Covid-19, and the impacts from social restrictions and on things like employment and education.

However, some research is coming out now about what happens after someone has Covid-19. So rather than fear and anxiety about the possibility of getting it, what then happens physically and mentally to Covid-19 survivors.

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Doomscrolling, Anxiety & Your Mental Health:

Today I'm talking about screen use, social media consumption and how it links to your mental health, particularly in the context of the coronavirus pandemic.

I don't know about you but sometimes I have a terrible habit of having a quick check of what's happening on things like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Perhaps between tasks or when I feel like I need a break I take a quick look at the latest (even though plenty of it is neither interesting or helpful!). And I don't think that there is too much wrong with social media and smartphones and the like in general and if used constructively and purposefully. However, there is a flip side to screen time and social media consumption that can impact on your mental health and can contribute to anxiety.

Anxiety, with all of it's unwanted thoughts and feelings, can lead you to spend more time online, whether as an escape from those feelings or seeking more and more information. As you worry about worst case scenarios and things that could happen, you can find yourself consuming more and more negative information as you try and find a sense of calmness, safety and certainty. And with the coronavirus, there is a mass of information out there, some more accurate than others, and in seeking information, knowledge and certainty (in an uncertain pandemic) you may find yourself spending more time online and more time consuming negative news and opinions. 

It can seem like your anxiety compels you to check more and more negative news on social media and from other sources, and whilst a part of you might hope to find clarity and certainty about what is going to happen, the scrolling and negativity can just add more fuel to your anxious thoughts and feelings.

Doomscrolling refers to this compulsion to consume negative news on social media. And whilst as a concept it goes back before the pandemic, in recent weeks and months the coronavirus has made it more prevalent and more something we all need to pay attention to.

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Protecting Your Mental Health During The Second Lockdown:

The second  covid-19 lockdown is upon us following the recent announcement by the Government about the need to take action to try and curtail infection rates and the spread of coronavirus. And whether you believe it is the right course of action or not, or the timing is right, or even if you think the whole Covid thing is not a thing (and some people do), the fact remains that lockdown two is happening and will impact on all of us.

In many ways this Covid-19 lockdown is a whole different affair to the first lockdown back in March. Back then no-one really understood the disease or much about it, and there was a general sense of uncertainty and fear as the numbers hospitalised and those sadly dying rapidly increased. Whilst none of us knew when things would improve and how long lockdown would last back then, this time we have a time limited (at least that's what they are saying right now!!) lockdown. The daily number suggests more and more people are being admitted to hospital and once again an increasing number of people are sadly losing their lives to Covid-related deaths.

To help protect the NHS form being overwhelmed, to try and reduce Covid-19 transmissions and to hopefully save lives, I believe that moving all of my sessions to Zoom or Skype for four weeks is the right thing to do (not only that but I've had legal advice that it is the only thing to do!). Whilst rates in the East of England have been comparably lower than elsewhere in the UK, any steps that reduce contact for a short period means that your safety and well-being is prioritised.

In fact, it saddens me that so many businesses seem to have decided to continue working as they have been before lockdown. I've seen social media posts by many businesses of all types justifying continuing despite the pandemic. We all need to make money to pay the bills but if everyone keeps interacting in the way they have been up until now (including going from home to home working on non-urgent matters) then we may well find that the Coronavirus doesn't ever get far away and the risk of even stronger restrictions over a longer period continues.  

But hey that's just my two pennies' worth; we all have to make our own calls here and it's cool if you think differently (in a reasoned, objective kind of way). And so back to the topic of this article, which is about doing what you can during this second Covid-19 lockdown to protect and preserve your mental health.

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Public Speaking Anxiety

The clocks just went back recently, and while the season is changing to Autumn with all the wonderful shades of brown on the trees, one thing that doesn't seem to change is the prolificacy of public speaking anxiety. It's often considered to be one of the most common fears that people struggle with, and there have even been surveys in the past suggesting people are more scared of speaking in front of others than of dying.

Recently I've been working with quite a few people who have a fear of public speaking. That anxiety may be linked to formal presentations (these days as often over Zoom as face to face) or speaking up, reporting, updating or asking/answering questions in meetings.

That anxiety can lead to all sorts of anxious thoughts in the lead up to speaking, along with that pit of the stomach nervous feeling and you may find that the thought of the presentation or meeting comes to mind more and more as the date gets closer. There are then all the anxious sensations on the day, in the build up and when speaking, and you may have a tendency to be overly self critical afterwards about how you did (sometimes even going over and over perceived mistakes or errors).

As I often point out to people, this isn't about whether you can talk, or about whether you can speak to people. Everyone does that with friends or family or in some other situations where they feel relaxed and comfortable. Yet certain perceptions, expectations, thoughts, feelings and beliefs start to creep in about speaking in other situations or environments that lead to you struggling with that anxiety all the way through until your 'ordeal' is over.

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 Covid-19 Anxiety, Stress and Negative Body Image:

I've been talking and writing for many months now about the mental health impacts from the coronavirus pandemic and everything that goes with it, such as social restrictions and worry about potential future consequences.

The latest data from the Office of National Statistics (October 2020) found that more than three quarters of adults were very or somewhat worried about the effect of coronavirus (COVID-19) on their life right now.  That level of worry has been increasing over recent months as the pandemic endures.  Levels of anxiety remained at their highest since the start of April, and life satisfaction has fallen.

As I've written about before, more and more evidence demonstrates that this Covid-19 pandemic is impacting on mental health for many, many people. As well as fears about contracting the virus, there are worries about the future, impacts on meeting and interacting with others, difficulties planning, impacts on work and education, and many other factors that lead to these high levels of Covid-19 anxiety and stress.

And whilst I've written about these mental health impacts and what you can do about them, a new piece of research has been published that suggests that Covid-19 anxiety and stress may also be having an impact on body image.

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Client running around the world to raise money for mental health

Someone I worked with during the pandemic has put his trainers on to raise money for the mental health charity, Mind. 

Chris Tromans is running  around the world in 80 days and wants his long distance virtual running to raise exactly £17,895 for the mental health charity (use the links below to learn why he has chosen that figure and why it is so important to him). 

As he mentions in his Ely Standard article and Just Giving page, Chris had a mental health issue at the start of lockdown and used the Mind website to understnad more about it. He also worked with me to help him with his anxiety and found that the sessions helped him.   

Quoted in the Ely Standard, Chris said: “I’m much better now, thanks to information on Mind’s website. I arranged for video sessions during lockdown with Dan Regan, a local hypnotherapist. He provided me with tools to help overcome the problem.”

You can read more about Chris and his running challenge in the Ely Standard: Dad-of-two aims to raise precisely £17,895 for Mind - and here’s the reason why he picked that target

And you can join me in supporting Chris and helping him reach his target for Mind, the mental health charity, by heading over to his Just Giving Page: Just Giving Page

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Running and Mental Health:

I'm delighted to have had the opportunity to write a guest post about my running and mental health. I mean, how could I pass up the chance to write about two of my favourite things!

Running and exercise have been an integral part of my life for many, many years. At the outset, running was a way for me to try and deal with my anxiety, overthinking and low self-esteem problems. After a day at work it gave me an escape from those unwanted thoughts and feelings. It was a chance to think things through or to think about nothing at all. And I always felt physically and mentally better afterwards.

These days, exercise and running are key aspects of my life because I enjoy them, they give me a sense of achievement and they help iron out any of the challenges in life that head my way. Exercise and running now help to keep me mentally healthy.

The awesome team over at Run My World (https://www.runmyworld.co.uk/) have recognised that lots of us get into running, or keep running, for our mental health. They organise virtual running challenges from 5km up to ultramarathons and, what is awesome, is that a percentage of profits from each challenge goes to various mental health challenges. It's awesome to see someone raising mental health awareness, contributing to the mental health conversation, and giving something back from running that will benefit others who may be struggling. I'm super excited to take part in some of their challenges (and the bling is pretty tidy too!)

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