Depression: Does aerobic exercise have anti-depressant effects?

It's no secret, if you have read through some of these blogs, that exercise forms one of the main pillars of how I organise my life. In the past this was solely running focused and these days it incorporates several bootcamps a week with some short running. Exercise is important to me and boosts my sense of physical fitness and mental health.

Funnily enough when I was younger I hated exercise (I blame cross country in the rain at school). I had no interest in it and I was overweight, which put me off it even more because of the increased perceived effort required. Later life showed that once you find something that you enjoy and that makes you feel better in yourself then you can turn it around and find that you benefit from habitually exercising. Or as someone put it to me recently (a non-exerciser), I'm one of those weirdos who really enjoys exercising.

My own personal experience has been that exercise boosts my mental health. When there is a lot going on or an element of stress or worry in life then a good bootcamp or run helps me to process it and cope with it and emerge feeling mentally stronger.  

And it isn't just me who has found that exercise benefits mental health. There is a growing body of research that supports this and in this article I'll be looking at a couple of research reviews that tell us a lot about how exercise can benefit people with depression.

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Gratitude and Well-Being: How To Improve Your Well-Being and Self-Esteem:

In my last article I wrote all about the impact of gratitude on anxiety, depression and self-esteem (have a read here: The Impact of Gratitude on Anxiety, Depression, Self-Esteem and Well-being). The research I talked about there shows that gratitude is strongly related to several aspects of well-being and mental health. 

People who have a disposition to notice and appreciate positive aspects in their life and their world tend to be happier, more optimistic, have positive self-esteem and are more positive and they also experience less depression and anxiety symptoms. In fact, gratitude can be considered to offer some protection against depression and anxiety because you are able to encourage and be compassionate and reassuring towards yourself when things go wrong in life and when faced with challenges.

As the researchers concluded, "gratitude is also associated with an improved "relationship with the self," in the form of a more positive and compassionate way of treating ourselves when things go wrong in life, which partially explains why grateful people are also less depressed and anxious" (Petrocchi & Couyoumdjian (2015)).

As I mentioned in that last article, with so many mental health benefits of gratitude, it really does make sense to purposefully apply it in your life. You are more likely to feel happy, have positive self-esteem, a better sense of well-being and experience less anxiety and depression symptoms. 

And if you do want to benefit from these good things then I'll be covering some ways you can do so in this article.

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The Impact of Gratitude on Anxiety, Depression, Self-Esteem and Well-being:

As I write this article, the sun is shining and it's a beautiful day here in Ely (although by the time you are reading this it may well have turned back cold and wet!). And on a sunny day like today it's often easier to take a few moments here and there to be grateful for the sunshine and to enjoy the surroundings for a moment.

People do seem to be a lot chirpier when Spring arrives and to be much more appreciative of being able to get out and enjoy the good weather and to go and do things with the warmth of the sun pouring down upon them.

Certainly last weekend when I headed out with my girls I deliberately took a few moments to just make sure I was in the moment when I was with them so I could pay them full attention and to take some time to enjoy being out in the open around all the trees and nature and so on. And today I took some time to record a little vlog on the benefits of gratitude and how it can help boost well-being, happiness, self-esteem and more. Given all we know about the benefits of gratitude and appreciation it really does make sense from a mental health perspective to cultivate it purposefully...more on that later.

It may just be me, but one thing I like to do on my daily walk to the office is to keep count of how many people take a brief moment to show gratitude and appreciation for small acts by other people. On my route to the office I often encounter many parents who are in the process of dropping off their kids or who have just done so, along with others who are heading to work or even out walking the dog or running. I find it almost automatic to do things like move to one side to let them pass on their way, or to move onto the road so they can continue along the pavement.

And it is actually quite surprising how many people do not acknowledge even small acts of benevolence from another person (about 50% if you're interested). Not that it's worth getting wound up about (because worrying or getting annoyed about what someone else does or doesn't do is futile) but I do wonder whether they take the same attitude into the rest of their day and into work and friendships and so on. Often these people seem (from the outside) to be pretty unhappy and I wonder if they get annoyed and frustrated at their kids, colleagues and friends when they receive the same lack of thanks and appreciation from them. 

Yet regardless of what other people say and do (and regardless of my daily contemplations!), there is much to be gained from deliberately fostering an attitude of gratitude and putting it into practice for ourselves to boost our own well-being and happiness and to help with anxiety and depression. 

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Hypnosis and Exam Anxiety - Could hypnotherapy help you perform to your best in exams?

Spring seems to have arrived early in the UK as it's another beautiful sunny day and it's still only February as I write this. This time last year we had snow on the way so this a lovely change (although I love snow!) and I'm even wearing shorts in the office today. The mornings and evenings are notably lighter and it won't be long until temperatures start rising earlier until later (although it's sunny today it was still only about two degrees when I headed to bootcamp this morning). 

And it's been a pretty awesome weekend all around. Saturday started with a tough but oddly pleasurable tyre routine at bootcamp, I had a full day working with some great clients and then got to watch Wales beat England in the Six Nations rugby (always a highlight when we win!). On a post rugby high I ran probably the best I have all year on the sun yesterday and then spent a fun day at a nearby National Trust place with the kids. If every weekend was like that I would be even happier (yet probably pretty tired too!).

One thing the arrival of spring always takes my mind back to, is the link between the arrival of the nicer weather and how it is intrinsically linked to the knowledge of upcoming exams. I can still vividly remember for my GCSEs, A-levels and degree how the sun would shine and I would want to be outside, yet my focus had to remain on my work.

One of the things I start to get contacted about a lot from this point of the year onwards is for those who have GCSEs or A-levels coming up this summer. The growing sense they are coming closer, that sense of pressure to do well, the dread of the exam room and going blank and all the other exam related anxiety and stress, can lead to overwhelm and panic. 

Exams can be pretty stressful events at the best of times, but add in anxiety, stress and diminishing confidence and it massively escalates all those unhelpful thoughts and worst case scenarios and lead to underperforming in the exam room. 

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Virtual Reality Exposure and Cognitive Behavioural Hypnotherapy For Fear of Flying:

Last week I headed back over to the virtual reality flying simulator team that I'll be delivering my fear of flying course alongside. I've written already about the VR machine and the fear of flying course we have developed, in these two articles: i) New fear of flying course - help to overcome flying nerves and anxiety; and ii) Fear of Flying - Calmly Taking To The Air in a Boeing 737.

Naturally, one thing I've spent a fair amount of time researching and investigating is the added value of virtual reality for helping with fear of flying and the best methods of integrating that aspect with my cognitive behavioural hypnotherapy. And there is actually a fair amount of research out there that has looked at virtual reality exposure treatment for fear of flying and its benefits and effectiveness.

Many existing approaches make use of anxiety management and cognitive techniques, alongside providing accurate information about aeroplanes and flying as a way to calm that fear. Some approaches make use of exposure techniques that could range from going to an airport, watching and listening to the sound of aeroplanes taking off and landing and then, where practical, sitting in a plane before then moving on to actually flying somewhere.

Of course, some of these elements are easier to realise than others to help you overcome your fear of flying. As long as it isn't too far, getting to an airport and watching and listening to planes is probably achievable. Actually arranging to sit on a stationary plane for a bit is harder to achieve and the opportunities for repeating this and subsequent steps become less and less. This is where virtual reality exposure can really nail the gap in your progress to reduce your fear before you actually fly.

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New fear of flying course - help to overcome flying nerves and anxiety:

Fear of flying is perhaps one of the most common fears and phobias around (along with the fears of public speaking and death). It's estimated that up to 25% of the population battle with the fear of flying.

This can lead to avoiding flying completely due to the fear and anxiety associated with it, or perhaps simply trying to force yourself through it and living with the uncomfortable thoughts and feelings that come with a flight. Other people may also use alcohol to try and numb the anxiety and help them relax or rely on prescribed medication such as diazepam. And, of course, all these methods can have negative and anxious connotations and consequences that make air travel something to be feared and limited.

I've helped many people to overcome their fear of flying and there is no doubt that hypnotherapy can be a very effective method of overcoming that aviophobia. Yet there is always a leap between the hypnotherapy sessions and then an actual flight. Unless you have easy access to a plane then there is not much scope for testing your therapeutic progress and for having an opportunity to put strategies and techniques into place. There isn't much scope for developing confidence and self-efficacy around flying.

Which is where my new fear of flying course comes in. I'm pretty excited at how well this can combine psychological processes along with education about flying, and the opportunity to put that learning and those calming techniques into practice in the cockpit.

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Does Mental Health Stigma Stop People Seeking Help?

A little while back marked the annual 'Time To Talk Day' which is part of the 'Time To Change' campaign to end mental health discrimination. The campaign encourages people to talk about mental health as a way of breaking down the barriers and stigma around the subject.

And, of course, showing support to others and creating a space where you can talk about and express feelings is a good thing. In my experience, many people still do not understand things like anxiety and depression unless or until they experience it for themselves. Being open, supportive and showing others that they matter is always important. If someone close to you wants to talk then be there for them; if someone close to you doesn't want to talk then be there for them.

There's little doubt that there is still much room for improvement in improving education, support and help for people struggling with mental health problems. Talking about mental health is good yet much more needs to be done for people to understand and feel able to actively seek the help they need (which is perhaps where many well-meaning 'just talking about it' groups come unstuck).

We could probably also have a long conversation about whether talking about 'stigma' inadvertently supports its existence. Some might argue that talking about it and highlighting it just re-enforces it because it keeps it in existence (if you follow me...if you keep telling people there is stigma and re-enforcing the idea in people's minds then it will always exist won't it?). Far better, in my opinion, to talk about what we do want - good mental health and appropriate support and recognition - and be the change we want to see.

Anyway, I could digress but here today I'm more interested in looking at whether mental health related stigma does in fact deter or stop people from seeking help.

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Relaxation Training For Anxiety - Could It Help You Ease Your Anxiety?

Like most weeks, this week I have been hugely busy helping many people to manage, reduce and overcome their anxiety. As part of that treatment, I always encourage people to find ways they can mentally, emotionally and physically calm things down a bit. After all, if you are more relaxed and calm for a while then your anxiety has to reduce a few levels doesn't it? 

Perhaps one of the best aspects about learning to feel calmer and more relaxed is that it is something anyone can do. Sure, with all those anxious thoughts and feelings it may take a bit of time and application, yet we are all biologically and naturally able to do so. We just need to learn methods that work for us and that we can incorporate into our daily lives.

And given that when we feel more relaxed we tend to feel better in ourselves and be able to think more clearly and rationally, it seems a little strange that relaxation training is often dismissed as 'just relaxation'. 

Earlier this week my regular bootcamp was cancelled twice in a row; once due to unsafe icy conditions and the other due to the illness of the instructor. Like many others who use exercise for their mental health and physical health I noticed a difference in how I felt without this usual release and focus. And certainly there is nothing I find more relaxing than lying in bed at night with a good book and getting absorbed in the story line (I love those classic crime novels!). I've also been using my Alexa a lot with the kids to play thinking games (like 'fact or fib' or 'escape room') so we all get some time away from the screen and have to use our brains a bit (even if my seven year old seems able to randomly guess the right answer in any true/false quiz and beat me time and time again!).

Finding time to relax certainly does pay dividends in reducing anxiety and helping mental health, yet could actual relaxation training also provide you with feeling better benefits? 

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Hypnosis - How Does It Work & What Are The Benefits? My Latest Good Zing Article:

"From managing anxiety to boosting confidence, a hypnotherapist breaks down how hypnosis works and how it can help you break bad habits." So begins my latest article for the fantastic Good Zing website. 

And as they write on their webiste, 'Good Zing is the best resource for you to find (*and share) all of the best wellbeing and self-care tips for specific issues – from dealing with everyday common physical ailments to emotional and mental health issues.'

My latest article is all about my take on what hypnosis is, how it can help you and with a bit about how hypnosis can help you with your anxiety (something I've also written about for their website in these earlier articles: Can Hypnotherapy Really Help Anxiety? and 5 Simple Ways To Shut Down Your Anxiety)

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Anxiety - How To Deal With Anxious Thoughts:

Phew! It's been a blistering start to the New Year and January is well and truly over already! How did that happen!

Hot on the heels of Christmas came my daughter's eleventh birthday one weekend, and a sleepover involving five over-excited (and then over-tired and over-sugared) ten and eleven year olds for her sleepover party. That was one loooonnnngggg night! And it wasn't helped by my seven year old who had to cram in to bed in between my wife and I, and who decided (in her sleep) that if her elbow hit something hard when she moved (my head) then the best thing was to keep elbowing it until it moved.

Being in the office and helping people to overcome their anxiety and other unwanted and unnecessary thoughts, feelings and behaviours has seemed like a rest compared to that night!!

On top of all that home stuff, and a return to bootcamp after the festive break (oh the muscle soreness!), I've been really busy helping people who have been struggling with anxiety and who want to break free from that ongoing cycle of anxious thoughts.

In this article I'm going to suggest some ways in which you can start to interrupt, challenge and let go of anxious thoughts so that your anxiety reduces and you can find yourself feeling more at ease, more relaxed and just generally feeling better mentally and physically.

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