The 10th of October is recognised worldwide as World Mental Health Day, the 25th day dedicated to raising awareness of mental health and fighting the associated stigma. It’s clear to see that yes there still is a stigma surrounding mental health but this is something which I am seeing people talk about and feel comfortable with sharing more and more now than ever. The pictures above show myself at different stages in my life, some happy and secure within my self, others not so much. But by looking you wouldn’t know what battles I was fighting and with the stigma associated with mental health many people are still covering up their battles with a smile. Physical changes caused by exercise are what you see, but the bigger mental changes are always overlooked.
I think the real stigmas around mental health are held within the workplace, a place which actually many mental health issues catalyse due to stress. A few years ago now, this is exactly where my mental health issues began. But at this time I didn’t know it was mental health, I didn’t even know what I was going through at the time. All I knew was that my workplace wasn’t supportive of me and my only option was to leave my job that I once loved. What I was going through was work related stress, which was made worse by losing someone very close to me. By not dealing head on with my own issues, this then led to very low self worth and self-esteem. Blaming myself for everything that happened became normal, accepting and expecting failure became the only route I knew. We shouldn’t look back and dwell on the past but I always wonder what would’ve happened if I had actually spoken about my feelings or somebody understood what I was going through. But instead I found my own coping mechanisms.
Exercise and taking care of my own health was the turning point for me, something I had control over in my life. I couldn’t control my emotions, nor could I change others opinions of myself. But what I could do was have that constant in my life that was controlled by myself. Of course starting out wasn’t easy. Joining a gym is daunting, exercising in front of people is even more so. But once I got past those initial fears, I had found a place where I felt free just to work on myself. Somewhere I could be completely selfish and take an hour out of my day to just work on me. Giving yourself that time, whether it’s weight-lifting, yoga or running is so valuable not just for your physical fitness but mental health too. In a world where we give so much time to work, you have to have that time to enjoy your own interests and hobbies. An hour out of your day to exercise is just 4% of your day, so even if you do lead a busy lifestyle there really are no excuses. Your mental well being deserves no excuses and should always be top of that list of priorities.
Another benefit of exercise is the feel-good endorphins released. These endorphins react with the receptors in your brain reducing that feeling of pain and triggering that positive feeling in your body (it is viewed as being similar to that of morphine without the dependence). Along with those endorphins you will actually feel better about yourself seeing those improvements in your body. Personally, this helped so much with my own self-esteem. Seeing that ‘yes I can do what I set my mind to’, I can love my body and love the strong person that I have become. On those days when I do feel down and of course it happens a lot, I just have to remind myself of how hard I have worked and what I have achieved for myself -mentally not just physically. Always remember that the pictures you see on social media are just that – pictures. They are not a representation of someone as a whole, you don’t know their mental situation and they could be battling something bigger than you’ll ever know. Always be kind, always remember to put your mental health first and please just speak to someone, anyone you don’t have to suffer in silence.