Mental health and exercise

There are lots of reasons why being active is good for your body – having a healthy heart and improving joints and bones are just two.

But, did you know that it is also beneficial for your mental health and wellbeing?

We need to change the way we view being active in the UK in order not to see it as something we ‘have to do’, ‘should do’ or ‘ought to do’ for our health, but as something that we do because we personally value its positive benefits to our wellbeing.

Being active doesn’t have to mean doing sport or going to the gym. There are lots of ways to be active; find the one that works for you.

What impact does physical activity have on wellbeing?

Physical activity has a huge potential to enhance our wellbeing. Even just a short burst of 10 minutes’ brisk walking increases our mental alertness, energy and positive mood. Regular physical exercise can increase our self-esteem and can reduce stress and anxiety. It also plays a role in preventing the development of mental health problems and in improving the quality of life of people who are experiencing mental health problems.

Mood

It has been shown to have a positive impact on our mood. A study asked people to rate their mood immediately after periods of physical activity (e.g. going for a walk or doing housework), and periods of inactivity (e.g. reading a book or watching television). Researchers found that the participants felt more content, more awake and calmer after being physically active compared to after periods of inactivity. They also found that the effect of physical activity on mood was greatest when mood was initially low. There are many studies looking at physical activity at different levels of intensity and its impact on people’s mood. Overall, research has found that low-intensity aerobic exercise – for 30–35 minutes, 3–5 days a week, for 10–12 weeks – was best at increasing positive moods.

Stress

When events occur that make us feel threatened or that upset our balance in some way, our body’s defences cut in and create a stress response, which may make us feel a variety of uncomfortable physical symptoms and make us behave differently, and we may also experience emotions more intensely.The most common physical signs of stress include sleeping problems, sweating, and loss of appetite. Symptoms like these are triggered by a rush of stress hormones in our body – otherwise known as the ‘fight or flight’ response. It is these hormones, adrenaline and noradrenaline, which raise our blood pressure, increase our heart rate and increase the rate at which we perspire, preparing our body for an emergency response. They can also reduce blood flow to our skin and can reduce our stomach activity, while cortisol, another stress hormone, releases fat and sugar into the system to boost our energy.

Physical exercise can be very effective in relieving stress. Research on employed adults has found that highly active individuals tend to have lower stress rates compared to individuals who are less active.

Self esteem

Not only does physical activity have a positive impact on our physical health, but it can also increase our self-esteem. Self-esteem is how we feel about ourselves and how we perceive our self-worth. It is a key indicator of our mental wellbeing and our ability to cope with life stressors.

Physical activity has been shown to have a positive influence on our self-esteem and self-worth. This relationship has been found in all age ranges and across both males and females.

Dementia and cognitive decline in older people

Improvements in healthcare have led to an increasing life expectancy and a growing population of people over 65 years. Alongside this increase in life expectancy, there has been an increase in the number of people living with dementia as well as people with cognitive decline. The main symptom of dementia is memory loss; it is a progressive disease that results in people becoming more impaired over time. Decline in cognitive functions, such as attention and concentration, also occurs in older people, including those who do not develop dementia. Physical activity has been identified as a protective factor in studies that examined risk factors for dementia. For people who have already developed the disease, physical activity can help to delay further decline in functioning. Studies show that there is approximately a 20% to 30% lower risk of depression and dementia for adults participating in daily physical activity. Physical activity also seems to reduce the likelihood of experiencing cognitive decline in people who do not have dementia.

Depression and anxiety

It can also be an alternative treatment for depression, it can be used as a standalone treatment or in combination with medication and/or psychological therapy. Physical activity has few side effects and does not have the stigma that some people perceive to be attached to taking antidepressants or attending psychotherapy and counselling.

It can reduce levels of anxiety in people with mild symptoms and may also be helpful for treating clinical anxiety. Physical activity is also available to everyone, has few costs attached, and is an empowering approach that can support self-management.

Amy Winehouse

Her beehive and her unique vocals made her instantly recognisable but underneath that, Amy Winehouse was a troubled soul. Born on 14th September 1983 in South London, Amy’s love of jazz was influenced by her family. Her father would often sing Frank Sinatra to her. Amy was signed to Simon Fuller’s 19 Management in 2002. Her debut album Frank was released in October 2003 and entered the upper levels of the UK charts in 2004. Frank went on to achieve platinum sales and was also nominated for two Brit Awards. Back To Black was Amy’s next studio album, released in the UK on 30th October 2006. The album was an all out success, it was the worlds seventh biggest selling album of 2008.

But amid the stardom and the successful career, Amy was waging a war against herself. Some speculate that the mid 2006 death of her grandmother sent Amy into her addiction. Amy herself during interviews admitted to experiencing problems with self harm, eating disorders as well as depression. A US reporter writes that Winehouse was a “victim of mental illness in a society that doesn’t understand or respond to mental illness with great effectiveness.”

Amy experienced various legal issues, as well as harassment from the press. She abstained from drug but quickly fell into alcohol abuse.

At 3:54pm on 23rd July 2011, two ambulances were called to Amy’s home, where she had tragically passed away. After her death was announced, media and camera crews appeared, as crowds gathered near Winehouse’s residence to pay their respects. Forensic investigators entered the flat as police cordoned off the street outside; they recovered one small and two large bottles of vodka from her room.

A coroner’s inquest reached a verdict of misadventure. The report released on 26 October 2011 explained that Winehouse’s alcohol content was 416 mg per 100 ml (0.416%) at the time of her death, more than five times the legal drink drive level. According to the coroner, “The unintended consequences of such potentially fatal levels was her sudden death.” It was confirmed in a later investigation that Amy’s cause of death was alcohol poisoning.

Amy’s parents set up The Amy Winehouse Foundation to prevent harm from drug misuse among young people, and her brother Alex is an employee.

There was a large amount of media attention devoted to the 27 club once again. Just three years earlier, she had expressed a fear of dying at that age.

Cory Monteith

On July 13th 2013 a popular actors life was abruptly cut short. That actor was Cory Monteith. A star in the hit series Glee, Cory had the world at his feet. So what went wrong for this tragic young man that sent him into a spiral of self destruction?

Cory had a troubled adolescence, his parents divorced when he was 7, and he saw little of his father due to his commitment to the military. Cory also had social difficulties at school and was battling with substance abuse at age 13. An intervention from his family pushed him to enter rehab at 19. After breaking into show biz Cory had periods of stability and abstinence from drugs. However, during March of 2013 he sought treatment after being urged to do so by the Glee cast and crew. He completed his treatment on April 26th 2013.

Saturday 13th July, Cory’s body was discovered after he failed to check out of his hotel room in Vancouver, he was 31 years old. The final autopsy report, released by the British Columbia Coroners Service on October 2, 2013, confirmed previous findings of accidental death. It noted that Monteith also had codeine and morphine in his system at the time of his death, and that he was found with drug paraphernalia that included a spoon with drug residue and a used hypodermic needle, as well as two empty bottles of champagne. The coroner also wrote that Cory had experienced intermittent periods of drug abuse and abstinence throughout his life, and that “after a period of cessation from opioid drug use, a previously tolerated drug concentration level may become toxic and fatal.” His stay in rehab only months before his death, and his attempt to stay off drugs, was ultimately responsible for his lowered tolerance to the drug.

Such a tragic end to such a talented actor. It is clear that Cory had tried hard to beat his demons and incredibly unfortunate that his demons overcame him.

Just a thought…

I’d love to hear your thoughts on what I am about to discuss.

I witnessed an exchange recently between a parent and their son. Their son was cold so decided to go inside and the parent began making fun of him. Calling him what I am sure seemed like a harmless name and may have been joking, but my point is this… in a world where mental illness has reached crisis levels, we as a society need to be teaching our children, particularly our boys, that vulnerability does not make them weak, nor does it make them the name I heard this parent call their child.

I am not by any means trying to parent shame, we need to be conscious of the things we joke about with our children. The things we may deem as harmless fun could have a detrimental effect on their mental wellbeing.

Keith Flint – A Tragic End

On March 4th 2019, the music world was rocked by the news of Keith Flints death. Subsequent media reporting suggested that the Prodigy frontman took his own life. However, a coroner has since concluded that they cannot definitively confirm that he intended to end his life. According to toxicology reports Keith had unspecified amounts of alcohol, Codeine and Cocaine in his system at the time of his death. The coroner recorded an open conclusion as there was insufficient evidence to support a suicide ruling as well as not enough to rule his death an accident either.

So… What happened?

Before his death Keith Flint was having financial troubles, his pub firm had debts in excess of £500,000 as well as owing £7.3 million in debts and taxes. There were also suggestions of trouble within his marriage and that Keith had begged his wife to reconsider their separation. Friends of Keith claimed that his wife refused and insisted their house was sold. This apparently broke him.

Personally I’m not sure what I think about Keith Flints death. The coroner was privy to information that has not been released, but what I can say is that if the financial troubles and a crumbling marriage were weighing heavily on him, there is a strong possibility that the drugs and alcohol skewed his mindset. It is incredibly tragic either way, whether intentional or not.

In Remembrance of those who made the ultimate sacrifice

In Flanders’ fields the poppies blow

Between the crosses, row on row,

That mark our place: and in the sky

The larks, still bravely singing, fly

Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the dead. Short days ago

We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,

Loved and were loved, and now we lie

In Flanders’ fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe;

To you from failing hands we throw

The torch; be yours to hold it high,

If ye break faith with us who die

We shall not sleep, though poppies grow

In Flanders’ Fields.

John McCrae

Tips to stop a panic attack

1. Acceptance and recognition

You may have experienced panic attacks in the past. During an attack, it can help to remember that they pass and cause no physical harm, though they are unpleasant. You should acknowledge that the attack is a brief period of concentrated anxiety and that it will end.

If you are experiencing an attack for the first time, it is advisable to visit a doctor as soon as possible. Some symptoms of panic attacks can indicate other events, such as heart attacks or strokes.

2. Deep breathing

Deep breathing can sometimes bring a panic attack under control. Rapid breathing can increase anxiety and tension, so taking long, slow breaths can help. You should breathe steadily, counting slowly to four while breathing in and to four when breathing out.

A feeling of tightness in the chest can cause you to take short breaths during an attack. It is a good idea to breathe deeply from the abdomen, filling the lungs slowly and steadily.

3. Inhale lavender

Lavender essences have long been used to relieve anxiety and bring about a sense of calm relaxation. Inhaling the scent of lavender oil during a panic attack may help relieve some symptoms. Try rubbing a small amount of oil onto your wrist or hand and inhale.This oil is widely available online. Purchase it only from trusted retailers.However, you should avoid lavender if you have recently taken a benzodiazepine medication. The two together can cause heightened drowsiness.

4. Medication

When a doctor prescribes a medication for use as needed, rather than as a regular dosage, the medicine is referred to as a PRN. These medications typically work quickly.Depending on the severity of panic attacks, a doctor may prescribe a PRN containing a benzodiazepine or a beta-blocker. Propranolol is a beta-blocker that slows a racing heartbeat and decreases blood pressure.Benzodiazepines commonly prescribed for panic attacks include Valium and Xanax. This class of drugs can be highly addictive. The body may quickly develop a tolerance, and a higher dosage will soon be needed to achieve the same effect. People should use them sparingly.

5. Limit stimuli

Sights and sounds can often intensify a panic attack. If possible, find a more peaceful spot. This could mean leaving a busy room or moving to lean against a nearby wall.Closing the eyes can make it easier to focus on breathing and other coping strategies.

6. Learn triggers

Your panic attacks may often be triggered by the same things, such as enclosed spaces, crowds, or problems with money. By learning to manage or avoid triggers, you may be able to reduce the frequency and intensity of attacks.

7. Light exercise

Light exercise can help to stop panic attacks. Exercise releases hormones called endorphins that relax the body and improve the mood.

Walking can help to produce endorphins, and it can also remove a person from a stressful environment. The rhythm of walking may also help you to regulate your breathing.

8. Mindfulness exercises

Panic attacks can make you feel detached from reality. The intensity of anxiety can overtake other senses. Mindfulness can help to re-ground you and direct your focus away from sources of stress.

Below is one example of a mindfulness exercise. Each step should be completed slowly and thoroughly:

• Look at five separate things, thinking about each for some time.

• Listen for four distinct sounds, and examine what is different about each one.

• Touch three objects. Consider the texture, temperature, and uses.

• Identify two different smells. Do they trigger any memories?

• Taste something. This could be a fingertip or a piece of candy.

9. Focus on an object

Concentrating on a nearby object can help you stop a panic attack. If you experience attacks regularly you may want to carry something for this purpose.Focusing on one thing can reduce other stimuli. As you look at the item, you may want to think about how it feels, who made it and what shape it is. This can help to reduce the symptoms of a panic attack.

10. Try muscle relaxation techniques

Another symptom of a panic attack is muscle tension. Practicing muscle relaxation techniques may help to limit an attack. If the mind senses that the body is relaxing, other symptoms, such as rapid breathing, may also diminish.

Progressive muscle relaxation is a popular technique for coping with anxiety and panic attacks.

11. Picture a happy place

The happy place should be somewhere you would feel the most relaxed. Every aspect of it should be pleasing.When a panic attack begins, it can help to close the eyes and imagine being in such a place. Think of how calm it is there. Imagine bare feet touching the cool soil, hot sand, or soft rugs.Thinking about a relaxing and calm environment can help you to become relaxed and calm.

12. Repeat a mantra

A mantra is a word, phrase, or sound that helps with focus and provides strength. Internally repeating a mantra can help a person to come out of a panic attack.The mantra can take the form of reassurance and may be as simple as, “This too shall pass.” Or, it may have a more spiritual meaning.

As you focus on gently repeating a mantra, your physical responses can slow, allowing you to regulate your breathing and relax muscles.

13. Tell people

If panic attacks frequently occur in the same environment, such as a workplace, it may be helpful to inform others and let them know what kind of support they can offer.If an attack happens in public, telling even one person can help. They may be able to locate a quiet spot and prevent other people from crowding in.