for better mental health

Running eased my anxiety in lockdown

Tuesday, 23 February 2021 Emily

Emily blogs about how Move for Mind has boosted her mental health in the pandemic.

Exercise has long been known to significantly improve your mental health, and I’ve made enough progress with my running in the past year to brave the cold and do my bit.

I hadn’t even run 30 miles in my whole life and could barely jog for 90 seconds, so I was setting myself a real test.

Exercise is great for mental health, but having a target to meet each day helped keep me motivated and prevent my anxiety from spiraling out of control. This time last year, I probably hadn’t even run 30 miles in my whole life and could barely jog for 90 seconds, so I was setting myself a real test in doing the 30-day Move for Mind Challenge.

Staying mentally well

I wanted to do this challenge and raise money so that Mind can continue to be a great resource for people who are looking for support. It took me a while to recognise what was happening to me when I was at my lowest, and I often wonder how things would have turned out if I had got help earlier on. Measures to reduce the spread of Covid-19 are of course the priority at the moment, but the unintended consequences of most of these are having a negative impact on our mental health. Most of the things we normally rely on to keep us going, such as seeing friends and family, going to the gym and days out, have been taken away, so to stay mentally well it’s vital to create other things to focus your mind on.

I was diagnosed with general anxiety and panic disorder in 2014, during my A levels. General anxiety basically means that I worry. A lot. I worry about things that the average person wouldn’t even think about and then overthink those things. The best analogy I can use is to imagine that we are all cars. Most car alarms only get set off at an attempted break into the vehicle, but my alarm is the one that gets set off by a little gust of wind.

I’ve been struggling in the pandemic. I like routine, feeling in control and certainty, and there is none of that at the moment.

It’s taken some time and a combination of medication, yoga, routine and mindfulness, but I’ve learnt to accept that that’s just how my brain works. Rather than get frustrated with myself and fight against it, I have learnt how to manage it and work with it. But, like so many people, I’ve been struggling in the pandemic. I like routine, feeling in control and certainty, and there is none of that at the moment.

Feeling restless and anxious

Before the pandemic, I did exercise that I enjoyed. Having discovered yoga during my breakdown in 2014, exercise became a big part of my routine to keep anxiety at bay, along with mindfulness techniques and medication. I typically did classes at the gym twice a week, as well as my Latin and Ballroom lessons. As well as just being great fun and a way to stay fit, they were little things I looked forward to as part of my weekly routine that helped me stay sane –   without them I would find myself feeling restless and anxious. When all those options were taken away last year, I was desperate to try something else that was within the lockdown rules to avoid my anxiety taking over again. Whilst Zoom is a great tool, and I am grateful than my dance classes are running online, it doesn’t give me a chance to get out of the house, which I so desperately need to break the day up.

Until last year the only running you’d have caught me doing is chasing after the ice cream van.  However, after weeks of walking and indoor workouts, I bit the bullet and I decided to trial a gentle daily jog for a couple of weeks and take it from there. I promised myself if I hated it, there would be no point in forcing myself to carry on.

Completing my first fundraiser challenge has given me a huge sense of achievement.

I found it hard at first but…I didn’t hate it. I surprised myself and stuck with it, gradually building it up over the next few months. No pressure, targets or expectations, just sticking a podcast on and running at my own pace, in a way that makes me feel good. Now here I am a year later, managing 4km in 30 minutes! Completing my first fundraiser challenge has given me a huge sense of achievement and that in itself has helped boost my mood, so whether it’s running, walking or cycling, I’d definitely recommend it.

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