I’ve been meaning to write something about this for a while now but just never got round to getting some thoughts down and thinking about it then I saw a report recently about the benefits cycling can have for mental health which was a prompt to get it done. Its a massive, immersive subject but here are my thoughts just quickly.
Mental health, for me, is as important as my physical health and since becoming a Mental Health First Aider at work last year, I’ve had a few referrals now which serve as a reminder how important it is to look after myself first and foremost before I can even consider supporting or helping anyone else. Cycling plays a major role in maintaining my health in general but I just wanted to say something about my mental health.
Mental Health. I think the term ‘Mental’ in the context of health has quite a specific meaning yet it conjures up stigma and stereotypes without even trying. People with ‘mental health issues’ are considered perhaps mad or ‘mentally ill’ which leads to terms like psycho or loon for example. Well that can be the case in extreme circumstances but for the bulk of us ‘normal’ people with a home life and a work life, its the minor stresses life throws at us that can be the real issues for us. This is where what I call the cycle of stigma breeds more stigma and stress and can make minor issues worse for us unless we deal with them. Let me explain.
Mental Health cannot be a taboo subject
You’re stressed at work. Somethings gone wrong, its not your fault but it could make you look bad lets say. The stigma of mental health prevents you talking to someone about it because you think you’ll be seen as weak or just be expected to pull yourself together or deal with it. The stress gets worse and it begins to affect other areas of your life like sleep, and appetite which affects others because you become irritable. You then may need time off work. Its a cycle that can so often play out but the moral of the story is its ok to have issues. They can be your own and as trivial as they need to be. Its ok to talk to someone too or ask someone if you can see them struggling perhaps. Breaking the cycle of stigma, as I call it, is reactive but I prefer to be proactive and do things in my life that help to prevent me slipping into a cycle like that. That is why I ride my bike.
I ride my bike to improve my emotional wellbeing just as much my physical fitness. The two run hand-in-hand.
I think its pretty well documented the benefits exercise can have for our health in general. For me, my exercise, my gym, my escape, my me time is riding my bike. The irony though is that when I used to race and train, I’d pour over my results, my diet and get stressed and nervous about races. Thats gone now and I just ride to work with the odd long ride or event now. There is no pressure and thats the point. I have a routine. Up at 7.15am, dressed and out at 7.40am to ride to work. I get to work. Hot shower, coffee, hot breakfast if I want and I’m up, fresh, primed and ready to go when work starts at 9am. I have a bad day at work, lets say. We all have them. Everything goes wrong. Abuse from customers, colleagues not doing what they’re supposed to, mega busy. I get changed, I ride the long way home. Out of the traffic, in the lanes. I can hear the birds, I can see farm animals. Good workout. I’m tired. I get showered. Have a nice hot meal with Sally. Quick catch up and then we chill. TV, film, play the bass or sit and write a blog. And thats how I try to stay stress-free and keep my mental health in check. Cycling book-ends my day. Home stress is left at home, work stress stays at work. It takes any anxiety out of my day.
Endorphins get released when I ride. They’re a natural painkiller but key to relaxing my mind and boosting my mood
Everybody has a stress container. Small or big, it doesn’t matter. Its always got something in it and it will fill faster with more stress. To keep it in check, we all need a tap, a way of emptying it or it will overflow and then issues with your wellbeing occur. My bike, my blog, playing bass are my taps. What are yours? Think about it. What can you do, what do you like to do that makes you happy? Try and make time for it and do something proactive to look after you mental health and wellbeing. You will be a far happier, calmer person.
Here is a link to a report about a survey that Cycleplan did recently about the mental health benefits of cycling. Read it. There will something relevant you in there somewhere.
Read it here