With the new year upon us, you may be thinking about your health and wellbeing. While blood tests and health checks are a useful intervention to understand and work on your wellbeing, fitness, diet and mental health all play a role.
We linked up with experts in the fields for their best advice to improve your health in 2023.
In this blog we catch up with Gary Rutherford, a professionally registered Mental Health Nurse, qualified personal trainer and the Founder of non-profit, ARC Fitness. Gary has been in sober and in recovery for over 11 years after battling years of substance use and dependence. He has recently been awarded The Royal College of Nursing ‘Nurse of the Year’ 2022. ARC Fitness seeks to support individuals, recovering from addiction and substance use, the opportunity to focus on improving their mental and physical wellbeing through physical activity, professional support, and re-connection with community. In this blog Gary shares his top tips for mental health and mindset and explains why all aspects of health are interconnected.
Just how important is our mental Health?
As a mental health nurse professional, I am pretty biased about just how much importance should be placed on looking after our mental health. I also have lived experience of struggling with my own mental health, battling substance use disorder and dependence, I and have first-hand knowledge of what happens when we don’t look after our heads.
The reality is that mental health problems affect tens of millions of people in the UK every day, it affects relationships, our ability to get through day-to-day activities, or going to work. But, unlike most physical health issues, mental health conditions are not visible, yet no less important or debilitating. Mental health problems are very common, 1 in 4 people, and cover a broad spectrum of symptoms from day to day worries and anxieties to serious and long-term conditions.
In society we use the term ‘mental health’ a lot, it seems to be a social media staple, but in my experience, many of us don’t have a full understanding on what it means. Mental health is a term that is used to describe how we think, feel, experience emotions, and therefore behave. It affects how we relate to others, make choices, manage stress and bounce back when something goes wrong in our lives.
Everyone is different and person’s mental health doesn’t always remain the same. As circumstances change and different things happen throughout life, our mental health can change too. We should not be defined by the struggles we face at any one-time, mental health problems are heavily stigmatised in our culture too. Many people who experience mental health issues try to keep their feelings hidden because they are afraid of other people’s reactions. People fear being seen in a negative way because of their mental ill health. I see this all the time and it one of the biggest barriers for someone seeking the help they need.
Movement. The Mental Health ‘game changer.’
When it comes to our mental health, never underestimate the power of Movement. The body and mind are very much connected. At ARC we utilise the phrase ‘Motion Changes Emotion’ and we believe in the power physical activity has in changing the brain chemistry and the outlook of individuals. It is also something that has been studied for decades.
Exercise not only releases serotonin, our natural feel-good chemical, it also improves self-esteem, self-worth, improves resilience and produces the stress relieving chemical cortisol. When I eventually stopped self-medicating with drugs and alcohol and engaged in regular physical activity (in my case running) it was life changing for me in terms of recovery. ARC Fitness is founded on that experience. I firmly believe that if we used exercise as a prescription to help manage low level anxiety and mood disorders, we would have much less reliance on unnecessary medications that only allow people to manage symptoms. Get up and get moving because the motion of doing something is far better than the emotion of doing nothing.
Keeping our heads in Check.
Covid 19 came along and plunged the world into chaos and uncertainty and given the high levels of stress and poor mental health we are seeing post lockdown it’s never been so important to better manage our mental health. The public health agency developed the 5 ways to wellbeing to help keep on top of our mental health. It is rooted in the principle that if you engage regularly in these 5 specific areas you should experience a positive level of mental health. It’s not about being an expert in one area but finding balance within them all. They are:
There is strong evidence that indicates that feeling close to, and valued by, other people is a fundamental human need and one that contributes to functioning well in the world. Social relationships are critical for promoting wellbeing and for acting as a buffer against mental ill health for people of all ages. Get around good people.
- Be Active
Regular physical activity is associated with lower rates of depression and anxiety across all age groups. Exercise is essential for slowing age-related cognitive decline and for promoting well-being. It doesn’t need to be particularly intense for you to feel good – slower-paced activities, such as walking, can have the benefit of encouraging social interactions as well providing some level of exercise.
- Be Mindful
Reminding yourself to ‘take notice’ can strengthen and broaden awareness. Studies have shown that being aware of what is taking place in the present directly enhances your well-being. Heightened awareness also enhances your self-understanding and allows you to make positive choices based on your own values and motivations.
Continued learning through life enhances self-esteem and encourages social interaction and a more active life. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the opportunity to engage in work or educational activities particularly helps to lift people out of depression. The practice of setting goals has been strongly associated with higher levels of wellbeing.
- Give Back
Participation in social and community life has attracted a lot of attention in the field of wellbeing research. Individuals who report a greater interest in helping others are more likely to rate themselves as happy. Research into actions for promoting happiness has shown that committing an act of kindness once a week over a six-week period is associated with an increase in wellbeing.
My top 10 tips for Keeping on top of your mental health.
Taking action to stay on top of your emotional health and wellbeing should not only happen when a problem arises. It should be cultivated into your daily life and routines. Over the years I have had to do this, and I have created a mental health top 10 list of things to keep you on top of your mental health game. Try these tips to keep your balance, or re-balance yourself. Thank me later.
- Self Compassion.
Treat yourself with kindness and respect and avoid self-criticism. We become what we tell ourselves, so be kind.
- Take care of your body.
Take care of yourself physically, eat well, avoid smoking or vaping, drink plenty of water, engage in regular exercise, and get enough sleep.
- Surround yourself with good people.
People with strong healthy social connections are generally healthier than those who lack a support network. Iron sharpens Iron
4. Give yourself.
Volunteer your time and energy to help someone else. You’ll feel good about doing something tangible to help someone in need.
- Learn to deal with stress.
Like it or not, stress is a part of life. Practice good coping skills. Try One-Minute Stress Strategies, do yoga, or take a nature walk as a stress reducer.
- Quiet your mind:
Try meditating or Mindfulness. Relaxation exercises can improve your state of mind and outlook on life.
- Set realistic goals:
Decide what you want to achieve and write down the steps you need to realise your goals. Aim high, but be realistic and don’t over-schedule.
- Try New Things:
Although our routines make us more efficient and enhance our feelings of security and safety, a little change every now and again is also important.
- Avoid alcohol and other drugs:
Keep alcohol use to a minimum and avoid other drugs. Sometimes people use alcohol and other drugs to “self-medicate” but in reality, alcohol and other drugs only aggravate problems.
- Get help when you need it:
Seeking help is a sign of strength — not a weakness. And it is important to remember that treatment is effective. People who get appropriate care can recover from mental illness and addiction and lead full, rewarding lives.
You only get one head, its best to look after it. If you are experiencing severe or distressing symptoms that have lasted 2 weeks or more, please reach out and seek professional help. Don’t wait until your symptoms are overwhelming. Talk about your concerns with your GP and friends / family. It’s ok to ask for help.
For more information on ARC Fitness and their services click here.