Taking a holistic approach to exercise
Those that know me personally will be already know that I'm a big advocate for a holistic approach to exercise and fitness. You might be thinking "What does holistic health have to do with energy gels?" but at VALA, wellbeing doesn't end at physical health. For us, it incorporates an emotional, nutritional and spiritual aspect that encourages us to take a more balanced approach to lifestyle, diet and exercise.
I often talk about the relationship between physical health, mental health and gut health being a large part of VALA's purpose. I strongly believe that we should do as much as possible to minimise the effects of emotional and physical stress through a whole food diet, taking the time to listen to our bodies and adjusting our lifestyles accordingly. As someone that was diagnosed with exhaustion in my previous career and had several suspected glandular fever diagnoses due to mismanaged work-related stress, I've found that physical exercise is just one part of the self-care puzzle. Prioritising mental health is another huge contributor to leading a balanced lifestyle. We each manage stressful situations differently, but through years of trial and error I've found that going to 'brain gym' has led to many positive changes in my mindset. Below I've added a few of my favourite ways to take a more peaceful approach to each day.
You might think ‘Where do I start?’, but gratitude doesn’t have to be complicated. It can be as simple as naming a handful of positive or special things that happened to you throughout the day, whilst winding down before sleep. These can range from going for a walk in the sunshine to drinking your favourite coffee. There are no rules here - the trick is to be present and not just ‘go through the motions’ when reflecting. Try looking for the silver lining in a tough situation - for example, although our daily routines might have been disrupted, most of us have the opportunity to spend more time with loved ones during this self-isolation period.
Much like physical training, gratitude exercises can really compound over time to help with a change of mindset, emotional growth and a more positive outlook.
I hear so many friends say ‘I’m terrible at meditation’ but much like gratitude, there’s no right or wrong way to do it. There are so many options available - from transcendental meditation to movement meditation. If, like me, you’re easily distracted when trying to quieten your mind, then perhaps consider a guided meditation. I find that these allow my brain to be present rather than wandering off on one of its many tangents. There’s an abundance of free playlists available on YouTube and Spotify that are excellent for beginners. Whilst it might take a bit of trial and error to find one that you really enjoy and can engage with, it will be worth it.
Pro tip: Spotify has a ‘sleep timer’ that you can set before you press play so that your phone will switch off at the end of the meditation.
YOGA AND STRETCHING
I’m often guilty of prioritising running or gym time over stretching but when I do it consistently, I really do notice the positive mental benefits (yoga teachers everywhere are muttering “Surprise, surprise!”). Stretching can help to improve joint range of motion, relax muscle tension and decrease the risk of injury. As I’m sure you’ll agree, nothing is guaranteed to dampen your mood more than an injury that puts you out of action for several weeks or months - so help to prevent this with stretching. Yoga is said to reduce tension headaches (which can be a side effect of stress) and inversions are great mood-boosters - so start practicing your downward dog!
Try setting aside 15 minutes each day to start with a few key stretches and you’ll soon notice the benefits for mind and body.
If there’s one thing I would tell my younger self to start, it would be therapy. Last year I felt overwhelmed by what was later recognised as anxiety and OCD. So I decided to get professional advice from a brilliant therapist specialising in CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy). Not only did I learn why my brain was reacting and thinking the way it was, I learned coping mechanisms, which incorporated mindfulness and grounding techniques. After each session I thought “I wish I’d done this years ago, then I might have had a different perspective on certain situations”. Therapy really has been life-changing and I can’t recommend it enough.
If you don’t feel like therapy is for you, speaking to a close friend or family member can be a great way to process tough situations. After all, as the saying goes... ‘A problem shared is a problem halved’.
I hope that these tips are helpful and I believe that the secret to improving our mental health is compassion, patience and consistency. By carving out a bit of 'me time’ each day to do these mental exercises, they can really help us to feel more grounded and present in the moment.