Last week I entered RED January 2019, an initiative set up in partnership with the Mental Health Charity Mind that encourages you to support your mental health by doing something active every single day. As the UK’s leading mental health charity, Mind do incredible work in this field. They give advice and support, to anyone experiencing a mental health problem.
People who don’t run or have no interest in running will often say “You must be mental to do that, or you aren’t right in the head!”, when you mention the idea of running a half marathon or marathon. But the truth of the matter is that without running or getting out in the fresh air a few times a week it is far worse for my Mental Health, I become irritable and short tempered, feeling trapped and pent up. It is just how I process things out on the run, no distractions bar the odd passing dog walker or car. I haven’t been diagnosed with any mental health problems but have felt isolated and alone and used running or physical activity as a distraction or coping mechanism, and it has worked largely due to knowing how the next 5K, 10K, hour or 4 hours or more will be spent and the elation of finishing after a struggle and completing a target.
There have been 2 main points where running and physical activity has been helpful and almost a crutch in my life. I was in the military before I joined the emergency services, and would spend some time deployed on operations. For one of my deployments I had trained with my friends and colleagues and was expected to perform a set role but once I deployed that changed, my role was changed due to operational deployments and I would often spend long periods without seeing my friends due to the nature of military operations.
Things started to go wrong early on when I had my R and R (Rest and Recuperation) a short period into my deployment and then had to complete a long stint 5 months plus prior to returning home. At work I was surrounded by people but I felt alone I was the lowest rank, and would often only see my peers at the change in shift. I became isolated and withdrawn, I just didn’t feel myself. I would use spare time or down time to train in the gym on the rowing machine or the running machine and feel much better after almost buzzing after completing a workout, this would last for a good few hours and after a few times I put it into a routine that helped keep me sane.
The second time running really helped with my mental health was when I left the military, I change I found and still find hard to deal with. I struggled initially to find work and would apply for jobs and hear nothing back or not make shortlists for interviews. I would go to the job centre and have to evidence what I had done in the weeks previous trying to find employment often to no success a feeling of rejection set in and I began questioning my worth and ability, was I putting too much value in my own abilities? But it wasn’t just in a professional sense I struggled I did find employment a short period after, it was more in a personal sense.
I missed the friends I had made, the comradeship the “lads”. I was part of a close knit group of friends we worked hard and played hard, watching the football going to the bar socializing in the block, it was great. Leaving the military meant I also left this behind, I knew in my heart of hearts I had left for the right reasons but couldn’t help but feel a little empty at what I had lost. What I had gained was so much more I am married, have a beautiful wife and son, dog, nice house and good job, but I still miss that comradeship knowing that there is someone there for you at 23:00 for a chat or a brew, just knowing that someone had your back so to speak. I am sure I am not the only one who feels like this as most ex serviceman I speak to all say the same “I miss the lads, or my mates”, and that is because no matter how bad things got you would always have someone who would say “This is shit but it could be…” and use humor to get out of it. Running has eased this and so has friendship and the support of my long suffering running widow wife.
The science behind the link of physical activity and mental health is essentially exercise is well known to stimulate the body to produce endorphins, the body’s natural feel-good hormones.