RED January: Active Everyday To Beat The Blues Away

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If you’re on Instagram it’s quite likely you will have seen some people going on about RED January. Maybe you think it sounds like another new year resolution fad like: Veganuary (please don’t shoot me, I’m an animal too) or Dry January, for those pretending that quitting alcohol is hard for them after an indulgent Christmas. Dietary cleanses and detoxes are once again circulating although I’m not in on the scoop of which one is most trendy this year. Are we still on the Whole 30, alkaline and keto “lifestyle change” tips? Either way it seems that whatever direction we turn you can’t help but be faced with lifestyle challenges promising to transform you into a new you and make you feel miraculously better about your shitty life. RED January could fall into this trap if you frame it in such a way, but it needn’t do.

Run Every Day January is a campaign to encourage people to be active on a daily basis throughout January in an attempt to buffer against the blues. Unlike the title suggests, you don’t have to run every day, I think RED January is just easier to market and brand than MED (Move Every Day) January. A lot of people do interpret RED January as another punitive challenge and as such, that you have to run every single day. It isn’t and this defeats the purpose of the campaign. Instead you just move, whether that’s a kick about in the park with your kids, walking to the shops instead of driving, running a Park Run or doing some yoga. You’re not supposed to break yourself over it, it is quite the opposite; it is about prioritising and taking the head space to move your body, connect with your body and in the meantime reap the benefits of moving for your mood.

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There are heaps and heaps of evidence for the positive effects of exercise on our mental and emotional well-being. It is now common knowledge that we can’t avoid to the point of GPs prescribing Park Run for mild depression in patients. Don’t be fooled, it isn’t a cure-all but it is a good place to start in terms of looking after yourself. Despite the accessibility of moving, 1 in 3 adults and children in the UK do not get enough physical activity. Let me repeat this. 1 in 3 adults and children in the UK do not get enough physical activity. This is quite shocking and with the benefits of exercising being so vast and varied, it really is an under tapped resource that most of us have.

I don’t mean that in a “no excuses” kind of way. It’s not easy starting to get active from being inactive for a period of time. It’s daunting, it’s hard work and sometimes it hurts but bear with me. Bear with yourself because in the long run you’ll be glad you got up and did it (pun entirely intended).

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There are numerous ideas and theories as to why achieving adequate physical activity is so difficult. Sometimes how we frame the idea of physical activity in our minds can really affect our perception of movement (Mental Health Foundation, 2013). Is it an extra and particularly painful chore to fit into our already busy schedules? Or is it a part of your self-care regime? Admittedly, with January being one of the coldest and darkest months of the year often curling up somewhere cosy with a book or a film feels immediately much more appealing. The greater benefits of movement may not be such an immediate gratification, but doing a steady amount will usually provide some hard-earned gratification immediately after exercise. So perhaps, the delay of immediate gratification by 30 minutes isn’t the worst after all.

The health benefits of movement are numerous, particularly for our mental well-being: from providing a protective factor to developing depression and anxiety (Fox, 1999) to increasing our work productivity and performance (Wiese, Kuykendall and Tay, 2017). The best news? You don’t have to go hard or go home; no matter how small or unimpressive you may perceive the achievement and effort to have been, any activity is better than doing none at all: what have you got to lose other than 30 minutes to try and see? (Mental Health Foundation, 2013).

The results from last year’s RED January participants speak for themselves. Last year in a survey of 3000, 87% of REDers felt significantly better physically and mentally after January 2018 from partaking in the challenge. Aside from the RED January challenge and their partnership with the mental health charity, Mind there’s oodles and oodles of evidence, scientific and anecdotal, about the benefits of moving your body.

This isn’t a weight loss message, but a 100% emotional wellness message. Regardless of your size, you DO NOT NEED TO LOSE WEIGHT before you can get active. There is no prescribed aesthetic or requirement in order to move. If you are concerned about your health impacting your ability to exercise I have added a link to a PAR-Q (Physical Activity Readiness Questionnaire) here.

The important focus is just to get moving, preferably in a way that’s enjoyable to you. Exercise does not have to be punitive, and in fact, to get the most from working out a healthy push of your limits is encouraged but don’t put yourself off forever. Start small and keep it real. Punishing yourself for eating something, or to look a certain way is not going to harvest the positive results that make you feel good, empowered and emotionally sound. It will only serve to do the opposite.

In this respect, the virgin active ad recently is a good message: Enough.


Sources:

Fox, K.R. (1999) The influence of physical activity on mental well-being. Public Health Nutrition. 2(3a) pp.411-418.

Mental Health Foundation (2013) Lets Get Physical. London: Mental Health Foundation.

Wiese, C.W., Kuykendall, L. & Tay, L. (2017) Get active? A meta-analysis of leisure-time physical activity and subjective well-being. The Journal of Positive Psychology. 13(1) pp.57-66.

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The Human Interaction Conundrum in The Information Age

As humans we have evolved over the discourse of millions of years. There have been generation after generation before us through which we have evolved for the greater survival of our species. In recent years technology built the internet and made it accessible to most of us most of the time, introducing The Information Revolution. We are now more globally connected and informed than ever: we’re in group chats that are kind of like hanging out; we’re in Facebook groups of people with similar interests to us, most of whom we’ve never met; we follow people’s lives on social media, especially Instagram which is largely based on visuals that we come to feel like we know these people whose content we follow, comment on and share when we really don’t know them at all.

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Tea for One

In becoming more connected with others via technology we are less connected in reality as we use our smart phones to for more and more tasks. Gone are the days of asking someone for directions, of going in person into a cab reception and making conversation whilst waiting, and now coffee chains have even made it possible to order without talking to anyone via our phones without having to even speak or look at another human being, all of which allow for as little human interaction in person as possible (Kushlev, Proulx & Dunn, 2017). Unfortunately, this trend bucks our evolutionary DNA for healthy fulfillment; social interaction has long been an established an innate human need, and is central to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs ((Kushlev, Proulx & Dunn, 2017). Although originally considered to be related only to close relationships such as family, partners and close friends it has transpired over time that the little interactions with strangers as we go about our day are also important (Kushlev, Proulx & Dunn, 2017).

I am very good at spending a lot of time on my own. I can go a while without really seeing anyone and only realise on day 3 or so. The downside to this is that I am quite a socially anxious person. I wouldn’t go as far to suggest I have social anxiety but I get overwhelmed for sure. I get so much anxiety in my stomach when I need to leave the house to go somewhere where I may meet or talk with others so intense that I frequently freeze until it’s too late to go anymore. So when my psychiatrist says to me that I need to get out and interact with people more, in person and preferably doing activities that aren’t solitary, it feels like a the hardest of recommendations to accomplish. It’s a tall order when just being around others can make me cry even though I k now it’s irrational. Consequently, I miss many social plans. Each time gives me a short space of relief but in the long run my anxieties just deepen and grow. It’s fair to say that I’ve been letting anxiety physically stop me from giving myself a chance at getting my human needs met.

So here’s the challenge for the next year or so:

  • Go to more social activities, will opt for sports closer to home to begin with.
  • Use mindfulness and breathing exercises to remain calm
  • Try to scowl less when I am out and about. Apparently this makes me seem unapproachable.
  • Use mood monitoring app to record anxiety levels around social events, whether I succeeded in going or not, what went well and what didn’t.

 


Sources:

Kushlev, K., Proulx, J.D.E. & Dunn, E. (2017) Digitally connected, socially disconnected: The effects of relying on technology rather than other people. Computers in Human Behaviour. 76pp.68-74. (Link)

Mental Health: Keeping Going During a Med Change

Where I’m at and how I plan to keep moving forward.

At the start of December I started a transition from one medication to another. I’m still adjusting but am finally on the prospective dose we hope will help me out. It’s not been easy at all. I have had all sorts of side effects to contend with, during which I have to keep repeating to myself that it will pass, and this right now is just a transition phase. It helps keep up the perseverance it takes to not sack it in or give up on the medication.

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My exercising habits have taken a hit during this time, along with some other parts of my life. I am finding myself really quite apathetic and unmotivated to really move. Currently I could definitely spend a string of days staring at the wall with nothing going on and doing nothing, and actually not even feel bored, or frustrated or anything much at all.

Getting myself going is quite challenging and I’m not really enjoying things as much as I would normally. I feel very much like I’m just trying to force myself to keep up with going through some of the motions each day. I’ve been writing a lot because staying on my computer all day every day is very appealing right now. I can concentrate so reading is a very helpful distraction for passing the time that feels less wasteful than just watching TV or magnolia walls do nothing.

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I’m not sad. I’m not particularly happy or enthused either. I suppose it’s that awkward in-between, so balanced there’s almost nothing. I think, quite understandably, this has impacted my ability to get out and run as much as I would like. Even climbing feels like going through the motions. I’m holding onto the hope that this too will pass and trying very hard to use opposite action to keep moving and doing despite my urges to become a breathing statue.

I feel quite cumbersome within myself. When I move it doesn’t feel easy or natural. When I did last go running it took a long time to get used to the motion of it again. I feel graceless, clumsy and jarred. It’s an odd one.

Therefore I’ve reduced the pressure on myself to do as much as I would ideally like to be doing. I’m trying to make sure I do something each day, and I’m trying to get some form of exercise 5 days a week, as long as it is something. Even if I continue to feel nothing, I think it is important to maintain some form of momentum because in these situations I know that it can be incredibly easy to stagnate in an endless nothingness.

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Getting out can be hard, and nature is a really great carrot of motivation!

So for now, the plan is:

  • Some form of exercise 5 days per week
  • Be sure to eat with balance in mind and get my fruit and veg
  • Get dressed each day
  • Make my bed each day to help dissuade myself from getting back into it
  • Focus on what I have done over what I have not done
  • Keep going to relevant support groups

Marathon Training Journal: Week Three

Week 3:
Monday.
Run 1, type: Just getting out the door!! 2km Run/walk with M.

I got home late this evening. I stayed late at uni doing work then got on the wrong train on my way home. I relaxed for a bit after getting in. I had to give myself a bit of a talking to about running this evening. I’ve been slacking off a bit, if I’m honest. I know I’ve been a bit unstable but if I’m going to get close to stable again, running and exercise is a big piece of that puzzle within what that picture looks like for me.

I can give myself excuses as much as I like. I’m only cheating myself. I can take in my lies of not having time and feeling weak and I’ll go later/tomorrow/on Monday. The thing is though, if I’m going to progress to a level of fitness that the marathon requires then I’m going to have to stop letting myself accept my excuses. I need to be real and honest with myself – and sometimes that means looking in the mirror and giving myself a reality talk.

So despite it being past midnight I went. I also delivered some keys that I needed to drop off that I wouldn’t have managed that day either had I not gone. The enjoyment of running with a friend helped with my motivation, which means that I need to prioritize running crew in my weekly schedule. I miss those guys and the only reason I’ve not been for a while is myself.

Wednesday:
Run 2, Race: Run in the Dark 5K

Again I was struggling with mojo. I had a race and the idea of it was starting to build up in my mind and make me anxious. I got to the start line because someone was coming to support and cheer me. We were going to hang out after and the next day, and by the time I left it to potentially pull out I knew they’d be on their way – and their journey was longer than mine. Also, my house was nowhere near Battersea Park unfortunately – Hai millionaires land.

The race took a while to start. Once we began though I got a bit excited and started off quite fast. I did achieve my fastest km to date on Strava – yay mini PB! After a while I had to settle in and go slower because ya know, just because I’m looking at longer races that doesn’t mean 5km can be sprinted 🙈

I settled in although had a few hang ups. I had crampy calves and I had been feeling permanently slightly dehydrated for a few days. I hadn’t run for a few days. I hadn’t been eating particularly nutritious food. I felt it. I felt the consequences of having not eaten particularly well for a couple of weeks. I felt the consequences of not addressing my hydration early on. I think if you’re having signs of dehydration there is no waste in using a re-hydration tab, even if you just use half of one to make sure everything is on track. I will bare this in mind in the future.

The beauty of this being a journey is that you win some and you learn some. You don’t lose, you learn. I’m going to make mistakes. I’m going to do dumb stuff when I’m training and in each dumb act there is a lesson to learn to be a little less dumb in the future.

There’s a quote image I saw that sais “fall in love with the process and the results will come”. I think this is actually very true – and I am slowly learning more than I knew before yet I know that I have SO MUCH yet to learn. There are so many mistakes out there waiting for me to make them, and for me to learn from them. This race was one of those – if not this whole week.

Friday:
Gym session

I packed for the gym today last night. I got everything ready to get up, eat porridge and go. Getting out the door wasn’t quite as seamless as that. I did however make it to the gym – which is am improvement on only going for yoga classes. I’m enjoying the yoga classes but they’re not going to do the trick alone. I need to graft on strengthening and conditioning if I’m going to see myself strong enough to complete 26.2 miles in april.

And shit, April!? That’s very soon in the grand scheme of things.

I am feeling a new wave of motivation at the moment which is very welcome. There are some things I need to learn and master within myself. I need to harbour the power of people in my training. I think training with other people who I can eventually call friends will be a  very important lesson for me. Not only in terms of my fitness goals because I think running and climbing provide a perfect opportunity for me to work on many aspects of my life that I feel I need to work on – such as discipline, sticking to plans, talking to nw people without internally losing my mind whilst my stomachs convulses in a violent version of the butterflies from anxiety that feels more like fireworks erupting in my torso.

Fitness gives me a lot – it teaches me a lot about myself and other people. It’s something I need to prioritize because when I am active I always feel better for it.

Saturday:
Box Hill Tough 10 race. I wrote a whole post about this yesterday.

Sunday:
My first time going to a trendy class in London. I haven’t been to an up market gym like this before – I also wrote a lot about this in yesterday’s post. I was surprised by just HOW HARD this class was. Wow! Just wow!

We’re Not In Control of Anything, Other Than How We Choose To Respond to Everything.

I’m working on a group project at uni at the moment. If you’ve been to uni I’m very sure you understand the pain of trying to pull people together to work on one thing who have different ideas about studying, about how to study, how close to the deadline we leave our work, if we do the work at all or try to coast through and learn from failure. We are 9 different people.

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Another group member and I were talking about the woes of our group. They expressed their frustration at people not doing what they’re supposed to be doing, about how we shouldn’t be having to nag so much and how they couldn’t bear not being able to make people do what they’re supposed to do. Donald Trump shouldn’t be president and we shouldn’t be entering an age of global nuclear threat – and we are.

However, this situation got me thinking about control. Personally, I have a very complicated relationship with control that I have had to work on over the years. I have had to take the journey from a very unhealthy relationship with control to a more balanced one. That relationship has ultimately wound up with me where I am today, in this place right here and now. I have struggled to accept that I am not 100% in control of my life. I have more autonomy now than I once did – and that boils down to having control over the only thing I have control over: myself.

I don’t even have full control over that. I can’t decide what I want to weigh and make sure that happens because my body will metabolise and respond to my diet, exercise and medications however it will. I can control my diet, but control and diet is somewhat of a complex relationship; I don’t think diet is something to “be controlled” per se so I don’t try to control it anymore. There is liberation in letting go of unnecessary grasps at control because ultimately you can’t programme your reactions or metabolism or biological processes. You can influence them, but control? Nope. Not happening. Of the things we have control of in our lives it is not entirely of ourselves and it is certainly not of others, and even more unfortunately and definitely, not of what happens to us either. What, if anything, are we in control of then?

We are in control of how we choose to respond, behave and frame our perceptions when we think and act. I say this loosely, by thinking I mean choosing acceptance, non judgmental ness and being mindful. We can choose how to respond to what happens to us and what we are confronted with in our lifetimes. Let me highlight a recent example.

At the start of this group project I was getting stressed about people not pulling their weight – I spoke to a few of my homies and they all said “take a step back, it’s not worth it”. So I did and you know what I realised? I had the power to control how much I responded to that situation, which in turn affected how much I let it affect me. I could choose to get het up and make it of high importance or I could choose to frame the situation in relation to the bigger picture – it is a first year module that only requires a pass and I am working with some people who may not even return in January. There is great power in choosing my battles when it comes to not losing my shit. Although I did need the help of my homies to help me figure this out, I still figured it out.

We do have the choice in how we respond to whatever may come our way and for as frustrating as life can be, for as frustrating as other people can be, as we can all be, we can control very little in our lives except how we choose to relate and respond to what happens to us and around us. It’s important to take ownership of that small piece of control we all have over ourselves and our lives.

So if you see someone with a pram struggling with stairs you can take the choice to walk on or stop for a moment to help. If someone is mean to you, you can take the choice to be mean back or to ignore them. If someone smiles at you in the street, you can ignore them or just smile back and let the world be working with you instead of against you. It really is a very simple idea, but admittedly sometimes very hard to implement into our mindset. It is a journey that we are all on – and we make the decision about how we respond to the lumps and bumps in the road of our journeys that defines us to the world.