Mental Health – Can Fitness Aid in Mental Illness Recovery?

Mental Health

Mental health is something we all have. Just like our physical health, it can be good or bad. This is the biggest misconception about mental health. It’s not just negative. Mental health needs exercise as much as our body does. If we don’t take care of our bodies, our mental health will also be directly impacted. 

Mental Health Issues Statistics

Poor mental health and mental illness are more common than we realise. 1 in 4 people experiences mental health issues each year. 676 million people are affected by mental health issues worldwide. 1 in 6 workers depression, anxiety or problems relating to stress at any one time. The problem with mental health issues is while other physical illnesses are visible to others, mental illness’ often go undetected. This can make the person suffering feel even more isolated and alone.

Identifying when a person has a mental health issue can be a very valuable skill to have. It may allow you to offer support and care to your co-workers during hard times for them. It is important to remember that everyone’s experience with ill mental health is different. Symptoms can vary from person to person. This being said, here are some common signs to look out for regarding a persons wellbeing.

Physical Signs
  1. Panic attacks – Panic attacks or anxiety attacks can be an incredibly difficult and frightening experience, and several physical symptoms can happen at once. Look out for shaking, sweating, struggling for breath (or choking sensation) and if they report a fast heart rate or pain in the chest. If someone in the workplace is experiencing an attack, stay calm. Stay with the person and ask them what they need, never assume. Speak in short, simple sentences and be predictable. Avoid surprises. Remember, its a scary process and the person is more than likely going to be exhausted after, so give them some time.
  2. Distraction and confusion – You may notice that your colleague or employee is forgetting things more and more and seems to be experiencing “brain Fog”. They may also not be able to focus on one task for very long without getting distracted. This could just be due to a lack of sleep but also is a symptom of mental illness. As a supervisor, having a conversation as to how they are coping may be beneficial.
  3. Tearfulness – If you notice someone getting teary at work for no apparent reason it may be a signal that they are experiencing stress or problems within their home life. It may also indicate that they are suffering from ill mental health. Whatever the reason they may benefit from having someone to talk to about what they are dealing with.
Behavioural signs
  1. Increased irritability or anger – This can be a tell-tale sign of anxiety and other disorders. This is especially true when the employee is normally calm and collected. If this is the case monitor the situation, it may be a one-off or it could be something more, in which case offer your support or help.
  2. Risk-taking – If a colleague is taking risks that are out of character or seems to be making more impulsive decisions without thinking of the consequences, this can be an indication of bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. In this scenario, it is something only a professional can help with but being supportive of the person is key.
  3. Less talkative – Someone who is suffering mentally may choose to close off from everyone around them. If you notice a colleague removing themselves from any social situation they may be suffering from a headache but they also may be suffering from mental illness. Try and quietly find out if they are okay and offer support.

Exercise – Can It Help?

Mental Health fitness

As much as it isn’t a cure, exercise can be an amazing way of making yourself feel a little bit better. Positive endorphins will flood your system, improving your mood and leaving you with a feel-good feeling. For anyone who suffers from panic attacks, exercise can stop the “fight or flight” mode that our bodies go into during a panic attack. Fight or flight mode is basically a release of stress hormones telling you a situation is bad and therefore you need to either run away or prepare to fight off the danger. This response is pre-programmed into us for our survival. When we work out the body reduces the amount of stress hormone we produce. It also increases the feel-good hormone so, naturally, fight or flight doesn’t happen or lessens. On a regular basis, exercise can actually reduce the feelings of anxiety and depression as there is a reduced amount of the stress hormone in our systems.

Often poor mental health is triggered by outside factors such as negative comments or self-esteem. Exercise can aid in weight loss and muscle strength as well as aiding sleep. All of these factors could be the reasoning behind the beginning of the issue and therefore might aid in self-confidence reducing some of the pressure.

Overall, exercise is a “one size fits all” aid when it comes to mental health. Not only will it help you to feel good but it also does good and as a result will make you feel good. It’s a constant loop! So if you feel like you are spiralling, try exercise.

Why not check out some of our previous workout blogs for inspiration: 10 exercises to keep you fit and your bones stronger than ever

Sleep – Are you getting enough z’s?

Sleep issues are a common symptom for a lot of mental illnesses. Either oversleeping, under sleeping or not sleeping at all. Sleep is a vital part of our days, so when we don’t sleep well, it really affects us. A recent National Sleep Foundation poll found that regular exercisers were significantly more likely to report sleeping well on most nights than people who were not physically active. The reason why exercise is great at aiding sleep is unsure, with many scientists believing they may never be able to pinpoint the reason. This being said, it works! So get active more and sleep better.

Mental health is something that should always be discussed with your doctor if you have any concerns over it. While exercise and sleep are great at aiding recovery, it should not be the only thing used to get better and you should always speak to a doctor beforehand. If you are experiencing thoughts of self-harm please contact the samaritans.

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