Exercise and mental-well-being: some useful tips that I have learnt personally and professionally

Exercise has played a big part of my life over the past 10 years. It has had a real positive impact on my mental well-being, boosting my mood and helping me to gain greater clarity and perspective on difficult situations. Through challenging myself and leaving my comfort zone, I have achieved far more than I would have ever believed 10 years ago.

In my professional life, I am a Thrive Programme Coach, giving people the skills and resources to overcome mental health issues and help them to achieve the life they have always wanted. I give all my clients challenges and exercise goals. Sport and exercise is such a great way to boost self-belief, confidence, and challenge so many limiting beliefs. It's a brilliant way to help alleviate anxiety and depression.

I wanted to share with you some really useful tips that have helped me personally and I also use with my clients. They will help break down some barriers that may be stopping you taking part in sport and also help with your overall mental well-being:

Challenge any limiting beliefs you have about exercise.

How we view the world is based on our thoughts and beliefs. From our unhelpful beliefs, we create many self-imposed barriers to taking part in sport and exercise. If we challenge these limiting beliefs and unhelpful ways of thinking, we can really change our lives.

Have a think about what limiting beliefs you have about taking part in physical activity? Write these beliefs down. Think about what the evidence is for these beliefs? Really look at each one logically and rationally. Think about how you can start challenging these beliefs. Instead of:

"I'll never be able to run a half marathon'change to 'I can't run a half marathon YET,but I know with persistent effort, I'll get there"

Limiting beliefs and social anxiety

A common barrier to not taking part in physical activity is the feeling of being judged by others. We can't tell what other people are thinking. They are usually wrapped up in what they are doing themselves. It's unlikely they are judging us at all. However, we seem to have a bias that makes us believe everyone thinks in the same way. Does it really matter if someone is looking at us? Does their opinion really matter?

Focus on what you are doing and what you want to achieve. Never compare yourself to anyone else. Aim to be the best version of yourself. Take a friend with you, if it's a new club, new class you haven't been to before. Exercising with friends and with groups is more fun and you have that accountability as well (clearly sticking at this time to the relevant government guidelines).

Positive self-talk

How we speak to ourselves both inside our heads and out loud is so important and has a significant impact on our mental well-being. Our language really is a window into our thoughts and beliefs. If we use catastrophic and negative language, we aren't going to have a great experience. Recognise what your inner voice is saying to you. Is it really harsh and self-critical or is it kind? Lets start treating ourselves like we treat a small child or a person we really care for.

Imagine what you want to happen

Your mind is so powerful, always imagine what you want to happen, rather than what you fear. If you think you can't do something, it will never happen. It's nothing to do with your ability, just that you've told yourself you couldn't do it. In your mind, this is has cemented the belief that you can't do it. If you brood and worry about something beforehand creating a lot of anticipatory anxiety, you are going to feel nervous and won't enjoy the experience.

In the lead up to doing something, imagine how calm and in control you are going to be and that you can cope with anything. Imagine really enjoying the experience and turn anxiety into excited anticipation. If you are in the midst of doing something and you feel anxious, remember that inner voice, use it to calm yourself down. Keep telling yourself that you've got this, that you can do it. Always remember to process an event in a positive way afterwards. Sometimes things don't quite go to plan, but this is how we learn. There is always positives to be had from any situation. Remember to enjoy yourself and what you want to achieve.

Leave your comfort zone

Putting ourselves out of your comfort zone is so important. Nothing great ever happens in our comfort zone. If we avoid what we fear it just makes the belief stronger that we can't do it. This is how we grow and how we learn. It will feel uncomfortable trying something new at first, the more you do it, the easier it will get. It's an amazing feeling afterwards. I still remember that feeling vividly of the elation I felt when I had tried open water swimming for the first time. Yes I felt a little bit anxious, but I knew once I did it I would feel great. When you have achieved something new, collect the evidence that you have done it. Take photos, do a video. You don't even need to show anyone. This is a reminder that you can do it . It's something you can look at whenever you start doubting yourself.

Just enjoy it!

Yes sometimes we have specific goals, other times, lets just leave our watches at home. Go for a run, walk, bike ride, savoring the moment and enjoying being outside. With so many events and group activities cancelled, it's important to just gain some intrinsic motivation to do exercise, to really enjoy the activity, rather than thinking about how fast, how many steps, how many calories burnt etc. Finding that intrinsic motivation is the thing that will keep you going and keep you doing the activity.

Exercising with others has been shown to be even more beneficial for mental well-being. If able to with the current COVID guidelines, why not meet up with a friend for a run, walk or bike ride. It will give you a real buzz mentally and physically.

Most importantly, find a form of exercise you really enjoy and stick with it. You will start to feel the benefits both mentally and physically.

Written by
Sue Tetley
This Girl Can Ambassador Suffolk
Thrive Programme Coach