Having been someone that suffered with on and off mental health difficulties through my twenties, (mainly anxiety and depression) and tried various methods such as CBT, counselling, even medication, I can hand on my heart say that the only treatment that has worked for me is incorporating regular exercise into my life, putting good food into my body and prioritizing sleep.
I have had periods in life where stress levels were very high and I was under a lot of pressure, mainly when I was working as a junior lawyer in the Corporate & Commercial department of a law firm in the City. I was the only female lawyer in the team as well as the most junior, I felt I had a lot to prove. I worked long hours, worked with tricky clients and colleagues and I developed huge anxiety to the point where I felt like the only option was to give up on my career in law all together. Something needed to change. I started prioritizing exercise and diet. I started slowly, 20-30 mins of exercise per day, 3-4 times per week, the fitter I got, the more exercise I wanted to do. I tried to keep my exercise routine varied so I didn’t get bored, a mixture of cardio and strength wrokouts. I also put good food into my body. Within 6 weeks, the anxiety lifted, my head felt clearer, I felt stronger and almost empowered by my new way of living. The clouds had lifted and I felt myself again and ready to take on the corporate world.
I ended up continuing with law right up until I had my son Leo. I was working for a law firm part time whilst doing my Personal Training qualifications and building up my fitness business in Ealing. This was another stressful time, working for a law firm, building a new business and being pregnant for the first time. Again, I followed the same formula, I always made sure I scheduled in time to regularly exercise and found ways to eat healthy and nutritious food without spending hours in the kitchen or gym. During this period, I actually avoided anxiety altogether.
Recently, I experienced an ongoing miscarriage. The first thing I did when I got home from the hospital (after being told that I had lost the baby) was go for a run. I knew that this was the answer. Of course, I have also taken time to rest and process this experience but I have also made sure that I am keeping on top of my exercise routine and putting good food into my body. I have naturally found this experience difficult but I have remained positive and strong throughout and exercise has played a huge part in this.
Exercise is now prescribed as treatment by GPs for mental health conditions, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence recommend that people with mild to moderate depression take part
in 3 exercise sessions per week.
Dr Charlotte Mason Apps, specialist in general practice and paediatrics says “Exercising in pregnancy is very important and benefits you and your baby in many ways such as reducing back pain, easing constipation, promoting healthy weight gain, improving your overall fitness and strengthens your heart and blood vessels. Exercise improves mental health by reducing anxiety, depression and
negative mood and by improving self-esteem and cognitive function. Exercise has also been found to alleviate symptoms such as low self-esteem and social withdrawal.”
The NHS say “The more active and fit you are during pregnancy, the easier it will be for you to adapt to your changing shape and weight gain. It will also help you cope with labour. Exercise is not dangerous for you and your baby. There is evidence that active women are less likely to experience problems in later pregnancy and labour”.