Surviving or Thriving

It's Mental Health Awareness Week and this is my opportunity as a Mental Health Nurse and Time to Change Wales Champion to really drive home the importance of looking after yourself and what you may be able to do to support others when it comes to all things mental health. I am also a Run Wales Champion and with Run Wales keen to spread mental health awareness, I will be looking at this from a runner's perspective.

Over the years I have blogged for and taken part in many events raising money and awareness for mental health charity Mind. The work they do is tireless from lobbying government to their continuous efforts to make sure that every single person who may experience a mental health issue has somewhere to turn to for support. It was through Mind charity challenge training that I began to realise the real benefits of exercise on psychological health. How being one with nature and letting off steam through physical activity can really change a person's perception of life and make you begin to push limits that you may once have thought impossible.

It's refreshing and encouraging to see so many people opening up about mental health and using sport as a way forward. Take BBC's Mind Over Marathon for example. London Marathon 2017 was hailed as 'the mental health marathon' with Heads Together being this year's main charity bringing awareness to the hundreds of thousands of people around the world who tuned in to watch. We have organisations close to home playing their part too. The Football Association for Wales is currently working in partnership with Time to Change Wales in the 'We Wear the Same Shirt' campaign with many welsh football teams pledging to tackle mental health stigma, while Sport Wales is asking people ‘what is the one thing you do to boost your mood?’, this mental health awareness week using hashtag #myonething.

Running - getting lost in nature, making new friends, pushing physical limits achieving goals together.

For me it started with hill walking which gradually and naturally progressed into running... Through running I have pushed my own personal boundaries. You often hear people talk about running being a form of escapism and while I fully understand this, for me running is not a way of escaping, it is a way of dealing with everyday life stressors in a constructive way. When running alone I work through my emotions and find resolution, this usually happens around the same time the endorphins kick in and I start to put what may have been upsetting me or bothering me into perspective. While out on the road or trail I become immersed in my own thoughts and before too long I have problem solved all before heading back home to a cup of tea and warm bath feeling all the better for doing so.

'Surviving or Thriving'

Surviving or thriving?
I have to admit when I first seen that this was the theme for this years Mental Health Awareness Week, it struck a very deep chord from within. I have written previously about my own experiences with mental health and know that mere surviving is not healthy. Surviving is not living, we need to thrive to live and to thrive we need goals, goals and the support of others. My goals developed out of a simple conversation with a counsellor, someone that, at a time where I could see no way forward myself had the ability to hold hope where mine was reserved. It was at this time I started to become intrigued. I was intrigued by this person, this strangers confidence in my ability to thrive, to me, he was either stupid or a genius but certainly determined and I wanted to know what he knew.

I started to research, research all the things that that bothered me with my own self. It is true what they say, 'knowledge is power', because the more I actually understood about why people may experience an array of mental health issues the less my own dominated my life. I had begun to piece the puzzle together and as I did I began to thrive so much so that my thirst for knowledge led me to want to help others to discover the same. An empowering experience. I had always been interested in the way the mind worked but now I could use that interest to fuel a 'pay it forward' but something was missing, one final piece in the jigsaw. I found that piece in physical exercise but mainly in running and the run community; a collective social network of the most inspiring and supportive human beings I have ever met, mere mortals who achieve awe inspiring feats and are all to willing to help you believe you can do the same. The positivity is, simply put, infectious!

So why is running so good for the mind and psychological health? Our emotional and mental health can benefit from just 30 minutes of running; roughly the amount of exercise time it takes to get the heart pumping, blood flowing and flood the body with feel good hormones. The stimulation of brain chemicals following a run leave you feeling happier, reduce stress and anxiety levels. Couple this with a healthier outlook, feeling physically fitter and stronger, self-esteem and confidence begin to grow. Have you ever heard someone describe running as their ‘drug’? This is why. Involve the whole family and it's a win, win...

Another reason why running has a positive impact on mental health is motivation, motivation, motivation... Goal setting theory in psychology suggests that we as human beings have an innate need to set goals in order to motivate ourselves. Goal setting is a conscious decision to work towards desirable outcomes and by setting a goal increase performance levels and see a task through until completion. Remember that time you signed up for a race, and couldn't quite put your finger on why... well actually you were making a conscious decision to set yourself a goal. By becoming accustomed to this habit through running it can be transferred to everyday tasks keeping us continually motivated, moving forward and producing desirable outcomes which again increases self-esteem and confidence in personal ability.

Now, all that said, I am not going to say that running is a miracle cure all... It is not, and I would be failing in my duty as a Mental Health Nurse if I were to say that it is one size fits all. There are many reasons and components which will contribute to mental health breakdown, we are all individuals therefore what works for one may not work for an other. This is just my personal experience but something which binds us all is that you are not alone. If you are struggling with your mental health I urge you to talk with someone, start that conversation, you may just be pleasantly surprised by how supportive people can be.

If you can't confide in someone you know I have listed useful links and numbers at the end of this post. For those wanting to support a loved one, I am often asked, how to best support someone with mental health problems? First and foremost, letting someone know you are there for them is key and conversation essential; no big secret, it can be that simple. Here are some practical tips from Rethink to get that conversation going....

Get some fresh air with someone
Talking doesn’t have to start with talking. Sometimes it can start with walking. If you spend a big part of your day inside, ask someone if they fancy getting some fresh air and see where the conversation takes you.

Text a friend and ask ‘How are you?’
It can be difficult to keep count how many times you’re asked ‘how are you?’ in one day. But for many of us it can be much easier to count just how many times you give the real answer. Talking face-to-face about how you are is not always easy, so why not check in with a friend or loved one via text or email?

Make someone a cup of tea and have a chat
The cup of tea: a Great British tradition. It’s also a perfect excuse to chat whilst the kettle boils and see how someone’s doing. Tea not your thing? Why not grab a coffee, a bottle of water or whatever tickles your fancy? It doesn’t matter what’s in your cup, it’s all about whom you share it with.

Call someone and ask how they are
Falling out of touch with someone can be all too easy sometimes. If you’ve got five minutes to spare on Time to Talk Day pick up your phone and catch up with someone you haven’t managed to for a while.

Tell someone how you’re feeling today

Revealing how you’re feeling can be daunting. But if it’s someone you trust, being open can often inspire an open response and an honest conversation. Just be sure you only say as much as you are comfortable doing so.

Thank someone for something they’ve done for you

We don’t always realise the impact of the small things we naturally do for others on a daily basis. An unprompted ‘thank you’ is a nice way to show someone how much you value them and open up a conversation in ways you may not expect.

Find out what someone does to unwind on a tough day

Sharing ideas on how to relax is an interesting and helpful way to start a conversation about mental health for all involved. Not only could it prompt a colleague or loved one to take a look at how they manage their wellbeing,you may also pick up a few tips for yourself!

It is time for us all to work together, mental health is everyone's business.

Who can I call?
● Samaritans. Samaritans are open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, to listen to anything that is upsetting you, including intrusive thoughts and difficult thoughts of suicide and self-harm. Their national freephone number is 116 123, or you can email Samaritans also offer a Welsh Language Line on 0300 123 3011 (from 7pm–11pm only, seven days a week).
● SANEline. SANEline offers emotional support and information from 6pm–11pm, 365 days a year. Their national number is 0300 304 7000.
● CALM. If you're a man experiencing distressing thoughts and feelings, the Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) is there to support you. They're open from 5pm–midnight, 365 days a year. Their national number is 0800 58 58 58, and they also have a webchat service if you're not comfortable talking on the phone.
● Nightline. If you are a student, you can look at the Nightline website to see if your university or college offers a night-time listening service. Nightline phone operators are all students too.
● Switchboard, the LGBT+ helpline. If you identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender, Switchboard is available from 10am–11pm, 365 days a year, to listen to any problems you're having. Phone operators all identify as LGBT+. Their national number is 0300 330 0630, or you can email
● C.A.L.L. If you live in Wales, you can contact the Community Advice and Listening Line (C.A.L.L). for a confidential listening and support service. Their number is 0800 123 737 or you can text 'help' to 81066.