Sunday 25 September 2016

Dr Ciara Kelly: Walk right back to happiness

Ciara Kelly

Published 11/04/2016 | 02:30

Exercise plays a big role in recovery. Swimming, walking, running and cycling can all release endorphins that are great for your mood
Exercise plays a big role in recovery. Swimming, walking, running and cycling can all release endorphins that are great for your mood

Last week I wrote about how anyone's mental health - including my own - can suffer from time to time if we're under too much pressure. And the response I got was enormous. I was inundated with messages very kindly wishing me well but also so many from people telling me about their own struggle to just get through the day. It's clear to me that there is a very large number of people out there who are suffering - very often on their own - who still don't feel there's anywhere they can go to for help.

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And that's for me the whole point of writing about mental health - to encourage people to seek help. To get people to recognise rather than ignore when they have a problem. To encourage people to take action to improve their situation.

And the wonderful thing about mental health, is yes, it can suffer knocks from the slings and arrows of life, but it can also rise again, phoenix-like, to wellness, wholeness and happiness. So even if you have been low, have suffered from anxiety, stress, panic attacks - you can put all that behind you and move on. It's really important to remember it's not a permanent state of affairs.

I'm very big on empowering people to help themselves - so here are a few things that I think will help anyone who's feeling a bit lost at the minute and who doesn't know where to start in terms of making improvements. Remember, sometimes life is just about putting one foot in front of the other and taking small simple steps which put you on the right road back.

Physical exercise plays a major role in recovery, and experts recommend physical activity as one of the key tools which help people struggling with issues to engage with the world again. A 30-minute walk a day, especially somewhere peaceful, is massively uplifting. And as energy levels improve, running, cycling or swimming can all release endorphins that are great for your mood. Exercise is as effective as antidepressants in even moderately severe depression - so this is not just a quaint idea, this is therapy.

Sleep's really important in your fight for mental health. If you aren't getting enough and are tired all the time it's very difficult to be positive. Aim to get a minimum of seven hours sleep a night - it's a game-changer, and our sleep levels are dropping very possibly due to use of social media.

Soc-Med has helped to change the world's perception of stress and mental health issues. The online world offers people a forum where they can voice their problems and seek support. However, lots of people - particularly young people - find constant connectivity stressful and anxiety-inducing. Fear of missing out. The perception that other people's lives are better than yours. The notion of popularity and indeed the waiting for the next message to ping, can leave some people feeling worried and on edge. Cut back on your use. You won't regret it. And particularly don't stay online late at night - the stimulation and the addictive nature of it erode your sleep.

Do something relaxing. Be that yoga, reading a book, or simple breathing exercises. Slowing things down at some point in the day is very helpful.

Get a routine. Try - irrespective of your schedule - to get up in the morning, eat at regular intervals and go asleep at roughly the same time each day. A lack of routine - or indeed turning night into day - isolates you from the rest of society and prolongs your difficulties.

If your lifestyle is sorted, it goes a long way to improving things. If that's not enough, you need counselling or maybe even need medication. Don't eschew that, if it's what you need. But the bottom line is - do something. Lives need to be built. Happiness needs to be nurtured. Be kind to yourself and know that it's not just you - it's all of us.

@ciarakellydoc

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