Seven tips for good mental health
For many of us, sport is our happiness, a way to deal with our worries and a key part in our keeping our mental health on track. Though lockdown in the UK is starting to ease off, it is safe to say that many of us have had our coping mechanisms restricted or put on hold. With limited time outside, less time with training buddies, friends and family, and most races postponed for 2020, we are all having to discover new ways to keep sane in these trying times.
If your mood, motivation and mental health have been affected by lockdown restrictions, here are 7 ideas to help:
- Keep training
Exercise has many benefits for your mental health. If you are feeling discouraged, relax your usual training schedule and take small steps towards being active – walking around your flat whilst listening to podcasts, dancing to your favourite song and doing your housework also count! Mental health charity Mind has a list of activities that may inspire or you can check out our tips here. [link to recent indoor training pieces when posted]
- Keep connected
Let’s face it, it isn’t quite the same, but keeping connected digitally is an absolute life saviour in these physically distant times. You can use Skype to share a coffee with your cycling buddies – or even do your trainer and strength sessions together if you don’t have a smart trainer! Plus, there are online classes and activities in just about every sport at the moment. Take a yoga class, join your favourite athlete’s Instagram Live strength session or try out a HIIT session. As a motivated athlete, you could even lead your less active family and friends in an online session to keep your spirits up! Doing an activity at the same time as others goes a long way to re-create the feeling of connecting IRL wherever you are in the world.
- Here is a great article on why we should be ‘physically distancing’, not ‘socially distancing’. Let’s keep our distance but stay connected!
- Shift expectations
Whilst it is important to be grateful for what we do have, this period is still a sharp departure from our normal realities and it is OK to feel the full spectrum of emotions. Shift expectations away from specific goal race times and outcomes and aim simply to build a solid foundation of health and performance for future years.
- Proactive mental fitness training
Treat your mental fitness the same way you treat your physical fitness. Whether meditation, mindful exercise such as yoga or tai chi, reading regularly or learning a new language, there are lots of ways you can decrease stress, strengthen your mental toughness and sharpen your focus. Headspace for sport meditation, this article on Yoga for cyclists / this video on Yoga for triathletes and Duolingo are good places to start!
As marathon world record holder Eliud Kipchoge says in an interview with Spikes: “If I can offer one piece of advice, it would be to learn to control the mind and train each day with a positive attitude”. Given he broke the spectacular sub 2-hour marathon barrier, we think this is advice worth listening to!
Sleep is the secret weapon in the quest for a good life and improved athletic performance. Studies have shown that sleep is “an integral part of the recovery and adaptive process between bouts of exercise”, whilst “increased sleep duration and improved sleep quality in athletes are associated with improved performance and competitive success.”
However, sleep is often the first thing to be neglected in a busy life. Not sleeping well can affect your mental health, and vice versa. If you are having problems sleeping, Mind has a great guide here that may help. Sleeping problems may also hint at overtraining / overtraining so keeping an eye on your training load during these tricky times is especially important.
- Eat well
It is definitely not the easiest time to commit to healthy eating habits. That said, many people are finding a renewed energy in baking fresh bread and exploring new recipes. Aim to eat well enough to give your immune system a fighting chance – but also cut yourself a little slack*. A bit of chocolate can go a long way to bringing some lockdown joy! BBC Good Food has a great list of ‘immune-friendly’ recipes, or you could give these MindBodyGreen recipes a try.
- Plan a post-pandemic adventure
We don’t know when, but this too shall pass. Plan an adventure that doesn’t have a date. This could be to run a certain distance along the Thames, it could be a mountain cycling adventure or it could be a local route you have been meaning to try out. It will give you something to look forward to and will help you keep motivated.
Another way of doing this is to create a micro-adventure jar. Every time you think ‘oh I wish I could do X but I can’t because it is lockdown’, write it down and put it in a jar. There will be better days ahead when you can pull ideas out of the jar.
The whole team at Human Race sends you best wishes during these trying times. To learn more, read our article on How exercise affects your mental health
How are you keeping your mental health fitness up? We would love to hear your suggestions to share with the Human Race event community!
Mental health resources
If you are struggling, there is no shame in asking for help. Check out the NHS guide to Mental Health Services. Mental health charity Mind has lots of helpful information whilst they also have resources on how to support other people.
* This topic is incredibly important in its own right. If you feel you need help with any aspect of disordered eating, talk to an advisor at Beat, the UK’s eating disorder charity or find support services near you with this NHS tool.