How exercise helped my mental health
Larissa on how running gave her focus, support and purpose
May 18, 2018
This week is Mental Health Awareness Week (14th-20th May). Larissa runs with GoodGym Ealing each week. She's raising awareness about how exercise helped improve her mental health and went on to achieve an amazing feat.
Mental Health is an extremely important topic to me as I have battled with my own issues for years and it's only in the past few months that I've been able to speak openly about it. Over the years people have told me that I come across as confident and outgoing. Once they hear about my experiences they seem to have the same response:
I never would have thought you were going through that...
But that's just the point. We never know what's going on inside people's heads. So I have now given my dark times a purpose, using my experience as a way to educate friends, family or anyone who would like to learn, about mental health.
Over the past year I experienced very low points with feelings of no self worth. I had contemplated taking my own life and have been battling anxiety and panic attacks for many years. All of which I didn't fully understand and I actually kept hidden from the people around me and I was subsequently diagnosed with depression.
A few years ago I really got into exercise and found that it was a fantastic way to improve my mental health, but I didn't stick with it as I always allowed my mind to take over. I started searching for some volunteer work, as I just wanted to give myself some purpose and I came across GoodGym. I joined in August 2017. I had never run before, but I was very keen to get into it and do a bit of good for my community.
GoodGym appeared to offer everything I was looking for; the social aspect, a way to improve my fitness and volunteer work - so I signed up and went on my first run. It was tough but the support was there and it kept me going.
I have always looked into different challenges that I could take on and train for, but I'd never had the courage to commit - this is when self doubt would creep in and take over. But after joining my Ealing run group I decided to make the jump. I signed up to the Thames Path Challenge walk - a 100km ultra marathon which you can either run or walk from Bishops Park in London to Henley. (I went for walking!)
My friend Katy and I decided to tackle the challenge together and raise money for Mind, the mental health charity which is close to both our hearts. Katy wanted to complete the challenge in memory of a dear friend, and I wanted to raise awareness of the charity as they offered me guidance and support when I needed it, and to also help break down the taboo of talking about mental health.
Training was a great escape for me - GoodGym helped me focus on improving my fitness to complete the challenge and build my stamina through running.
The support is endless with the group. I was able to learn from the other runners about their past experiences with endurance challenges and also how to raise the money for the challenge too.
The 100km challenge was the toughest task I have ever taken on. We completed it within 30 hours and overcame many obstacles. There were many tears at the end, but every sore bone, muscle, blister and second of it was worth it when we crossed that finish line. The GoodGym team were so supportive on the day of the walk with their kind words of encouragement, it really helped especially during the night!
We are all becoming more aware of mental health issues and discussing them more openly than ever before - but we need to keep building on this. My mental health experience took me to a place where I had no self worth or hopes for a future, but now I am enjoying different aspects of my life.
Even when I have tough days I know I can handle it and can stop the black cloud looming over me for too long.
GoodGym has given me something to look forward to each week. I have even been able to confide in members of the group and build a brilliant support network. All of these aspects are so important to improve your mental health - having something for you, that you are passionate about and stick with really clears your mind!
Maintaining your physical and mental health are both as important as each other. So put a pair of trainers on, get some miles under your feet, do some good and start to feel the real benefits exercise can have on mental health!
Read more about Mental Health Awareness Week here.
Come along and try a GoodGym group run near you. Every week we work out by helping local community projects, and run back all within 90 minutes.