As part of the NHS' 'social prescribing' scheme, GPs in England will now prescribe patients with activities including cycling and walking, to improve both mental and physical health.
Over the next three years, the NHS will monitor whether prescribing this kind of activity could reduce GP appointments and patients’ reliance on medication, among other measures of individuals’ health. For author Eleanor Morgan, she has already identified exercise such as cycling and walking as an effective remedy for anxiety and depression.
In her book 'Anxiety For Beginners, A personal investigation', she opens up about the real struggle of living with depression in today's world - the things that often don't get said. Here she talks about life before the book and how she found positivity in exercise.
I have to exercise for my brain. I like feeling physically strong, but the biggest payoff is what a tremendous buffer exercise is for my anxiety.
Three years ago, my anxiety had gotten so bad that I reached breaking point. I became depressed – and couldn't work out. I used to run or go the gym almost every morning but all I could manage during this time were short walks to Tesco for milk.
Shortly after, I started seeing a therapist. I told him how important exercise was for me and how I was struggling without it. But even so, at the peak of despair I couldn't imagine exerting myself. He told me: 'every day, try and walk a bit further than you had done the day before.'
I soon began easing myself back in with cycling. My anxiety levels were so high, it felt like there was an invisible film between myself and the world. But when I came home, after doing two laps of London's Victoria Park, I knew that I had to keep going. I had a small sense of purpose.
The more I cycled, the more I realised that I was breaking free of the despair I’d been feeling, and the more I pedalled, the more I felt like my body was cheering on my mind. I tasted my sweat and it was spectacular. I was ready to run again.
On the first few runs I was so hyper aware of any change in my physiology.
The immediate change in breathing, the first feverish beads of sweat and the activation of leg muscle felt revolting.
I would stop and stand against trees convinced that I would never make it round. But I knew I had to keep going.
The memory of the mental and physical mindful state I can achieve two or three miles into a run hadn't left me.
I was chasing that sensation, telling myself that this will come back.
Several runs later, it did. It was after sunset in June and I was going along London’s Regent’s Canal.
It was the first time that I had put my fitness tracker on. I was back in my uniform.
I hadn't set myself a distance goal, but when I looked down and saw that I had run 5km I felt a mental shift. I kept running for another 2km.
My torso was drenched in sweat, my breathing grew steady and short in the way that it does once you’ve hit a good rhythm.
I stuck my tits out and thought: This is you. This is what you do.
But how do you do something that will ultimately improve your energy levels when you feel like you have none?
The answer is almost certainly starting small. Psychologists studying how exercise can relieve anxiety and depression have suggested that ten to fifteen minute walks may be just as good as forty five minute workouts.
I usually do four or five sets of 15 reps – or until I can’t do any more.
They make me red-faced enough to knock the corners off the concrete block on my chest – and being physically exhausted helps with sleep and stillness of mind.
Plus, when I'm done, it's another goal achieved.
I have days when I don’t feel able to work out, but this is why having the discipline of a routine is so important to me.
Routines are fantastic for the anxious brain.
Variables like where I am on my menstrual cycle and whatever stress I’m under with work all have an effect on my ability to stick to it.
But on the days that I set my alarm at 7 a.m. and get up and go for a run, or go to the gym before sitting down to work, the spirit level is far steadier.
When people become incredibly anxious, or experience depression, our worlds often become quite small, but you can still have structure. Just don't expect too much from yourself – or your body.
If you 'fail', you can make yourself feel worse.
Remember, rebuilding your world after a bout of mental illness is a process, and it won't happen overnight.
Be patient with yourself, seek help – and remember that self-kindness really is the most important thing
Text extracted from ANXIETY FOR BEGINNERS BY ELEANOR MORGAN, published by Bluebird Books, price £16.99 hardback.
You Might Also Like