In Australia, the prevalence of mental illness is hard to ignore, with approximately one in every five Australians (that’s 20 per cent of the population) experiencing a mental illness each year.
A staggering 45 per cent of Australians will experience a mental illness in their lifetime, and with these rates continuing to rise each year, it’s time we started looking at ways to improve our mental health every single day.
So, what’s one thing you can do to achieve this?
Yes, you’ve probably heard this time and time and again, but exercise can fundamentally change a person’s daily outlook. And the best bit? It doesn’t have to be a long or high intensity workout.
Hear me out…
Sometimes exercise might sound like the last thing you feel like doing, especially if you already feel out of balance emotionally. Often people who are feeling tired, stressed or anxious might feel like they don’t have time to exercise. Perhaps it’s an ever-growing workload, a messy household or a impeding deadline — all these things require more time so it can seem counter intuitive to use that time to do something other than the task at hand.
However, what a lot of people don’t realise is that when you’re stressed it’s likely your brain isn’t functioning properly — you might be distracted, flustered or feeling disorganised. Taking some time out to exercise will not only help to clear the mental clutter that you’re feeling, but it will release some feel-good endorphins, which are a positive thing for someone who is feeling the pressures of everyday life. It’s likely that you’ll return from your exercise feeling a renewed sense of energy, a clearer head and perhaps even ready to tackle any stressful tasks.
Remember that exercise comes in many forms and it doesn’t have to be an overly strenuous activity to still get the benefits.
When we think of exercise, it really can refer to any activity that will allow you to focus on your own thoughts and behaviours for a brief time, whether it’s through a brisk half an hour walk, yoga or something more highly intensive like a HIIT classes. Even mild physical activity can produce positive hormones changes, which can act as natural mild anti-depressants.
Incorporating exercise into your daily routine, whether it be walking, swimming, tennis or yoga, will still stimulate anti-anxiety effects. It’s all about input and output here. The best way to think of it when exercising to tackle anxiety is that your fight or flight response and it’s activation is providing a significant input of adrenaline and movement is the only way to burn that nervous energy off.
Another benefit of exercise is that it ensures that your body is tired and ready for sleep. However, be sure to watch the time that you exercise — don’t do it right before bed. Exercising releases endorphins which can create a level of activity in the brain that can have the adverse effect and keep you awake. Exercise in the morning or in early afternoon to help you fall asleep and improve your sleep’s quality.
Noosha Anzab is a psychologist at Lysn — an online psychology counseling service that provides access to qualified Australian psychologists no matter where you are.