WELLBEING BLOG: movement is the focus of this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week

Mental Health Awareness Week has become a firm foundation of corporate wellbeing strategies – helping organisations put mental wellness front and centre of their agendas. But why is this year’s focus on movement? HARRIETTE LUSCOMBE, from Coaches For Change, explains.

You’ve probably got a vague idea that movement helps us release endorphins, which in turn help make us feel good. If you’re doing that movement outside – double bonus. If that movement is with other people – triple bonus!

Photo by Mark Hang Fung So on Unsplash

However, did you know that movement is key to closing down our stress response cycle and activating our para-sympathetic nervous system? I’m not talking about the kind of movement where you are ‘killing yourself’ for a personal best every time you go to the gym or try a park run. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a time and a place for that too … But the kind of movement (and play) that is great for our mental health helps us to:

  • shake off the effects of adrenaline
  • activate nerve fibres in our lower back and neck that tell the body to move into rest and repair mode, and
  • engage in breathing through the nose (rather than heavy breathing through the mouth)

This is because fundamentally, when we perceive stressful situations, our body physically prepares us. It doesn’t matter if that threat is a lion or a worry that you haven’t responded to your boss’s email in time, your autonomic nervous system kicks in and beautifully prepares you to react quickly and efficiently.

You may notice getting hyper-alert and super-focused while your body pumps the heart faster and releases glucose into your blood stream. You also stop digesting food and start to release things you don’t need – anyone else need multiple trips to the loo before an important meeting?

The problem is that it takes time for the body to turn these adjustments off. For example, the effect of adrenaline can take an hour to wear off and cortisol even longer. In a world that is hyper-stimulating – where our phones help us access stressors before we’ve even got out of bed in the morning – if we don’t find ways to activate our para-sympathetic nervous system, we run the risk of a whole host of symptoms that arise from chronic stress.

These can include long term high blood pressure, anxiety, diabetes, and digestive issues. Quite simply, our body is not designed to be in a stress response mode all of the time. So here are some of the best ways to move more so that you can stress less:

  • Nasal breathing exercises (and notice how much your body can move when you breath).
  • Yoga (and other forms of movement that connect moving with your breath, like Tai Chi and Qi Gong).
  • Walking or running at a pace where you can still hold a conversation.
  • Big belly laughter.
  • Dancing around to your favourite tunes (wooden spoon microphone optional).
Photo by Diego Rosa on Unsplash

It’s why Westside BID takes wellbeing so seriously and offers plenty of ways to move more for your mental health, including weekly online fitness classes that you can access anytime, and monthly wellbeing events to get you away from your desk.

We’d love to hear some of your favourite ways to move! Just pop them in the comments below or email me at: harriette@coachesforchange.co.uk.

Main image: Rainier Ridao on Unsplash

ENDS

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