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How everyday adventures boost mental health

From a fun childhood outdoors to stressful days in the legal sector, rediscovering movement improved Andy's mental health and brought joy back into his daily life.

 

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Andy's story

Growing up, you’d often find me outside. Out on my bike in the woods, climbing mountains and trying new hobbies.

Things inside were going well too. Top marks at school, a good university, supportive friends and family. Like many perfectionist overachievers, I was drawn to the corporate legal world and its obvious perks. I had clear ideas of what would bring me success and happiness and was able to maintain a sense of balance as I ticked off these milestones.

The elation of qualifying as a solicitor didn’t last, as I became overwhelmed with the relentless pace, the ever-increasing targets, and the constant fear of making a mistake. I looked around at my seemingly unshakeable colleagues and felt like an imposter.

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In an attempt to keep on top of things, I’d stopped riding my bike, I hadn’t climbed a mountain in years, I wasn’t eating particularly well and felt tired all the time. Despite having everything society told me I needed to be happy, I was living for those precious few hours on a Saturday morning, before the dread of facing it all again on Monday returned.

I knew very little about mental health at the time. I’d always been a sensitive soul, a bit-of-a-worrier, and believed my inner critic that I should just be able to cope better. I felt trapped, and the thought of living like this until retirement terrified me. Something had to change.

"When I reflect on the defining moments of my recovery, they all involved movement. As a Yorkshireman, I naturally struggle with the idea of spending money for no good reason and so became frustrated with the increasing costs of commuting. I worked out I might save a few pennies over the course of a year by investing in a folding bicycle."

Those twenty minutes at the start and end of each working day, pedalling furiously on my tiny-wheeled bike, made me feel like a 10 year old boy again. My active commute was soon the highlight of my day. Work became something I did between going for a bike ride.

I started heading out for a walk at lunchtime. Exploring the city and seeing how far I could get in one hour. It allowed me to escape for a while and provided some valuable headspace as I navigated what I wanted my life to look like.

A few years later, I used the flexibility that comes with being self-employed to start climbing mountains again. I remember standing early one morning on top of Grizedale Pike in the Lake District. Heart hammering against my chest after the climb, I surveyed the summits of the Coledale Horseshoe on the clearest of days. The only sound, a distant cuckoo, carried on a subtle breeze from the forest below. A cheshire cat grin stretched across my face and the tears soon flowed as my mind slowed for the first time in years.

Everyday adventures allow us to step off the treadmill for a moment. For many of us, it’ll confirm we’re already heading in the right direction. But if the balance isn’t quite right, then pressing the pause button can bring some perspective to our journeys.

 

The hardest part of all this can often be breaking the routine and getting out of the door. The health benefits (both physical and mental) of movement are well documented but many of us feel we don’t have the time to make it a regular part of our lives.

Here are my top tips for incorporating more movement into your day:

Adapt your usual routine

You don’t always need more time to get active. Challenge yourself to fit something into your routine. Could you cycle part of your commute instead of getting the train? Or perhaps go for a walk for your next team meeting or networking event.

Take a friend

Finding the motivation to break the cycle of eat-work-sleep-repeat is a lot easier if you have a friend to do it with. Perhaps someone from the school run has mentioned they share your passion for tennis, or there might be a colleague who’s revealed they used to do a bit of yoga. Talk about your plans and see if you can agree to head off together. It’s much harder to back out if someone else is relying on you.

Prioritise the activity

Once you’ve decided what you are going to do and when you are going to do it, put it in your calendar and stick to it. It’s so easy to cancel and feel the time would be better spent catching up on emails or getting ahead after hours while the phone isn’t ringing. Thing is, there is always more work to do. You’re generally more productive and less likely to make a mistake if you allow yourself time to switch off.

Challenge perfectionism

Many in the legal sector are perfectionists. This mentality can sometimes be a barrier to being more active but it really doesn’t matter if you aren’t the best at something, or what others think. I’ve come to accept that there will always be people younger, fitter and more talented than me! As long as you are having fun, then you can give yourself permission to indulge in whatever degree of movement is right for you.

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