Many students have ‘Sports and Wellbeing’ membership, (despite the cost, but that’s an article for another day) but I’m not sure how many of us use sports for wellbeing.
It is common knowledge that exercise is the ultimate fix for pretty much any mental health illness. For depression, it creates new activity patterns in the brain and releases endorphins. These effects have been scientifically proven to be just as good as current medication for treating mild depression, but exercise doesn’t come with several pages of possible side effects. Getting out and about has the same effect for sufferers of anxiety, with the endorphins once again playing a massive role. However, exercise can be used as a great grounding technique, be it the rhythmic pounding of your feet, focusing on your breathing, or feeling the wind against your skin. Any one of these acts as a way to keep someone who suffers from anxiety from feeling disconnected or disembodied, as is often a common symptom for anxiety sufferers. Then on top of all this, you’ll find that you’ll sleep better, have sharper memory, perform better in exams, have higher self-esteem, and generally feel fitter.
On paper, exercise seems like the obvious simple solution, but as someone who has, and still suffers from anxiety, I can tell you that it isn’t just as simple as all of your worries melting away when you go out and exercise. The thing that makes anxiety so difficult to deal with is that when you are at your worst, doing anything other than hiding from the world in your duvet becomes almost impossible. This can get you stuck in a catch-22 situation, where you feel worse because you can’t take the steps to feel better. Add on the fact that you’re probably going to be tired and out of energy all the time due to sleepless nights and constantly being on edge, you’ll soon find that the idea of going for a nice brisk jog will soon evaporate.
Finding motivation can be hard: so many people are trapped inside due to anxiety, depression, or whatever it may be. The month Pokémon Go was released was a great motivator for getting people out the house and doing exercise. Unfortunately that craze didn’t last, (especially sad for all of us Pokémon lovers out there) but that doesn’t mean that exercise can’t be a part of the long term solution. I’ve found that although individual sport is definitely not an option for me, team sports have worked a charm. Recently, I’ve taken rugby back up after a three year break, and exercising twice a week has helped massively. The day after rugby, I walk around with a self-satisfied glow, something that rarely happens at all otherwise. That isn’t to say that it’s easy, but because it is a team sport, I feel more obligated to attend training and matches because if I don’t go, I’m letting the side down. Along with the actual sport, it’s been great to meet a bunch of new people, getting to know my teammates and sharing a pint and a laugh with them after a good day of rugby in the mud.
For people that, unlike me, don’t have the benefit of being able to return to a sport they’ve done before, that doesn’t have to stop anyone. University is a great time as there are so many different sports clubs to try out, and many have a beginners teams so having a lack of experience isn’t an issue. So get out, and try something!