Wednesday 8 May 2024

MOVE YOU YOUR WAY: A Few Thoughts on Movement and Self-Care for Mental Health Awareness Week

We tend to forget that baby steps still move you forward.
— Unknown

On the evening of my birthday back in March I was talking with my friend and fellow mental health blogger Aimee Wilson. Amongst other things we discussed our ideas for Mental Health Awareness Week and its theme of moving more for our mental health. I found it ironic given that I’d just posted an article – The Joy of Missing Out: Not Doing Things Is a Thing I Do Now – in which I shared how I no longer had much interest in “going out and doing things.” With a few exceptions I prefer to spend my personal time sitting in my favourite coffee shop, writing. Although this wasn’t as beneficial to my physical health as the walking I used to do on a regular basis, it did allow me to think things through and explore whatever was going on for me internally.

The very next day on my way into the office, I was presented with a choice. The second of my two trains was delayed. I could wait half an hour on the platform, take the five-minute train journey, then walk another ten minutes to the office. Or I could opt for a twenty-minute walk. The weather was mild and dry. I had no reason not to take the latter option. As I set off on what, pre-covid, had been a regular and valued part of my daily commute, I thought back to my conversation with Aimee. I smiled. Here I was, choosing to walk. To get a little physical exercise. To move.

I found myself enjoying that weird sense you get when you revisit somewhere you used to know on a regular, even daily, basis. Most things are the same but here and there you notice differences. Changes. In your surroundings, certainly. But in yourself too. I recalled how it was like that after covid. Not only were there changes in the world around me — social distancing, mask-wearing, rules, signage, behaviours — but also changes within me. One of the biggest internal changes was no longer feeling the need to travel far from home, if at all.

Before the pandemic I was in the office five days a week, and almost always walked to and from the train station. I still travel to the office on Wednesdays and Thursdays, but have walked it on no more than a handful of occassions. I have more to carry now, as I need to take my laptop back and forth every day. But that’s not much of a reason. It’s not even much of an excuse.

These thoughts and others were with me as I made my way into the office. I stopped a few times to jot down ideas for this blog post, but mostly I allowed my mind to wander wherever it would. I found myself recalling the people, relationships, and events that had occupied me on my walks in the past. Those twenty minutes had been a useful transition between home and work, as well as affording me a little physical exercise. I’ve not necessarily committed to walking each time I go in to the office, but I enjoyed the experience and may give it a go. I told Aimee later how our conversation had inspired me, not only to take the walk but to explore the theme for MHAW.

A few weeks later while researching an article about mental health non-profit To Write Love On Her Arms I came across one of their t-shirt designs with the following message emblazoned across it in huge letters: LOVE IS THE MOVEMENT. It got me thinking about movement as self-love, self-care. And how self-care isn’t only physical things like going for a walk. It’s taking time and making space for whatever you most need at that moment. The insight helped with one of the problems I’d been having with this year’s theme. The idea that if you’re depressed or anxious or living with some other form of mental health issue, all you need to do is get up and go for a walk. Preferably in nature. In the woods, maybe. Or on the beach. And you’ll be fine. That’s not how the organisers of MHAW intend it, I know, but it’s something I see all too often online.

Physical exercise can be helpful to our mental health, but it’s not the panacea it’s sometimes made out to be. It’s also neither appropriate nor suitable for everyone at all times. Disability, chronic fatigue, insomnia, pain, the utterly debilitating inertia of depression, the lack of safe, affordable access to the outdoors, and any of a hundred other factors can make “get up and go for a walk, you’ll feel better” challenging at best and toxic at worst. Even taking a shower, washing the dishes, or making the bed may be too much on some days.

LOVE IS THE MOVEMENT helped me see that any and all means of self-care are capable of moving us forward. That might include going out for a walk or to the gym, but it also includes meeting a friend for a chat, in person or on the phone. It includes taking that shower or making the bed if you’re up for it. But it equally includes taking your meds, booking an appointment, asking for help, curling up with a book or the TV, or deciding on a day of extreme rest. Anything that takes you from today to tomorrow, from this hour to the next, from this moment to the next moment is meaningful.

So yes, movement is good, but don’t feel pressured to do more than you’re comfortable with, or guilt-tripped into other people’s ideas of what kind of movement is or isn’t valid. Move you, your way.


Further Reading

Mental Health Awareness Week 2024 will take place from 13 to 19 May, on the theme of “Movement: Moving more for our mental health.” For more information check out the Mental Health Foundation and Rethink Mental Illness. Also check out our collection of articles we’ve shared for MHAW in previous years, as well as other awareness days and events.


Photo by Martin Adams at Unsplash.


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