Exercise for a happy mind.

I love to exercise. I love to run, walk, play netball. It makes my mind and body feel good. I have always enjoyed exercising, and playing sport (it’s my competitive spirit), although it has only been recently that I have realised the huge impact it makes on my mental health and mood. I actually can’t believe I didn’t notice this sooner. However these last two years I have learnt so much about myself and really started listening to what my body is trying to tell me, it’s only taken 30years! 

I have always been an active and competitive child and adult, that doesn’t mean I have always loved to exercise. I played netball all through my school years which I loved, and like most people stopped when I finished uni and had to get a real job, playing netball didn’t fit into my what I thought was a busy life. And even though I was a good netballer, I couldn’t run longer than 500 meters. I’d never thought of running as a hobby or form of exercise. 

So how did I learn to love to run? And rekindle my love for netball? I think it was just time and maturity. I had 11 years off playing netball. I decided last year, after having my daughter the year before, it was my year to do something for myself. So I rejoined the netball team I had played with growing up, and I couldn’t be happier. I love playing, I love the competition, I love the training, and I love just being in a team again, and most of all doing something for myself that makes my body and mind happy. Learning to love running was a bit harder. I’ve admired these people who can just go out and run, never thinking or appreciating how hard it actually is. I can’t remember why I decided I would try running, but one day James and I decided, instead of walking we would run. Well I quickly realised I couldn’t even run 500 meters!? I couldn’t understand, I was fit, I did exercise. Why couldn’t I just get out and run? So over the next year I taught myself to run. So many people ask oh how do you run so far, and I tell them this, start small and work up. I started walking and then running 500meters then walking. Over time I would run longer distances and walk shorter distances, until I could run a few kilometres without stopping. I got up to 10k and I was so proud of myself. Then I fell pregnant.

Once I fell pregnant I had to stop all exercise except light walking. This is when I realised how much running and exercising impacted my mental health. I wasn’t exercising to keep fit or loose weight, I was exercising to keep sane. I have for as long as I can remember suffered anxiety. I have tried various types of treatments and exercise is the one for me, keeping my body active keeps my mind calm. So when I had to stop all exercise, and that combined with being pregnant was a recipe for extreme anxiety. However I didn’t realise this until much later. I was just teetering along trying to manage my anxiety, which I thought was justified, I was pregnant and then I had a new baby, who wouldn’t be anxious. I didn’t realise how stressed and anxious I was. I was on the edge of having a breakdown. So I turned back to exercise (with the help of medication and family support). 

But I am now a mother, and especially when Audrey was a new born, there was no time. Once you become a mother, your time is no longer yours. Your whole life and every moment of time is about caring for your baby. But then, you are human too. And there comes a point where to be able to best care for your child, you need to be happy and take care of yourself. I could not be the best parent I needed and wanted to be to Audrey, with the anxiety and panic going on in my mind. The psychologist suggested one hour a day for myself. This is not being selfish, it’s called essential balance. So I decided to start running again. Well, it was like I had never run before! And let me tell you, the pelvic floor is never the same! I started slow again with running and walking and gradually increased my running distance. 

Some people run with music, I run with my mind. Running allows me to unravel all the anxiety and disruptive thoughts that swim around in my mind all of the time. If I am stressed or in an anxious spiral a long run straightens me out. It allows my mind to slow and focus and put things into perspective. Of course exercise releases all the good endorphins that help improve mood and focus, so running and exercising was a literal life saver. My psychologist also said I need to do something for myself. Hence the reason I re started netball. I will play forever now I think, the happiness I get from running around on that court is just amazing. 

I decided to set myself a goal. I was running longer distances and feeling so much happier that I could exercise and have control over my anxious mind. So I decided I would train and complete a half marathon before I turned 30. I chose the Gold Coast half marathon to complete. I started to train, which consisted of lacing up the shoes and running between 25-40 kilometres a week. Obviously I was very lucky to have great family support, which enabled me to get out and just run, me and my mind. Although I had so much self doubt, I’d get out and run and think maybe, just maybe I could complete this. I still feel guilty leaving the house to run , even just a short 30min run, but that’s mum guilt for you. But once I set a goal, I achieve it. So on the 2nd of July I laced up my shoes and with my heart pounding and mind going crazy, I raced that half marathon. I had a goal to complete the race within 2 hours, well I smashed it and completed in one hour and forty six minutes. The feeling I felt crossing that finish line and to know that my husband and daughter were cheering me on was like nothing else. I had achieved something I never thought I would be able too.

I struggle everyday with my anxious mind, and I am desperate to not pass this personality trait onto my carefree toddler. I think it’s so important that she sees me doing these things for myself and for her to see how exercise makes me happy and proud of myself. I will continue to run with my anxious mind as I have come to the realisation that anxiety will never leave me, but I need to move and push my body to keep my mind and thoughts calm. 

Love Ali & Audrey