Telegraph Health: Taking the black dog for a walk as an answer to mental health issues

Newscast mental health free use

A young man experiencing depression sits by a window
Newscast mental health free use A young man experiencing depression sits by a window

It was 2011. I’d started to experience terrible palpitations in my chest and was experiencing horrific fluctuating moods.

I booked in to see the local doctor and was diagnosed with anxiety and depression - this is where the story starts.

At 25 it is the last thing you want to hear, and it became something I struggled to come to terms with for a few years.

The taboo, the illness with no physical signs, the ‘Black Dog’, was now going to be part of my life.

The hardest bit was explaining to other people what it was, without any physical signs being present.

“Why can’t you just be happy?” or “What have you got to feel down about?” were common phrases I heard.

The issue with mental health is people measure it with either “You’re up or you’re down”, when the way you feel is never specific. Putting it that narrowly is like putting a broken toe nail in the same spectrum as a broken leg - they are worlds apart.

It took a long time to adjust. Dragging myself out of bed was a chore in itself - initially all I managed to do was eat, sleep and watch TV.

I will never overlook someone going through a difficult time ever again when it comes to mental health.

I pretty much kept my mouth shut for the first six months as I was really worried about what people would think.

I’d packed on three stones in weight and was really out of shape, not that good for a gym owner.

It started to become a source of insecurity for me.

When I eventually got talking it made me realise how many people are in the same situation, and how many people out there are willing to support you through it. When I managed to drag myself up out of the house finally, I started off steadily - things like dog walks with my partner, Ali - and gradually built the exercise back up, slowly.

This ‘being out of shape’ stuff was so hard, it really hit home how some of my clients must have felt.

I eventually got back in the gym and built the training up gradually over time and managed to start getting some of the excess weight off.

It wasn’t the most pleasant experience, bending over to pick weights up and feeling like my stomach was stopping me from breathing pressing against my short band.

Even still, I cracked on. I started incorporating some cardio training, 30-minutes on the cross trainer, bike and so on. This really made me feel better.

Cardio gets a bad rap when it comes to fat loss but I found it great for stabilising my mood. I can’t recommend it enough.

Fast-forward six years.

All of the above was a blessing in disguise. What it allowed was for me to learn empathy towards others, have an understanding of how and what other people’s feelings were, particularly with mental health.

One of the biggest issues that are going to crop up over the next 10 to 20 years will be mental health. The reasons are things like social media, people comparing themselves unfavourably to others, pressure from jobs, university and of course a breakdown in family relationships over the past two decades.

When someone is suffering mentally it’s not as easy as flicking a switch. A lot of issues to why people have it, tend to be ingrained habits that take a long time to resolve, some people never do, some people try every-day, which ever category you fit in, you need support.

Exercise is a great channel for stabilising and raising your mood.

It gets your endorphins levels up (makes you feel better) and helps you get fitter on multiple levels, which when done consistently over a period of time can lead to a complete change in your outlook and wellbeing.

It’s one of the main reasons we set up the new part of our facility, to make sure people that needed the support got what they required.

As a species we require connection, when we don’t get this different addictions tend to appear, alcohol, drugs (prescribed and non-prescribed), binge eating to name a few.

When really we need to take some steps to better understand and control how we react to different experiences.

The biggest piece of advice I could offer to anyone in this situation is make sure you take action, and do it in an environment that makes you feel comfortable and supported and start by taking little steps.

Start exercising - it doesn’t have to be a gym, it can be just getting out for a walk with the dog or going for a swim or to a yoga class.

Start trying to clean your food up, you will naturally start to feel better if your body gets all the nutrients it requires.

Make sure you are getting some rest and down time, meditation is a great way of winding down if you struggle to relax.

Talk to someone, this is the most important one by far. For some reason we have this natural ability to hoard our feelings and shut ourselves off, as we think our experiences and feelings are individual and shouldn’t be shared because of the risk of being judged.

It’s never the case once you eventually open up to the right person who can help you. I personally had a counsellor for three years; it was the best decision I ever made. Take some action and start living your life.