Tag Archives: Exercise

Girl in early twenties sits at home with a cup of tea.

Little movements, big difference

Girl in early twenties sits at home with a cup of tea. Text reads: Little movements, big difference

Chloe* shares with us how her understanding of ‘moving’ more for her mental health has changed after experiencing a period of isolation feeling low.

For a long time, when I heard that ‘movement’ was good for our mental health, my mind would always immediately jump to running, cycling, swimming, even walking. For me, ‘movement’ = exercise; I probably felt like it didn’t count unless I was breaking a sweat.

But last year I found myself in a situation that taught me that sometimes, it’s the smallest and simplest movements that matter.

I had been working in a job I loved for over four years. My colleagues were scattered all over the UK and we didn’t have any kind of central ‘office’ where we met, so I was working remotely at home pretty much 100% of the time.

For the first three years, this didn’t bother me at all. A proud introvert, I knew that I worked best on my own, without the distraction of other people around me. I love my own space, and working from home meant I was always surrounded by my favourite plants and books and art, as well as my slippers and blankets. I could eat whatever I fancied for lunch, and could even work through the laundry or pop to the supermarket during my lunch break. In lots of ways, it was brilliant.

But during those first three years, I took for granted the fact that there was usually someone else at home who could lure me out of my office for a break every now and then. When I lived with my parents, my mum who only works part time would often call me downstairs for a cup of coffee. When I lived with a friend, we’d hard-stop work at 5pm and head out for a walk while it was still light.

Things changed a little when I moved again, and was suddenly alone for a lot longer than I had been before. And while I still enjoyed my own company, the absence of coffee breaks and after-work walks left a big gap. I don’t think I was conscious of it at the time, so I’m not really sure how or when it happened, but I quite quickly began to lose motivation to get outside or move at all.

I would wake up in the morning and choose sweats and a hoody over the nicer workwear I normally would have picked. Sure, the comfy clothes had been nice on the odd day when I didn’t have a lot of calls or was feeling a little under the weather, but this was every day. I started snoozing my alarm, first allowing myself an extra 15 minutes or half an hour under the duvet, but eventually resetting it all together so it rang just 10 minutes before my daily 9am meeting, for which I’d roll out of bed and straight down the stairs. I’d grab something quick and comforting for lunch and bring it to the sofa, or on some days even sneak back to bed for a 20 minute nap during my break. And when the day was done, I’d close the laptop and walk five steps to the living room where I’d flop back down again and watch TV for the rest of the evening.

As I write those words, I have to battle the little part of my brain that thinks I was just being lazy. Because sure, it kind of sounds that way. But I wasn’t being lazy. Long periods of isolation and, I guess, a degree of loneliness, had just kind of drawn the energy out of me, and I wasn’t practicing any kind of self care that might have helped. I wasn’t sad or anxious during that time, but I was just achey and tired. My husband and I now joke about it being my ‘slump’ era, but that is how it felt.

I realised eventually that the way I was living wasn’t conducive to a healthy or happy lifestyle, and that something really needed to change. For me, that change looked like a new job – although that won’t be the right move for everyone in my position, it was the right time for me. I know that the ability to work from home is a real lifeline for some, and flexibility is really important. But just because of my own circumstances, I looked specifically for jobs that were in the office rather than working-from-home, and was lucky to quite quickly find a new role that required that short but all-important commute AND that aligned with my values and skills.

From the first day in that new role, my routine had to look different. I woke up earlier, and ate a real breakfast. I chose an outfit that made me feel good and put together. I sat and had a cup of coffee with my husband before we both left the house around the same time. I left the house and allowed the sun to hit my face and my legs to move a little for the few seconds it took to get from the front door to the car. I listened to music on the drive. I took more steps across the car park. And then I spent my day working, yes, but in a room with other people who occasionally would offer a cup of tea or a walk to the local café for lunch. They weren’t big movements. But they made such a big difference.

If you’re reading this, and ‘exercise’ feels too hard, can I encourage you to think about taking a smaller step? Even just to open a window, or put the kettle on. Poke your head outside, even just for a moment, and breathe in some fresh air and let the sun warm your face. Or if you have a friend who you know is at risk of feeling a little bit isolated, please invite them out for a coffee or a walk – you don’t know how important those moments could be for them!

Now, when I hear that movement helps our mental health, I don’t think of marathons or hikes – although of course these things are brilliant, too. I think of the little steps – out of bed, out of the house, across the carpark. And I really believe that they matter. They’ve improved my mental health significantly, and I’m grateful that they’re part of my daily rhythms and routines.

*Names have been changed for anonymity.