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Stress, studying & sport – workout for wellbeing

POSTED Wednesday 9 October 2019

Within this ever-changing world, our mental health is under pressure from the media, work, socioeconomic status and relationships (both with others and ourselves), which has led to a rise in poor mental health generally. We tend to see our mental and physical health as separate, but they both influence each other. When we are under mental stress, we may feel physically unwell, but getting our bodies moving can have a very powerful effect on our mental wellbeing! For World Mental Health Day, we chatted to one of our fitness instructors about their journey with mental health and exercise.

Over the years, various research has shown that exercise can have a positive impact on our mental health. It is believed that physical activity causes chemical changes in the brain which can improve our mood, levels of self-esteem, confidence, and the relationship we have with ourselves.

Laura’s personal journey began two months before she turned 17, when her friend asked her to join a gym as he didn’t want to go on his own. Laura is one of Sport & Fitness’ class instructors – taking on classes like Body Attack, Pump and Tone – and she chatted to us about her relationship with mental health and exercise.

‘I went through the gym induction, got into my exercise programme, started to see my body changing, and I felt a lot less stressed! Within a few months I tried Body Combat and fell in love with the high energy! I loved it, it felt amazing and was different to my other training. I continued training throughout my A-Levels and university.

‘During my time at school I was bullied for being ‘overweight’. I had been playing sports at high levels since I was very young, andlaura was much bigger built than other girls.

Going to the gym and classes gave me my confidence back, so much so that in my second year I studied and qualified as a group fitness instructor! I then trained in Body Combat and Body Pump, I loved them that much!

‘However, being bullied caught up with me mentally and I became obsessed with what I ate – and not in a good way. I started separating food on my plate during meals into the pile I will eat and the pile I will leave, and being very controlling over my calorie consumption. It took one of my instructors who asked me what was going on for me to realise something was wrong. It took a lot of retraining my brain and how I saw myself, which believe me was tough, and I still have moments now years later where the weight obsession creeps back.

The difference now is that I respect myself and understand through my years of training that it’s ok to have a little of what you like and to find balance in what you do.

‘My instructors helped me more than I realised at the time and exercise got me through some very dark times: the stress of revision and exams especially during my third year! Since then I’ve been teaching classes and I have grown so much as a person and a teacher because of my past. I’ve made it my mission to help others both physically, but especially mentally!

My biggest piece of advice from personal experience is that it’s OK to talk about how you feel, though it can be scary – know that we are here for you.

‘I want people to come to classes and enjoy some time for themselves, to walk away feeling like they can take on the world or if it’s my Pilates or Body Balance classes, feeling relaxed and strong inside and out. Whether it’s asking us to be a listening ear, or to direct you to someone who can help. Together we are stronger.’

If you want to find some help and support on campus, have a look at the different ways you can access the mental health and wellbeing offerings below.

Support for students

  • A weekday wellbeing check-in service providing 30 minute appointments with a psychological practitioner based in the Aston Webb Student Hub.
  • Pause offer a drop-in service both on campus (exclusive to UOB students) and in Digbeth providing mental health support and advice for young people.
  • Contact your Wellbeing Officer in your school/college for practical and emotional support if you are experiencing difficulties that may be affecting your academic work
  • Guild Advice is a free, impartial and confidential advice service offering practical support on student life e.g. study, work, housing, finance and wellbeing.
  • Student Mentor Scheme offer an advice service for students living in University-owned and partner accommodation, covering issues such as wellbeing, finance and accommodation.
  • Nightline offers a confidential listening service run by students to support you with whatever is on your mind – open every evening during term time – call, instant-messenger, email or drop-in at St Francis Hall.

Support for everyone

If you or someone you know requires urgent mental health support, you should contact one of the following services:

  • Call 999 or visit A&E in person (urgent, life threatening)
  • Call 111 (urgent, non-life threatening)
  • Call 0300 300 0099 (Forward Thinking Birmingham’s Crisis Team)
  • Call 116 123 to speak confidentially to the Samaritans (24/7)
  • Call 0800 068 4141 (Papyrus – Young Suicide Prevention Charity)
  • Book an appointment with your GP or visit a NHS Walk-In Service


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