Moving for mental health: finding what works for you

Find out how Jules, an educator with ADHD, finds ways to incorporate movement into her daily life.

Articles / 8 mins read

It is Mental Health Awareness Week starting on 13 May and the theme is ‘Movement: moving more for our mental health.’ Jules Daulby, literacy and inclusion specialist and assistant head in a Dorset Specialist School, has been on a journey of self-discovery and learnt that movement has benefits far beyond physical health.

Find out how Jules, an educator with ADHD, finds ways to incorporate movement into her daily life and why she particularly enjoys the buzz of cold water swimming; which gives her a chance to socialise outside of school.

How it all started

‘We’re invincible!’ my colleague and I exclaimed to our headteacher one morning. It was the middle of March before the Easter holidays when most teachers are exhausted. The 6am sea swim on Weymouth beach however had improved our energy levels and our mental health.

What madness is this? I hear you ask.

Women’s Refuge charity organised a ‘swim every day in March’ sponsored event last year and we signed up deciding to swim along the Dorset coast each day. We three teachers from Dorset special schools, Amanda, and I at Yewstock School, and Emma from Mountjoy School, decided to take up the challenge. We raised more than £2,000 over the month but not only that; sea swimming made us feel great!

We no longer swim every day but go regularly and appreciate the buzz from the cold-water. Adding in the occasional luxury of a sea sauna after school improves the experience further. The relaxation of the heat and then the rush of adrenaline of the cold sea water sets up the start of a weekend. To add to the self-care routine, yoga has become a firm favourite. It is relaxing and great for the mind as well as improving mobility. That is how I see moving and mental health: for the mind and the body.

Finding what works for me

I am a teacher with ADHD. This is usually a positive for creativity and risk taking but it means I have a higher risk of poor mental health, stress, overthinking and catastrophising. Moving and a healthy lifestyle are important to counteract this. There is a Catch 22 however which I’m sure, many of you, will recognise. When you feel bad, you don’t want to move, eat healthily or socialise. I have to remind myself that my feelings are linked to my brain and I need to follow the science rather than my instinct (which tells me to gorge on chocolate, hide under the duvet and binge-watch Game of Thrones).

In my late forties, I went through the perimenopause without realising it. I broke my ankle twice, found out I had osteopenia (poor bone density), was depressed, and stressed. The doctor told me ADHD and perimenopause are not kindred spirits; that hormones, oestrogen and chemical imbalances play havoc with both the body and mind. Chuck in some family trauma and I became, as my children named me, Stressy Messy. My son had been excluded from school, my mum had been diagnosed with dementia and I was distracting myself with busyness and social media. I was not sleeping well, I was not present at home, and I was not looking after myself.

Retrospectively, I was having a tough time and managing four children while working full time. Rather than performing self-care, I was being destructive. It seems like a long time ago but if I can help anyone else not make the mistakes I made then, I would be happy. It is not inevitable to deteriorate, and a few changes could make the difference between surviving and thriving.

I was having a tough time and managing four children while working full time. Rather than performing self-care, I was being destructive.

Mind and body benefits

I am now in my fifties. Overweight but body positive, un-sporty but enjoying the outdoors, still teaching, and loving it. Being post-menopausal, I am finding out about the science which I wish I had known in my thirties and forties; the pillars of wellness recommend you eat well, move a bit, sleep solidly, socialise, volunteer, and reduce stress as much as possible. Additionally, my bones, my heart, and my mind need movement. The sea swimming, saunas and yoga have an added advantage of meeting people. Teaching is all consuming during the term and these activities allow for incidental socialising thus adding to wellness.

Feeling good in my body

I enjoy watching David Wilson on Facebook who shows how moving a little can help mobility. Rick Coffey is fun to follow too; he is body positive and worries more about moving with no mention of weight loss or looking toned. This attitude helps me as I had years of not moving but focusing on losing pounds which I now know was unhelpful, if not harmful.

I am also a mother of four children, and I do not want them seeing me hate myself. I hope instead, they see a confident woman who loves herself enough to be healthy and model self-care. I avoid companies promoting weight loss and solely buy from those who use body positive models. A focus on healthy eating and movement is far better for my mental health than being made to feel I am not good enough!

I am now in my fifties. Overweight but body positive, un-sporty but enjoying the outdoors, still teaching, and loving it.

Tips from an imperfect teacher

Here are my tips on ways to move and improve mental health. Although, please remember everyone is different and what works for me, may be different to you! Perhaps you have your own tips you would include on this list?

  • Find some motivation: Couch to 5K is great and I return to this regularly. There are many other guides (some free, such as Yoga with Adriene) for different abilities which can help motivate you. It is worth doing some online research and trying any free trials on offer.
  • Set a small daily goal: I listen to Zoe podcasts and they recommend movements such as hopping and skipping, planks and wall sits to help with blood pressure. I try to do at least something small every day, even if it is a few counter press ups while waiting for the kettle to boil.
  • Remember moderation is key: as teachers, we are often made to think we are not working hard enough, not teaching well enough and are expected to live up to a standard which is impossible to achieve. Moderation is key in both teaching and moving! Be proud of yourself, love yourself and move because it makes you happy and you matter, not because you think you should.
  • Find movement you enjoy: I am no-one to emulate but I can advise that if you find movement you enjoy which can be incorporated into your everyday life, it will never be a chore and will become a sustainable change thus improving your mental health. For me this is sea swimming, saunas, yoga, and small shifts of movement in the house – what could it be for you?
  • Be aware of your mental health: Just like physical health, we all have mental health. If you are struggling with your mental health, or any challenging emotions it is okay to ask for help or seek support (just like you would if you were suffering with a physical health condition). 

Education Support provide a free, confidential helpline for all those working in education. When you call you’ll talk to a qualified counsellor for immediate, confidential emotional support. You don’t need to wait for a crisis to call: 08000 562 561. And school leaders can access funded professional supervision in England and Wales, at no cost to them.

I hope this blog is useful for some of you working in education who might be reflecting on ways you can incorporate more movement into your daily life. I look forward to sharing my next blog with you on my experiences of being an educator with ADHD in the coming months – watch this space!

About Jules

Jules is an assistant head in an all-through special school. Jules specialises in relational practice, therapeutic behaviour strategies, communication and literacy. Much of her leadership role is supporting teachers, including Early Career Teachers (a privilege she never forgets).  Jules has ADHD which means she is creative and a risk taker. Jules describes herself as energetic on a good day and bordering on chaotic when the day is more of a challenge!

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