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The Resilient Equestrian

World Mental Health Day 2020

Day 5: Resiliency

All week I have focused on all the parts of pro-active mental health.

Yesterday (8 October) the Mental Health Foundation released their research sharing the 'top 10' for building resiliency in a pandemic.

The theme hit me... SELF CARE

Myth busting: Self Care is NOT self ish

Being pro-active in a pandemic is about giving ourselves attention, perhaps in the past or over time, neglected. Self care, in my opinion, is the sum of all the MHF recommendations.

Tomorrow is my community - Coffee With Horse Lovers - 1-2-1 with Mental Health Expert Janine Allison. I am so looking forward to discussing the different parts of the whole - a resilient equestrian.

Come and join us, 11am BST in Coffee With Horse Lovers

Because there is no horse welfare without our own mental health.

See you there!



Mental Health Foundation Top 10 (8 October 2020):

  1. Exercising

  2. Spending time in nature

  3. Maintaining contact with friends and family

  4. Eating healthily

  5. Being aware of smoking and drinking

  6. Taking time to relax

  7. Being mindful

  8. Getting restful sleep

  9. Avoiding negative thinking

  10. Doing an enjoyable hobby

Findings from our study show that people are benefiting from these types of activity to help their mental health and overall wellbeing. In total, almost nine out of ten (87%) of those who have experienced stress as a result of the pandemic reported at least one of these actions to support their mental health, while only 9% say that nothing has helped them cope with the stress of the pandemic (13% of men and 5% of women).

Exercise is known to boost mood, while physical fitness is a protective factor for good mental health. There is now strong evidence to demonstrate the protective effect of physical activity on a range of many chronic conditions, including coronary heart disease, obesity, type 2 diabetes, mental health problems and social isolation.10 Even relatively small increases in physical activity can contribute to improved health and quality of life.11

Our study shows that 59% of the adult population has found going for a walk outside helped them to cope with the stress of the pandemic.

Spending time in green space is known to be beneficial for mental health and overall wellbeing.12 Spending time in natural environments reduces levels of stress and/or improves attention fatigue and mood more than built-up environments. There is strong evidence that living in greener environments is associated with better mental health and overall health and wellbeing, while long-term exposure to green space may protect against anxiety and depression.13

Our study shows that 50% of adults across the UK had visited green space in August as a way of coping with the stress of the pandemic.

All focus group participants agreed that access to nature, green spaces, open spaces and plants (e.g. gardens, parks, allotments, balconies with plants, the seaside, water, etc.) has helped them to cope and is crucially important for wellbeing.

Connecting with others with whom we have a positive relationship is an effective way of supporting our mental health and wellbeing and may prevent mental health problems.14 Through connecting with others, we receive affirmation of our identity and share compassion for our struggles. Maintaining connection protects gainst loneliness.

Findings from our study show that during the pandemic many people found connecting with others a valuable way of coping with stress. When asked about what had helped them to cope during the pandemic, 47% of survey respondents identified connecting with family, while 46% identified connecting with friends. Older people over the age of 70 and females were more likely to seek contact with friends and family connections.

Most of our focus group participants agreed that social contact was vital for their ability to cope with the stresses of the pandemic.

However, there were differences in the types of daily contact that people felt comfortable with, and with whom and where people felt comfortable being in contact with others. For instance, almost all members of the focus group were feeling comfortable with the person/people in their own household and/or virtual or social media contacts. However, they identified heightened worry, stress and anxiety about meeting up outside their home, especially in high risk places (e.g. crowed spaces) and with reckless people (e.g. those who flout the rules of physical distancing, do not wear a face covering, etc.), whilst meeting up in a park or big open space where there are few people was seen as less worrying and stressful:

Pets were also mentioned as an important source of companionship, and again later in connection with exercise and green space.

Maintaining a healthy diet can also contribute to mental health and wellbeing. Eating well (i.e. a well- balanced diet rich in vegetables and nutrients) may be associated with feelings of wellbeing. One 2014 study found high levels of wellbeing were reported by individuals who ate more fruit and vegetables.15 In addition, one study found that a Mediterranean- style diet (a diet high in vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, beans, cereals, grains, fish, and unsaturated fats such as olive oil.) supplemented with fish oil led to a reduction in depression among participants, which was sustained six months after the intervention.

Sleep is a protective factor for mental health. It plays a central role in our learning, emotional regulation, behaviour, and how we interact with others – all of which might help to explain the vital role that sleep plays in our ability to interact and cope with the world around us.

Lack of sleep can affect our emotional regulation, and studies suggest that sleep deprivation may limit our ability to manage our responses to negative situations. For these reasons, sleep becomes even more important during times of crisis.

In our study, maintaining a healthy lifestyle (e.g. balanced diet, enough sleep, exercise etc.) was reported to be a valuable support for 39% of the population, with women more likely to identify this as a helpful way of coping (41% women, 36% men). Of some concern is that only 32% of unemployed people and only 29% of people with a diagnosed mental health problem reported that maintaining a healthy lifestyle aided their ability to cope with the stress of the pandemic.

In terms of getting an adequate amount of sleep, approximately one-sixth of adults (16%) say that the coronavirus pandemic has negatively affected their sleep in the past two weeks. It is positive that the proportion of people whose sleep has been negatively affected has dropped from a high of 26% since 24-26 April.

Participants in our focus group agreed that the allowance of one daily outdoor activity during lockdown was very beneficial and a great help with coping:

“Gardening and walking dogs is key. I went to the coast for long walks when we were allowed to do so. It means a lot to me for my mental health and wellbeing.” “I walked my dog each day… I am more aware of exercise and the value of it because of Covid and the lockdown.”

However, for some people, the lockdown made it more difficult to exercise. Two participants explicitly mentioned the negative impacts of gym closures and the lack of various social activities, such as dancing, which were their main physical activities (e.g. semi-professional dancing at high and competitive level) and also a partial source of income (e.g. coaching in a gym), with which they strongly identified themselves. The loss of these activities (which continues now) hits hard and is like grieving a loss, as it is so important in their lives:

“I was coaching in a gym, but they closed. I lost a big aspect of my identity. I am riding a bike but it’s not the same. It has affected my anxiety and hypervigilance as I don’t have the same tools as before. It [lockdown and its consequences] broke my routine.”

Doing an enjoyable activity such as a hobby can also support mental health. In our study, 38% of adults reported that engaging in a hobby helped them to cope with the stress of the pandemic.

Negative thinking is a widely recognised contributor to anxiety and depression such that psychological therapies for these conditions often focus on addressing negative thoughts. In our study, we asked people about practices that might help them to avoid negative thinking, such as limiting exposure to the news about the coronavirus or to social media.

We also asked if keeping updated with relevant information helped them to cope with the stress of the pandemic. We found that these have been valuable supports for about one-third of the population since lockdown.

All participants in the focus group agreed that the use of media (both mainstream media and social media) is a double-edged sword, with both pros and cons, although everyone agreed that too much media (both mainstream and social media) is stressful, worrying and anxiety-inducing.

Yet, participants agreed that there is a tension between obtaining information about the Coronavirus, lockdown and associated rules and legislation, and keeping away from the media to safeguard wellbeing:

“My use of the news increased at first… But it’s helpful to limit news because it’s stressful …” “I am avoiding media and news as it muddles my own thinking. But I need to stay informed to have the correct information to carry on…” “…I’m making a conscious effort not to listen anymore… media has a negative effect.”

FULL report 8 October HERE


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