As winter sets in, Joan Murphy of Frame shares her advice for staying mentally fit and well.
Today is World Mental Health Day – an initiative first launched in 1992 – which this year is likely, hopefully, to generate more awareness than ever with this morning’s announcement that the government is to appoint a Suicide Prevention Minister; and thanks to the work of www.headstogether.org.uk and its rallying by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry over the last year. But you don’t have to be royal, or particularly literate in the language of mental health, to look after yourself well. And with winter on the way (not that you’d believe it today with temperatures in sunny London expected to reach 23 degrees), it’s time more than ever for us to watch ourselves – and each other – for signs of the blues.
“It’s so important to think about our mental wellbeing as the days get darker – and as we move into winter, to remember that any kind of movement is as good for our mental health as our physical,” says Joan Murphy, founder of FRAME, who launched her pay-as-you-go fitness service in 2009 primarily as a tool for people to feel good about themselves.
“Try meditation outside – even if you only manage to find a slither of sunshine to get a little vitamin D on your face. Be mindful of your circadian rhythms and getting as much light as you need – and for women particularly our hormones can go crazy so movement is the best way to feel good – get the blood pumping around you.”
“Whatever it is, take that first step – and do the thing that works best for you.”
Most importantly, she says, don’t feel pressure to start something you’re unlikely to be able to stick to. “Whatever it is, take that first step – and do the thing that works best for you. Even if you just think, ‘I like walking; I like coffee – so I’ll go for a walk with a friend and catch up with a coffee’ – once you start you’re on a positive roll and the more you look after your mental wellbeing, the better you are all over.”
Having played all kinds of sport at school and risen to national level to represent her native New Zealand at pole vault and track cycling – as you do – Joan and her business partner Pip Black fast realised how difficult it was to fit exercise into a normal working life. At least, certainly the kind of exercise that made them feel as good as they had done before adult life took over.
“Do the thing you actually DO.”
“It’s always struck me as surprising that we talk so often about whether we’re fit or not physically, but we don’t consider our mental health the same way,” she says. “Frame was always supposed to be the opposite of encouraging exercise to feel thin or get physically fit. We were focused on the feel good factor from the outset, which is why we’ve come up with such a variety of classes, from the full spectrum of yoga, to meditation classes, to all the fitness options. Fitness can be like fashion – but we don’t want to encourage a fad that will fade out.”
And it’s a philosophy that has worked for them. Having launched in 2009, they now offer 1,400 classes a month with an average of 50,000 bookings. And to prove it they have surveyed their customers – best known as “Framers” – annually, to make sure. The last survey came up with 85 per cent of Framers “doing exercise to feel good about myself” versus 40 per cent for UK women generally; 74 per cent “exercising to relax and destress” (compared to 38 per cent); and 73 per cent “exercising to be healthy in mind” versus 42 per cent.
“The one thing I get asked all the time by people is ‘what is the best exercise for me?’ and my answer is always the same. It’s no good making a resolution to do something that won’t really inspire you – you need to find something that you can enjoy often, even if it starts with that walk with a coffee.
“Do the thing you actually DO.”