As we mark the beginning of Mental Health Awareness week from 15 to 21 May, JTP Graphic Designer and Design Manager, Joe Wood reflects on his career at the practice and how running has helped him in dealing with his anxiety – the key focus and theme of this year’s awareness campaign.
For many the stigmas that surround anxiety stop people from talking about it, when a clear understanding is what is really needed. Anxiety is the mind and body's reaction to stressful or unfamiliar situations. It is the sense of uneasiness, distress, or dread that is felt before a significant event. Certain levels of anxiety help us stay alert and aware, but for those suffering from an anxiety disorder, it feels far from normal and can be completely debilitating.
Life during the COVID-19 pandemic really shone a light on mental health and the importance of looking after our wellbeing at a time when it was so easy to isolate and suffer alone. As the world gradually emerges from the global pandemic and with the stresses of the cost of living ever present in our day to day lives, how we deal with anxiety has become increasingly more difficult. For many, these stresses and strains can lead to a build-up of anxiety that at times feels difficult to manage, making it harder to open up and talk about for various reasons.
For as long as I can remember whilst working at JTP, running has always been something I have done and part of my weekly routine. This was not always the case however and for me when I was growing up, running was the last thing on my mind. Despite this however, over the years I have come to realise and appreciate how important running has become for me, not just for fun but as part of my own wellbeing and routine.
As someone who has struggled with anxiety in the past and the uncertainty of how best to manage it, running has offered me a way to channel these emotions into a positive and practical outcome. It has given me focus and drive to look after my own wellbeing and the wellbeing of others. Whilst acting as a combination of keeping fit, focusing the mind and releasing any unwanted stresses, running has also provided me with the opportunity to raise money and awareness for worthwhile charities and causes. My first half marathon back in 2004 (The London Half – which was around Silverstone racetrack) was run on behalf of the Skaterham at the Village of Caterham – one of JTP’s projects – to help raise much needed funds to support the ongoing youth project and also help raise the profile behind the amazing work being done. More recently, I have supported the work of Cancer Research UK, The British Lung Foundation and Mind – all of which I have sort advice and support from which has helped me personally.
London Half Marathon, 2004
Of course, life is about balance and for everyone this can be different, with people having their own healthy ways and approaches to deal with anxiety and stress. For me it started with running at the gym before work and taking part in organised events to experience the fun and social side of running. Now my running regime is simply getting up and heading out my front door and around my local area of Greenford in Ealing. It helps me get ready for the day ahead mentally and physically, especially in my role as a Design Manager and Graphic Designer.
Running is naturally known for its multiple health benefits when it comes to cardiovascular fitness and other aspects of physical health. Studies have shown that the benefits of running for just 5 to 10 minutes at a moderate pace each day can reduce the risk of heart attacks, strokes, cardiovascular disease, cancer and other neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.
Despite this however, many people are unaware of additional mental health benefits that the activity can also provide. To look at running scientifically, such intense exercise causes your body to go through a transition. This includes a variety of chemical processes in the brain that positively impact your overall mental state – various neurotransmitters are released, each of which has a different but positive effect on an individual. Endorphins and serotonin are also released during running, and these are known to contribute to the well-known phenomenon commonly known as a ‘runner’s high’. This is a euphoric state of calm that is often experienced after any intense exercise, but it is particularly powerful if you are running outside, with the act also significantly increasing the oxygenation of the blood. Running is considered one of the best methods for reducing anxiety and stress hormones – simply being able to think more clearly, sleep more deeply, and enjoy higher productivity levels. Looking at it through that lens, it literally means mental health conditions can be targeted with every step you take!
JTP has always sought to encourage out of work activities and initiatives especially if they promote wellbeing. Since JTP relocated our London studio to Pennington Street Warehouse in 2019, a new initiative in the form of the JTP Pacemakers – the practice’s running group – has been introduced as a way to encourage staff to take up the opportunity to give running a go at their own pace. Initiated by JTP Associate, Dave Swindells and myself, we have made a valuable contribution in supporting people in the practice to take part and transform their lunchtime routines.
The Pacemakers have always sought to bring people together through running and recognise the enormous benefits that can be had from encouraging people to get away from their desks, get some fresh air and enjoy some time out with colleagues through physical activity.
Given our office’s location in London Docks, the group takes full advantage of routes along the waterways and green spaces of Wapping, whilst also embracing the opportunity to see some of London’s landmarks and explore our own local neighbourhood.
Usually heading out for either a 3km or 5km run, the group runs at sociable pace allowing everyone to get back to the studio with enough time to shower, have something to eat and enjoy the rest of their lunch break. The JTP initiative has proved extremely popular with our team offering a great way to catch up, take some time out and enjoy a break from the studio, whilst forming new social groups outside of working relationships.
My outlook on work has inevitably changed over the course of time and I have learned to realise the importance of looking after my own mental wellbeing, as well as that of others. Coupled with being a Mental Health First Aider for the practice, we as a group are always looking to promote and inform others on the issues surrounding people’s wellbeing and encouraging the discussion on subjects such as anxiety.
Over the years, I have participated in a number of marathons and have always been on the lookout for the next challenge. On 24 June 2023, I will be taking part in my first Ultra London Marathon which is a fully signed route that follows part of the fantastic Capital Ring footpath from Woolwich to Richmond, covering the distance of 55km. I will be raising money and the continuing awareness for mental health charity, Mind and the amazing work and support they do. My fundraising page can be viewed here.
Whilst running works for me, it might not be for everyone and that is okay – it is about finding what works best for you to help balance out your natural anxieties and stresses. Taking up running does not have to mean long distances, it could be anything from a short sprint, a leisurely jog to a brisk walk 10 to 15 minutes of your day. Whatever it is, activity, running and exercise is about being consistent, persistent, and building it into your own routine in whatever way suits you best.