Mental health

Disciplined exercise can help you conquer your mental health problems

Tom Ward explains how boxing helped lift him out of depression

I first strapped on a pair of boxing gloves out of desperation. The scene is December 2017 and something’s been off in my mind for a few months. Later, a therapist will diagnose me with OCD – an anxiety-induced mental health condition that often comes tied up with depression. But, walking into Miguel’s Boxing Gym, Brixton, for the first time, I only know that I need help.

I’ve always been interested in boxing. Not for the macho-ness of it all, but for the inherent discipline and dedication. As my mind bombarded me with the darkest, most overwhelming thoughts it could muster, I realised I needed something physical to focus on that wasn’t crying. I needed to smack a punchbag instead of letting my mind consume itself.

Almost immediately I was hooked, signing up to attend three White Collar classes per week. Mondays were a two-mile run followed by a punishing circuit of burpees, squats and tuck jumps. Wednesdays were sprints and more circuits. Fridays were weights and bag work. Sweat ran from me, I spent the entire time close to collapse and, within a month, I had lost a stone.

According to the charity Mind, exercise plays a vital role in managing your mental health. The ‘healthy body, healthy mind’ mantra is true. As is the opposite – staying up late, eating junk, and not exercising are a fast track to a mental wobble.

Outside the gym, therapy, antidepressants and a supportive girlfriend helped, but recovery is a slow process, and while it’s good to talk (do, often and to everyone), I found channelling my anxious energy into exercise the best tonic of all.

While I’m not ‘better’, I am on the way to recovery. I won’t be as trite to say that Miguel’s Gym saved my life, because, thankfully, I hadn’t felt suicidal. But you might. And if you do, it’s vital that you get out and active – even if that’s a 10-minute jog around the block. Easy to say, right? But it’s vital to set goals. Start slow and build up. You’ll feel better, I promise. And if all else fails, you can always take it out on the punchbag.