Cycling and Mental Health

Cycling and mental health

Last week I attended a talk at Look Mum No Hands on the relationship between cycling and mental health. It was an interesting and insightful discussion with members of the panel sharing their personal experiences of mental health issues and cycling. It’s really positive to see that mental health is being discussed more openly. There are so many blogs, podcasts, events, books and social media accounts dedicated to a topic which was just not spoken about up until recently. The stigma is definitely starting to shift.

Cycling (and exercise in general) is often recommended to anyone suffering with mental health problems as a form of medication. The benefits are certainly well-documented. It can improve your state of mind, widen your social circle, get you outdoors in nature and boost your endorphins. Interestingly, there is a study which shows that men are more able to talk openly about their issues whilst cycling side-by-side someone, rather than speaking face-to-face.

However for anyone suffering with severe symptoms, cycling may be the last thing they want to do. For those in the depths of depression, it can be a struggle to even get out of bed, wash and dress. At the opposite end of the spectrum, cycling solo can be used as a way to withdraw from company and become more insular.

Getting on your bike more often is not a quick fix solution or cure-all. It does provide a temporary escape, but you still need to have other methods of coping with life off the bike.

Cycling and mental health

The panel also discussed the way that cycling is portrayed on social media and how this can be detrimental to mental health. People tend to present their highlights on social media- it’s all about capturing the perfect image which shows us riding further, faster, harder, in the best locations and the best kit. We compare ourselves to an unrealistic online personal and that exacerbates the pressures we put on ourselves.

I was particularly interested in the discussion around the insecurities and self-doubt we all experience as cyclists. Cycling can be very daunting- many of us worry about being unable to keep up in a group ride or feel as though we don’t fit in at an event. It’s also common to have fears around technical elements of riding like climbing, cornering and descending.

Jools Walker recently blogged about her fears leading up to Ride London– her experiences mirrored mine so closely that I could have written the post myself. I was lucky enough to get a place in the ballot last year and trained towards my first century ride with excitement. However as the event got closer, my anxieties started to get the better of me. I convinced myself that the ride was beyond my abilities, that I wouldn’t be able to handle the hills or the crowds of riders on the roads. I worried I’d have an accident or a mechanical failure. I love riding sportives, but somehow I had built this event up in my mind to be a negative experience before I’d even started.

Unlike Jools, I didn’t manage to put the thoughts to the back of my mind and didn’t make the start line of Ride London. I stayed home that day regretting my decision while my husband and friends had a amazing time riding 100 miles around London and Surrey. It’s the one and only occasion that I’ve allowed self-doubt to stop me doing what I wanted to do. I have unfinished business with Ride London. It sounds cliche but I need to feel the fear and do it anyway- one day I will cross the finish line of a century ride.

Cycling and fitness have had a huge positive impact on my wellbeing. Whilst I don’t suffer with depression or anxiety myself, I do appreciate the importance of looking after my mental health and recognising negative thoughts before they take over.

You can catch up on the Facebook live recording of the event or listen to it on the Wheel Suckers podcast.

What is your experience of cycling and mental health?

27 Comments

  1. November 25, 2017 / 4:50 pm

    One of my closest and oldest friends suffers from bi-polar disorder. Cycling has been wonderful for her and very therapeutic. I am thankful for her that she has been able to find a love for cycling and that it helps her manager her bi-polarism.

    • November 25, 2017 / 7:54 pm

      That’s so good to hear, it’s fantastic that she has found something to look after her mental health

  2. November 25, 2017 / 1:46 pm

    I love this so much! Especially the balance of the discussion sharing all angles.

    • November 25, 2017 / 7:55 pm

      Yes the talk was great in that they discussed both the positive and negative impacts of cycling on mental health

  3. Angela Cardamone @marathonsandmotivation.com
    November 25, 2017 / 1:13 am

    Yes! I totally agree with this and running and swimming do the same for me as well! However, cycling is a different beast when you mention “keeping up”…it is daunting to be on rides with people that will drop you if you can’t keep up.

    • November 25, 2017 / 7:57 pm

      Yes I think it’s all about finding the right group of people to ride with. Those who ride just slightly faster so that it challenges you, without actually getting dropped!

  4. November 24, 2017 / 8:34 pm

    Super important info. Thanks so much for sharing with us

  5. November 24, 2017 / 6:50 pm

    This is super interesting and also very similar for runners. Sometimes just being next to someone is helpful.

    • November 25, 2017 / 7:58 pm

      Agreed. All sports have an impact on our mental health and wellbeing

  6. November 24, 2017 / 4:41 pm

    What interesting thoughts. I know exercise helps me get out of my head, but I’m sure it’s much harder for others.

    • November 25, 2017 / 7:59 pm

      Yes, I guess it can be for those suffering with more severe mental illnesses.

  7. November 24, 2017 / 12:35 pm

    Great info! I didn’t know the health benefits of cycling…but it makes sense since it’s a form of exercise and exercise releases those feel-good endorphins 🙂 I haven’t rode a bike since I was a kid!

  8. November 17, 2017 / 12:16 pm

    Love this – there’s a special kind of freedom that comes with riding a bike – freedom in both body and mind.
    I also had a place for Ride London, deferred from last year when I broke my collarbone, but didn’t train enough so didn’t do it either!

    • November 25, 2017 / 8:03 pm

      You’re so right, it is an amazing sense of freedom when you’re riding a bike. One day maybe we will do Ride London!

  9. November 17, 2017 / 12:14 pm

    So, SO thrilled to see people talking about Mental Health, especially when it is linked to outdoor activities and fitness. I manage my anxiety and depression with both these things (and sometimes a little help from the Dr), but the very best thing about this is getting everyone to talk and open up about it. I still stutter and struggle sometimes when telling someone new that I have anxiety so the more people like you doing and writing stuff like this the better! Whoop whoop! 🙂

    • November 25, 2017 / 8:04 pm

      Thank you for reading. Yes it is brilliant to see more people talking about it. It effects so many people, but it’s still so difficult to talk openly about.

  10. Helen Garcia
    November 17, 2017 / 11:33 am

    Fab read Lucy! I really doubt my ability on the bike, my worst fear for my recent Ironman was not making the bike cut off or the decensts being too technical and/or too fast… recently at the Wiggle South Downs ride I got off at the top of a hill (I’d cycled up it just fine) and cried because I didn’t want to ride down the hill, I was also physically shaking… a bad fall a couple of years ago has wrecked my confidence when cornering or desending and I’m really struggling to get over that…

    • November 25, 2017 / 8:05 pm

      Yeah I remember you saying that fall knocked your confidence (and I remember seeing photos of your injuries). You are awesome on the bike though!

  11. November 17, 2017 / 11:12 am

    Great Read lucy. I’m getting very nervy and a lot of insecurities about cycling at the moment. Before I started ironman training, I cancelled my place on several group rides very last minute because of that fear of not being able to keep up. That fear is still there but it’s something I’m working on before I join a group ride!

    • November 25, 2017 / 8:06 pm

      It’s all about finding the right group to ride with. Try a Breeze Ride maybe, they seem to be friendly groups.

  12. November 17, 2017 / 9:48 am

    Excellent post. I don’t cycle but have written a blog post on how walking has helped my mental health.

    Sarah, WDC

    • November 25, 2017 / 8:06 pm

      Definitely, anything which gets you active and outdoors is beneficial to mental health

  13. November 17, 2017 / 9:25 am

    Really great article. I cycle 32 miles a day and have never looked back.

    • November 17, 2017 / 11:13 am

      That’s brilliant! What were the steps you took when starting out? I’m sure 32 miles per day must have originally seemed daunting.

    • November 25, 2017 / 8:07 pm

      Awesome mileage, is that a commute to work?

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