Mental health without exercise

12 February 2021

By Lauren E. White

A day never goes by without us hearing, watching or seeing someone on the news, in The Guardian or on Instagram preaching about how running, yoga and swimming helps their mental health. It’s great that exercise helps people (obviously) keep on top of their mental wellbeing, but what about if you have a disability, or you simply do not gel with exercise? Well,  you’ve come to the right place.

There are many reasons why exercise might not work for you when looking after your mental wellbeing. For starters, someone in the midst of a depression episode may not exactly feel like getting up and going for a run, when washing their hair is a chore in itself. Other people may suffer with eating disorders, which means over-exercising can be a problem for them. You may even find that sometimes exercise does help, but only sometimes. It’s all okay. Not everything works for everyone. So, what else can you do?

Chair-based actions

If you have a physical disability which prevents you from exercising in a conventional, straight-up-and-out-for-a-run way, then chair-based actions are an option.

On the NHS website here are a bunch of activities you can do that involve raising arms and stretching, as well as neck rotations and hip raises, all while seated.

These exercises could even be useful if you don’t have a physical disability, but struggle to get up out of bed, or from wherever you find it comfortable to sit. Just take it at your own pace.

Chores or DIY

One side-effect of many mental health conditions is that you can find it hard to keep on top of chores and DIY. A few clothes on your bedroom floor, for example, can become a mound of clothes, and all of a sudden you feel claustrophobic in your own space, and you know it’s messy. A messy room can sometimes be linked with a messy period of mind time. And that’s okay.

If you’re feeling up to it, maybe in the morning or the evening, you can begin to make a start on hanging up some clothes, or putting away your hairbrush, for example. Small steps to make your environment a little bit clearer can really help your mind. If you can muster the energy to tidy, or complete some cleaning chores like hoovering and washing the dishes, then that’s great. Even a bit of DIY, if you find that helpful, may be something you feel up to.

Sit down and put on your music

Even this one can be a challenge sometimes, but there is usually something out there that you can listen to. There is nothing wrong with admitting that you just can’t do anything today, and that you need to take a break from the world for a little while. Putting on some music while you sit down, or a podcast, is a great way of self-care.

I particularly find Louis Theroux’s podcasts helpful as they’re a great way to avoid what you’re thinking about and what’s going on in your own life. You can easily get lost in someone else’s life story in a podcast.


This step isn’t for everyone, but it rarely fails me. Writing doesn’t cure your problems, but it certainly helps manage them.

If you have millions of thoughts swirling through your mind – be they worries, depressive, or obsessive – there’s nothing stopping you from getting a pen and a piece of paper and just writing down how you feel. Paper never censors you, so you can be as honest as you like and there will be no consequences.

When writing, you’re forced to materialise any problems you’re having one by one. This helps to rationalise the problems and once they’re written out, they’re now words on a page. If you’re worried about someone reading what you’ve noted down, you can always rip the paper into tiny pieces and dispose of it, or burn them if you have safe means to do so. There are no rules with this one.

Do something you enjoy

Again, this is an ‘if you can…’ recommendation, but it is still a good idea. If you can watch your favourite TV show, put it on. If you can watch your comfort film, put it on. You don’t have to follow it religiously, or even stay awake for all of it.

If you’re a reader, can you open a book and even get a few pages read? Sometimes non-fiction can be helpful when you’re not feeling so great in yourself. Non-fiction reads like a story without you having to follow the plot and the characters intently to understand, so you can always dip in and out of an autobiography, for example.

Crochet, sewing, drawing, colouring in, playing a video game are also alternatives. You can even try something new if you feel like it. For example, I embroidered some flowers onto my old Converse once after not sewing for years. It was really therapeutic.

Just a note…

And finally, just a note from us here at Beep: take care and don’t forget that it’s okay to be struggling right now.

Here are some other places you can go for help with whatever’s going on in your world:

  • Samaritans (24/7, all people, free): 116 123
  • CALM (for men, free, 5pm-12am): 0800 58 58 58
  • Alcoholics Anonymous (free, 24hr) – 0800 9177 650
  • Refuge (free, for domestic violence, 24hr) – 0808 2000 247


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