Riding Therapy: How Mountain-Biking Helps My Mental Health
Danielle Lovett hails from the UK and is all about spreading her new found love for mountain biking, especially as a tool to take care of one’s mental health.
Looking back, I guess it all began snowballing in September 2016. At the time, I had come back from a year’s career break after a decade in the police force. I had sold my house and spent twelve months travelling the world. It had had a profound effect on me and I underestimated how difficult it would be to settle back into normal life and work again.
My job as a police officer was stressful in its own right but to add to the pressure, I took on a new house that needed a lot of work and in a constant bid to “pull myself together”, I decided to study outside of work for two qualifications and started volunteering.
Though this all gave me moments of solace and a sense of direction, it also compounded the pressure I felt, I had no time, no peace, I was unkind to myself, not allowing myself to just stop, and just be. Things were building up in my head but I still made excuse after excuse. I used the moments of pleasure and happiness to convince myself that I was “okay”.
It was only in October 2017 that I finally admitted, out loud, that I was mentally unwell and could no longer do my job as a police officer. I had reached capacity and I was no longer functioning as a human. I have spent a lot of time trying to pinpoint the trigger for me but I haven’t been able to. It was an accumulation of so many things over a long period of time and not just one single factor or moment.
Around the time I signed off from work, I was exposed to the world of mountain biking and before I knew it I had bought a bike three times over my budget! I would watch endless Youtube clips on bike skills and go out everyday and practice them. I quickly found that mountain biking was my tonic to depression and anxiety, it gave me a focus and a distraction. Just what I needed.
When I am on my bike, I am able to turn down unhelpful reoccurring thought patterns and focus on the present.
Especially in the beginning, my mind was so focused on not falling off that there was no room for anxious feelings or depressing thoughts! In addition to this, I was surrounded by nature, bird song and fresh air. And as I was learning a new skill, I was tapping into that childlike sense of fun that we so often lose as adults. As I rode through the trees at what felt like 100 miles per hour (but was more likely closer to 1), the feeling of freedom and adventure rippling through my bones dissipated the darkness.
Today, mountain biking is still the perfect remedy for those horrible days and even if the relief is just for the duration of the ride, it can still be enough to keep me afloat. Mountain biking gives me access to the things I love; the outdoors, people, adventure and exercise. It gives me a sense of freedom because it can be done in solitude or with friends and the weather doesn’t even really matter; there are no limits! And actually, the joy does extend beyond the ride. When I’m not on my bike, I’m often planning future rides.
My first “mountain” was in Wales and I honestly thought I was going to die from exhaustion. But I was so happy to be there; in the mountains on my 2 wheels with ten energy bars and a squashed sarnie (that’s sandwich for the non-Brits!) in my bag!
I understand and accept that depression and anxiety will always live within me. However, in mountain biking, I have found my medication. I am not my mental illness. Mountain biking has brought me accomplishment, frustration, bruises, laughter…and admittedly, the need for a bigger bank account…and even then, I still feel like I owe it everything!
For those finding themselves in a similar situation and who think mountain biking might be for them too, here are my 5 top tips to get started:
Find your nearest trail centre or off road route , ride the easy route and see how much you love it!
Join your local mountain bike group! There are lots on facebook and lots of women-only ones. There is always someone up for a ride.
If you fall in love with the sport like me, buy your own bike from a mountain bike shop.
Find your nearest mountain bike skills coach and book a beginners course to improve your confidence.
If they all seem like big steps…simply find a bike and just go and ride somewhere!