Russ Cockburn, founder of Cucumber PR, spoke to the Yorkshire Post this week about his passion for fitness and why he believes keeping fit has been his silver bullet for coping with health anxiety.
If someone told me three years ago I’d be starting my 42nd birthday by running up the Wrekin (it’s a very big hill in Shropshire) at 6.30am in the morning, I would have called them insane.
But that is exactly what I did earlier this month and I loved every 29 minutes of the up and down. Getting fit and regular exercise has been my silver bullet for coping with health anxiety that I was first diagnosed with in 2017.
“I don’t do stress.” I lost count of the number of times I carelessly uttered those words to my wife. If the pain of what I went through at the start wasn’t so chronic, I could probably appreciate some of the irony associated with my flippant statement, a statement many business owners are too quick to push out to prove their superhuman mental strength.
Well, it turns out that I do ‘do stress and health anxiety’ and it’s horrible. At its peak, I felt really ill, operating in a bubble where it took all my energy to just get through the day or to avoid those feelings of despair, foggy head, racing heart and impending doom that are always lurking around the corner.
I’d convinced myself I had some serious illness as I couldn’t come to terms with your mind actually making your body feel so unwell. Once the NHS had brilliantly done their stuff and I had a clean bill of health, I realised I was suffering from stress and health anxiety.
Right, well surely that’s the best outcome? I did immediately feel a bit better, backing myself to have a strong enough mental state to put things right quickly. Wrong. The following weeks and months had more ups and downs than a rollercoaster and my GP offered me medication to help balance me out.
This was really tempting, but I couldn’t face the prospect of feeling worse for two weeks before they started to have an effect, so the pills still remain in our medicine cupboard – untouched.
Instead, I turned to Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and, most importantly, threw myself back into exercise. This started with a few short runs and a personal training session and quickly escalated into turning our garage into a home gym and in lockdown the purchase of a Peloton.
I now train six to seven days per week, a mixture of spin, cardio and weights and the difference it has made has been stunning. Physically, I’m back in small clothes and probably the fittest I’ve been since playing for Stourbridge Town Youth Team at 17, but my mental health is where the biggest impact has happened.
The endorphins exercise generates has given me the tools to control my health anxiety and I’m now making sure I walk every day with the dog, no matter how many deadlines I have to meet or stories to write. Getting outdoors and looking up rather than at your phone is massively underrated.
The key to getting fit is to find exercise that you enjoy and, before long, it becomes a daily and enjoyable part of life.
Is my health anxiety cured? Definitely not, I’m guessing it’s something I’ll have to live with. The difference is you can’t physically see it like you do a broken bone or a cut head, but make no mistake the scars and the pain are just as real.
Getting fit has been my silver bullet.