Running on Empty
It’s January and the office is returning to normal services after a period of Christmas fever. The cheesy decorations have come down, and the special Christmas jumper goes back into storage for another year. Personally, Christmas is a period that I normally dread. Putting aside the shorter days and colder nights, it’s the time of year when inevitably something last minute will turn up in my inbox demanding to be dealt with “by the end of the year.” That, and the enforced fun activities do little to lift my mood. In short, I am unfortunately not a very fun person to be around in December (apologies to my work colleagues).
In January however, I’m a little more cheery. Yes, the days are still short and the weather is even more miserable. However, for the past 3 years, January means RED January. RED January means that I will commit to Running Every Day in January. Now to be clear, I am not running particularly far each day. Last year’s RED January involved the first run I’d done for 6 months and my body was not ready for much more than a quick jog round the block each day. But for 31 days there was something I knew I was committing for a month, knowing that the sense of achievement I would experience could lift my mood. In addition to the sense of achievement, RED January prevents me from doing what I generally want to do in winter – namely hibernate.
By committing to run every day, I am also joining a community spread all over the UK (and other corners of the world) supporting their mental health though doing something active every day in January (or February, or any month that works for them). I’ve become accountable to them and them to me. On days when I would rather resort to my usual state, I see the messages from others who are celebrating a park run or brisk walk, and be encouraged. Though I never met any of them, knowing that others are taking on the same challenge was the incentive to lace up my shoes on days when I really didn’t feel like it.
This encouragement and sense of community is not just limited to January. Running has connected me to others in the larger running community. I have been able to reach out to others in a way I could not in a more formal setting. Pounding the streets with others has led to great conversations and a chance to talk about my mental health. I was first introduced to running with others through a running collective called Run Dem Crew, and I haven’t looked back. Many of their running sessions start with a reminder to check-in on people you have not seen in a while – that check-in could be the contact that person desperately needs. Checking in on someone is not something that comes naturally to me, nor is reaching out when I need it. Running has been a great excuse to make that contact.
Taking that first step to improve your wellbeing can be daunting. Our minds tend to focus on potential threats rather than on positive things when we decide to take that step. Initiatives such as RED January create a community to help you take that first step. In addition, joining an activity group could lead to an opportunity to share your anxiety or stress in a comfortable setting.
So as we enter a new year, a time that many of us find difficult, I hope you will all take some time to reach out to someone who has fallen off your radar – whether it be a colleague from Chambers or your office or a friend you’ve lost touch with. There are some practical tips to help with having conversations on the Wellbeing at the Bar website. I would definitely recommend going through this if you are apprehensive about approaching anyone.
Happy New Year.
Efe Avan-Nomayo represents the Employed Bar Committee on the Wellbeing at the Bar working group. She is an Associate at the Financial Conduct Authority.