How MTB helps with my anxiety

Guest Blog: Natalie Fraser

How MTB helps my Anxiety

Mental Health Awareness

With the current movement to raise awareness about Mental Health, I have wanted to get behind it for a while and do my bit to show how mountain biking (MTB) has helped me battle my demons and live my life how I want to. So, when Sean from Marmalade MTB asked me to write a guest blog, it seemed like the perfect opportunity and the push I needed to pick up the pen and write about how MTB helps with my anxiety.

Back to the Beginning

My battle with anxiety started about 10 years ago when my family life was turned upside down. I bottled everything up at first, not allowing myself to show or feel the whirlwind of emotions that was raging inside me. It did not take long for those emotions to begin to manifest in other ways such as dizzy spells, anxiety and OCD. Those first few years were horrible, every day was a swirl of stress, anxiety and fear. I did not know what was happening to me and at first I thought I was physically ill. To begin with the doctors thought I had an ear infection that was causing the dizziness, but when the tablets did not work it slowly dawned on me and my family that there wasn’t anything physically wrong with me, I was suffering mentally. Things got gradually worse for the next 3 or 4 years, what started as dizziness now and again developed into dizziness and anxiety attacks whenever I went out, intrusive thoughts and OCD that meant I couldn’t walk out of a room without completing a certain routine and finally getting to the point where I did not want to leave the house. At that point I was sleeping on a sofa bed in my mum’s room as I was too scared to sleep in my own room! I was constantly afraid and that is an exhausting thing to experience, it’s both mentally and physically draining. Often people don’t realise what an anxiety attack can involve. People experience it differently, but I shake uncontrollably, get really hot, my vision can go blurry and my head sometimes spins. It usually passes in a few minutes but those minutes feel like hours.
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Time for help!

Things came to a head when we had gone to the Lake District on a family holiday, I was in such an anxious state I could not leave the yurt we were staying in. After a few days, my dad had to come and pick me up. He took me straight to see a family friend, Peter, who practises NLP (Neurolinguistic Programming) For the next year or so I had regular sessions to help me understand what had caused my problems, how to cope with anxiety and how to get what I wanted from life. The tools and knowledge I gained from those sessions have been invaluable and I still use them to this day, I owe Peter so much.

MTB to the rescue

So where does mountain biking fit into all this I hear you ask. My Mental Health issues stemmed from a deep lack of self-confidence and body image issues and through my sessions with Peter we uncovered these issues and I began working on them. I got into going to the gym and into learning about nutrition but after a few years, I decided I needed to find something other than the gym as a hobby and I wanted something that would still help my fitness. I had been mountain biking at Sherwood Pines a few times over the years, just doing the blue route with the family and this seemed like a good thing to try again. I started going once a week, really struggling to begin with as I was not very bike fit. I cannot remember when it happened, but I fell in love with MTB, I was riding all weekend and eventually brought myself my first proper mountain bike, an ex-demo Scott hardtail which I loved!
How MTB helps with my anxiety

Two wheeled therapy

Since then MTB has become so much more than a hobby for me, I love it and I think about it constantly. My bike always goes on holiday with me and my aim is to have a career in the sport, it really has taken over my life and I’m not complaining! The places I have been, people I have met and experiences I have had through MTB are amazing and more and more keep appearing. Because of Mountain Biking I have pushed my comfort zone to allow me to travel to various places around the UK including many places in Wales, all on my own. I pack my bike and off I go, riding new trails and meeting like minded people. The funny thing I have noticed is that no matter where I go, 9 times out of 10 I will meet someone from Yorkshire! Its nice though, you get chatting and end up with a new riding buddy for local trails too

I will be back in 2018!

Mountain biking also gives me a challenge and I love that, especially those which push me physically and mentally, so I have done a fair few challenge ride events in the last few years. My biggest challenge to date was the Hamsterley Beast in May of this year, that involved a 40 mile ride in Hamsterley Forest and out on the surrounding moorland. It was tough and definitely provided a challenge mentally and physically, especially as I did it on my own. You realise how strong you really are when your exhausted, riding across the moors which seem never ending, watching the trail of riders snaking across the landscape in front of you. But you keep going, there is no other choice but to dig deep and peddle. There were some great folk on that ride too and those that rode with me at various points really helped get me through. I swore I would never do it again afterwards…then by the evening I had already changed my mind! I will be back in 2018.
level 3 mtb leader

New friends

Its so difficult to condense everything into one blog post, in fact its impossible. So the other thing I will mention is all the wonderful people I have met through MTB. As a previously shy person, its pretty cool that I can go to events and group rides on my own and come away having met some fabulous people and having had a great time. The thing is we all share an interest so it is actually easy to start a conversation. I’m extremely grateful that I’m now in a position to help facilitate similar experiences for other people. That’s all that I will say on that matter but 2018 is one to watch!
level 3 mtb leader

Bring it on!

I honestly believe that mountain biking has helped me get where I am today. That applies to every area of my life, from career to relationships, MTB has given me the confidence and self-belief I needed. I still battle with my anxiety demons, maybe I always will, but I have a reason to keep going, to pick myself up and to feel excited for the future. I’m a sucker for a good motivational saying and the one I feel applies most here is ‘Everyday may not be good, but there is good in every day’ and that is so true.
So here’s to the future and many more adventures to come!

Resources for Anxiety

To wrap up, Natalie wanted to share a handful of online resources that have supported her with managing her anxiety. These are:
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)
The Hypnotherapy Directory
Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP)
YouTube Channel: Yoga with mindfulness practises

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Riders Comments

Andrew Folkes, Hampshire

​I had a cracking time on our ride to the gap in Brecon. I'm relatively new to mtb riding and as ever Sean made us feel relaxed and focussed on the smile factor whilst also providing superb tuition throughout. I'd highly recommend a ride to the gap with Sean it's a fantastic weekend away. A great way to meet new people whilst also experiencing some incredible scenery and of course adrenaline pumping riding!

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