Using physical exercise to manage anxiety

Anxiety arises when facing a stressful or dangerous situation and is often referred to as ‘Fight or Flight’. In ordinary circumstances the body will quickly call on its reserves to send adrenaline through the body to help cope with the situation one might find themselves in. Anxiety arises from the body over doing its response or generating adrenaline when the danger does not exist. 

According to NHS data, 1 in 6 people in England report experiencing a common mental health problem (such as anxiety and depression) in any given week.


Anxiety is a normal emotion and at times can actually be helpful to manage feelings. The good thing is that there are factors that can help people handle anxiety, a combination of therapy, medication and self help strategies. The key here is finding a balance where people can control their anxiety and not allowing anxieties to control them.

One key strategy of managing stress or anxiety is through regular exercise. Much has been written about the physical benefits of exercise and in particular for improving physical conditions and fighting disease. However, physical exercise is also brilliant at enhancing and maintaining mental fitness. Studies have proven that sport and exercise can reduce stress and while simultaneously minimising fatigue, improving alertness and concentration, and enhancing overall cognitive function.

Sports or running can be especially helpful when stress has sapped your energy after a long day at the office or you’ve lost your ability to concentrate.

Anxiety and stress affect the brain, with its many nerve connections, to produce a knock on effect on the body. It makes perfect sense then that if your body feels better, so will your mind. 

Sports and other physical activities produce endorphins, which are chemicals in the brain that work as a natural panacea. Being physically tired from exercise is also a fantastic way to improve sleep and that in turn keeps stress levels low.

Scientists have found that regular participation in aerobic exercise has been proven to decrease overall levels of tension, elevate and stabilise mood, improve sleep, and improve self-esteem. Even as little as five minutes of aerobic exercise can help combat anxiety and stress effects.

Sports are also a wonderful way to build self-confidence to help fight off anxieties. Playing well and encouraging others in a team environment brings people closer together and provides a sense of achievement.

Having more belief in your own abilities means you will start to feel better about yourself, so get playing!

In this episode of the 87% podcast we speak with Che Donald, Vice Chair of The Police Federation for England and Wales.

Che discusses how this notorious 'macho' culture that runs throughout the police is changing when it comes to the predominant male workforce (29% of the police workforce in the UK are women) talking about mental health.


"People who are in mental distress are patients, not prisoners"

- Che Donald

Che talks about how in 60% of cases, the police are the first port of call when it comes to mental health issues, and how they regularly work with mental health professions when assessing those in custody. Che also opens up about his personal mental health experiences which led to him taking 6 months leave from work.

Thanks Che for a fascinating discussion!

Listen here:

Defining emotional intelligence with Dr. Serra Pitts

Dr Serra Pitts

Dr Serra Pitts

Dr Serra Pitts to take us on a deep dive into what emotional intelligence (EI) really means.

We ask her all the 'need to knows' when it comes to emotional intelligence, how we can all be more self-assured in this area, and shares some practical tips showing us how we can practise emotional intelligence everyday by getting to know ourselves better.

Let’s meet Dr. Serra…

Dr Serra, how would you define emotional intelligence (EI)? 

Emotional intelligence is not one single thing, it’s a collection of qualities in a person that includes a few skills which take practice to learn, but can greatly improve your life. The key ingredients to EI are:

1)    Self-awareness, including:

·      Emotional awareness: recognising your own emotions and the effect they have on your life;

·      Accurate self-assessment: knowing your strengths and limitations, and accepting them;

·      Self-confidence: believing in your self-worth and capabilities. 


2)    Self-regulation, including:

·      Self-control: managing your disruptive emotions and impulses so they are expressed, but don’t hurt other people;

·      Trustworthiness: being honest and having integrity so other people can rely on you;

·      Adaptability: being flexible when things don’t go your way and confidently handling change;


3)    Social awareness, including:

·      Empathy: where you can sense how other people are feeling and try to see the world from their perspective;

·      Developing others: where you can sense what other people need in order to grow, and help them build their abilities through feedback and support;

All put together, emotional intelligence is what we use when we empathise with our friends, family and colleagues. It allows us to connect with other people, understand ourselves better, and live a more authentic, happy and healthy life. 


Where would EI sit on our on 87%'s mental fitness wheel? 

Emotional intelligence doesn’t sit in any one place really, it covers a range of areas and is applicable everywhere that you are. If your emotional intelligence is strong, you’ll feel it in your self-esteem and you’ll have strong, healthy relationships.

If you still need to work on it, you might notice negative self-talk and difficulty getting your point across in the workplace.  

Can EI be taught?

Yes, it can. And it begins with getting to know yourself better. Here are a few things to get you started:

1.    Know your triggers. Most of our reactions come from a lack of self-awareness in the moment, and most us run on auto-pilot. But in just a few seconds an action or really strong reaction to someone/something can display an inability to manage emotions. And that can reduce trust and the confidence other people have in us.

Try this: Consider and deconstruct the last time you lost your temper or snapped at someone. What caused you to get so upset? What behaviours of other people got under your skin? What were you thinking and feeling before you got upset? If you don’t know, then there is a good chance it will happen again.

2.    Manage your self-talk. Did you know that we talk to ourselves in as many as 50,000 sentences a day!? Think about your running dialogue or the story you tell yourself: are most of those thoughts positive or negative? Most of us unconsciously evaluate our actions too harshly and ask bad questions like “How could I be so stupid?” “Why do I keep making the same mistake?”

Try this: Turn your beatings into learnings. Be kind to yourself, and curious so you can recognise patterns. For example, “Ah, I recognise this situation. Last time I felt this way because… maybe that’s happening now too.”

3.    Accept others, don’t judge: Another strategy to help you be more on everyone’s side is to catch yourself judging other people, and instead simply accept a person or situation for what it is. The majority of people are not consciously trying to irritate you! Some people are in their own world and sometimes not aware of you at all. Most people are doing the best they can and often aren’t aware of what you want, need or expect, and patient communication can help.

Try this: Give people the benefit of the doubt. Explore your assumptions before believing them. Ask yourself: “Am I being harsh? Is this judgement really true, what is my proof, what else could be going on?” By challenging yourself to think differently, you’ll learn more about yourself and other people, making you a better communicator.


5 traits of an emotionally intelligent leader

Some companies still view emotional intelligence as “fluffy, soft skills” but extensive psychological research found that emotional intelligence is twice as important as technical skills or IQ as an ingredient for high performance. 

Leaders and managers with high emotional intelligence reap rewards such as teams who stay longer, perform more enjoyable roles, experience less conflict and overcome challenges more smoothly. 

So, how do you know if you are an emotionally intelligent leader? If you answer “yes” to the questions, linked to the five main components of emotional intelligence, your team will be flying. 



Do your team think of you as calm in a crisis? Do they appreciate the way you pause to think through your immediate impulses before reacting in team meetings? 

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Do you understand your own emotions and their effect on others? How often do you model realistic self confidence and the ability to laugh at yourself occasionally?  



Are you driving your team towards success in a way that feels authentic and in line with your personal values? When things inevitably don't go to plan, are you offering enough support to the team so that they don't lose heart, feel anxious or go off track?



How often do you jump into another persons’ shoes to help you to make a fair and balanced assessment on others and situations? Are you thinking ahead by anticipating difficulties and reactions to change? 

social skills

How effective are you at persuading and convincing your team and leading change? Are you presenting your ideas in a way that lands well for different groups? 

If you’ve recognised any gaps in your emotional intelligence management style, be reassured that these skills are not fixed or static.  They can be trained, developed and honed to ensure that you and your team reap the rewards of doing more enjoyable and satisfying work. 

Lucia Knight left behind a 20 year international career in a corporate head-hunting to study a full-time MSc Psychology and designed much more satisfaction and fun into her new career at Midlife Unstuck. Author of X Change: How to torch your work treadmill. 

Love your body

What part of your body do you love? Maybe when you scrunch up your nose, that birthmark on your back or your bouncy hair? We are all weird and wonderful creature, with totally unique forms.

Here at 87% we’ve been chatting to all sorts of people about what in particular they like, or indeed love about their body. Self-esteem, particularly among the younger generation is at a low. As an example, In 2017, it was reported that 61% of 10-17 year old girls in the UK had low self-esteem… this is shocking!


When you hear the phrase ‘body image’ what is your natural reaction? Is it positive, negative or somewhere in between? A recent study we did sadly recorded that 50% of those who responded said they felt negative about the term ‘body image’. How as a society can we change this?

Take a look at a video we created about body positivity, it’ll make you smile and might get you thinking about your favourite body part, what will you shout proudly about today?