Marble Hill ‘Me-Time’

Beside the sea is my favourite place to be.

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I love being around people who energise me, and I do my best to do the same in return. However, there comes a time when my energy levels run low, and I know I need to take time out to reset and recharge. This is my ‘Me-Time Alert’!

Familiar Feeling

I am familiar with the feeling now, although it took me a while to become aware of it, accept it (i.e. it is ok to feel this way!), and then learn to do something about it.

Here are my ‘Me-Time Alert’ signs:

  • Different thoughts start jumping about in my head and I can’t process them rationally
  • I struggle to relax, feel ‘on edge’, and am easily distracted
  • I quickly switch from wanting to be around people, to wanting to be alone
  • Cravings for junk food (fish and chips, and lots of chocolate!)

I now know not to fight this feeling. Usually, I put my trainers on and head straight out onto the Connswater Community Greenway for a brisk walk, or take a short drive to the shore at Seapark or Helen’s Bay. If the weather is unpredictable, I’ll reach for one of my Eckhart Tolle books and enjoy a cuppa. However today, lured by a long drive and a great new Spotify playlist, I jumped into my car and drove north, to Marble Hill beach in North West Donegal.

Natural Beauty

In Northern Ireland/Ireland, we are incredibly fortunate to have such natural beauty on our doorsteps. Marble Hill is a blue flag beach in Sheephaven Bay, a rural area near the small town and former fishing port of Dunfanaghy. The area is rich with wildlife, and the sand dunes which surround the beach are great for watching birds and spotting wildflowers. It is also one of the few places in Ireland where visitors can hear the corncrake calling.

Sound of the Waves

On Marble Hill beach, the crazy thought machine inside my head magically switches off. I listen to the sound of the waves crashing in the distance and the occasional bark of a happy dog. Further out, little boats bob gently upon the ripples of the water, and there is a gentle hum from the bees amongst the wildflowers behind me. The only drama, in these peaceful surroundings, is from two opportune crows, who swoop down to investigate my sandwiches as I watch hermit crabs scurry along the water’s edge.

For me, focusing on the senses – particularly sights and sounds – is powerful, and an effective channel into the present moment. Do you experience any of the feelings I described earlier? Do you acknowledge them when they appear? Have you a special place you like to escape to?

As for me, I’m feeling refreshed and am ready to hit the week ahead, although I might just call by the fish and chip shop on my way home…

Take care,

Karen

Instagram: mindfriendlyfitness

Resources:

Go Visit Donegal

The (Pedal) Power of Unexpected Friendship

Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another:

‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one.’

– C.S. Lewis

Generally, I enjoy spending time alone, and I believe that it’s healthy to be content in your own company. Whatever your individual circumstances are, however, this last year has been a major challenge to our mental health and wellbeing.

During these unexpected periods of isolation, I had talked myself into being ‘fine’ with being alone (nod to Ross from Friends: ‘I’m FINE!’) but being honest, I missed meeting with others and feared I had lost confidence with social interaction – something I took for granted, pre-pandemic. A volunteering opportunity for the new Forth Meadow Community Greenway came along at just the right time and in the first training session, I met some special people, whose paths I’d likely never have crossed, had it not been for this project. ( I will talk more about the Forth Meadow Community Greenway, and my journey into cycling in future blogs.)

My friends and I are by no means professional cyclists, and that doesn’t matter. Some basic checks to make sure our bikes are road-worthy…and away we go! We love getting outside into the fresh air and exploring Belfast and beyond. Time flies by, along with the kilometres, as we laugh and share stories, and encourage each other along the way. There’s also an added bonus – our own version of karaoke, on wheels!

But here’s the thing: although from different backgrounds, we have quickly learned, to our amazement, that we have dealt with similar life experiences and share a lot of common ground. My friends energise and inspire me, and I enjoy listening to their perspectives on life. Sometimes we don’t talk and just cycle. There’s an unspoken understanding of needing to be alone with our thoughts for a little while, in our shared space. It’s also an opportunity to take in some stunning scenery. One of the best parts though, is the satisfaction of finishing our cycle, and the prospect of a good night’s sleep to let tired muscles recover.

As you can see, there are massive mental health benefits when exercise and friendship come together. I do want to plug the physical health benefits though, as cycling is an aerobic activity, which means your heart, lungs and blood vessels work harder. Over time, cycling can reduce blood pressure and your resting heart rate. Cycling also strengthens lower body muscles and, as a low-impact activity, puts less pressure on the joints.

Friendships aren’t only just made through cycling. There are some amazing walking groups around, not to mention the welcome return of the Park Run, and the fantastic gym community. So, take a deep breath, step out of your comfort zone, and try connecting with new activities and new people. Never underestimate the impact of unexpected friendship.

Good luck!

Karen

P.s. If you happen to be in Belfast and hear a version of Silence by Delerium/Sarah McLachlan being sung loudly by some cyclists, feel free to join in!

Resources:

NHS Benefits of Exercise

Cycling UK