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Keeping my head above water: overcoming grief through surfing

The focus of Mental Health Awareness Week 2024 is movement: a vital part of maintaining positive mental health and wellbeing. Our guest blogger Chloe shares her experience of movement and how it has helped her deal with grief.

After the sudden passing of a close friend, I found myself struggling a lot more with low mood and motivation.

Working from home and being sat at a desk all day on my own started to exacerbate these feelings. I was also struggling with the heaviness of grief, which meant I didn’t feel up to venturing into the office.

Grief is quite an isolating experience, and living in a city where I don’t have any close friends and a several-hour drive from my family, definitely made things harder.

I knew I needed to make a change to be better equipped to deal with everything going on in my life. I also wanted to make new friends and be active, I felt so guilty for locking myself away as if I was betraying my friend by doing so.

Finding the confidence to put myself out there

I have always been quite an anxious person, and I have never been naturally athletic either.

At school, I never really enjoyed PE and I was often held back by my fear of embarrassment. Signing up to a gym on my own or going to a class was a daunting thought!

So, I spontaneously decided to go to a surf and yoga camp in Morocco. I had tried surfing a couple of times whilst travelling during University, and although I was pretty rubbish I did thoroughly enjoy it.

For a quite shy person this probably seems rather extreme, but my logic was that if I completely embarrassed myself no one from home is there to see it!

Fortunately, I met so many incredible people when I arrived, who were equally as nervous, awkward, and eager to learn something new as me.

Surfing is a fantastic hobby. It’s an activity that can be shared with someone else,  or it can be a solo mindful activity where you are so focused on what you are doing you forget the noise around.

For once, I was fully emersed in what I was doing – not worrying how messy my hair was or how ridiculous I looked falling off every two seconds.

Watch the waves – get in position – paddle like your life depends on it – pop up (and more often than not, fall off and start again) – look in the direction you want to go – and enjoy.

Even if making it to standing up only happens once during a four-hour session,  the achievement you feel is incredible! One of the most glorious things about being a beginner is that there is so much room to learn and progress.

Making movement part of a lifestyle change

Over the past year, I’ve continued to practise yoga, which I enjoy equally. It’s now part of my weekly routine, and I’ve made some new friends.

Practising yoga weekly has also meant that I have also built more physical strength, and feel so much more connected and grateful for my body.

I returned to Morocco this March and have made some more progress, although I am still a proud beginner.

I’m also looking forward to giving some of our beautiful local surf spots here in Wales a go this summer!

Putting aside time for me 

Getting outside, exercising, and trying new things isn’t necessarily a ‘cure-all’.  For me, it has not resolved my grief; those feelings are still there. However, these activities allow me to put aside time each week to put my mind on ‘silent mode’. As a result, it has allowed me to have the capacity to deal with grief better.

We often refer to an emotional cup or bucket,  which can sometimes overflow from the stresses of life, especially if that cup is already full.

I’ve found that having a new hobby or two has made a bit more room in my cup to deal with life and grief,

So, my advice to you to anyone looking to get more active:

  • You don’t have to be good at something to enjoy it!
  • More often than not, learning something for the first time is even more fun than being a professional at it.
  • There is space for everyone
  • Whether it’s a yoga class, the gym, or even out on the surf lineup – you have the same right to access it as everyone else, and nobody is going to be angry or upset at you for doing so.
  • Try not to feel embarrassed, but if you do- try to laugh about it
  • In reality, nobody is looking at you anyway! More often than not, they were in your exact shoes at some point.
  • Lastly, if you’re thinking about giving something a go, do it!
  • For most sports, there is a beginner class somewhere, and it’s called beginner class for a reason – you don’t have to be good at it all ready to go!


Chloe Apsey

Chloe is a Research Assistant and PhD student for the NCMH working on the PreDDICT project.

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