One of the best things about blogging is the opportunity to meet like-minded, motivated people in the mental health field who are passionate about making a greater impact in the community. When I first came across Bike and Brain on Facebook, I was impressed by Matt Ryan, LMSW (the founder of Bike and Brain) and his selfless goal to successfully blend his career as a social worker and love for bicycling into a mission that promotes bike riding’s benefits on mental health. What started as a blog one year ago has evolved into an active operation that organizes group rides, provides free bicycles to New York City residents, and is expanding its efforts by becoming a nonprofit organization (continue reading to learn how you can support his cause and enter to receive a free bicycle below). Therefore, I am excited to feature Matt as my first guest blogger as he discusses bicycling and its positive impact on mental health.
Life can quickly become chaotic. We deal with stress from work, relationships, children, and health, to name a few. Too much stress can cause us to feel out-of-control, which can be extremely uncomfortable. In fact, excess stress can be detrimental. As life stressors build, we may experience anxiety and even depression. We may feel like giving up when life appears too much to handle. We may begin to neglect our priorities. Unfortunately, giving in to this feeling only exacerbates the situation. So how do we regain our sense of control?
Whether you’re in control of your own company or the TV clicker, control can be a great feeling. People exert a great deal of effort in life to gain control. You can certainly argue that having too much control may be problematic, but possessing a certain level of control is crucial in order to lead a fulfilling life. It’s important to be in control of your emotions, diet, exercise regimen, sleep patterns, relationships, etc. Furthermore, it’s key to be aware of your role in all of these facets of life. There are obviously things that we can’t control such as when we are mistreated by a friend, loved one, or a rowdy neighbor who keeps us up all night. However, we can control how we respond or how we choose to handle these situations. Learning to control yourself within the important facets of your life can help build confidence, which in turn can make life more enjoyable.
I am a social worker in NYC and it’s safe to say things can feel pretty out-of-control. One of the things I do to stay grounded, motivated, and focused is ride my bicycle. I ride daily and can truly say it plays a crucial role in my life. Bicycling gives me a feeling of control and confidence that transcends into the other compartments of my life. You may be asking how this could be possible — how can riding your bike help any other area of your life?
First off, riding the bicycle provides me with a tangible feeling of control. I determine how fast the bike travels, where it goes, what gear it’s in, and when it stops. The ability to manipulate the bicycle is a reminder that I do have the ability to control things. Merely having the knowledge that I can be in control is beneficial to my daily life. If all else fails, I can utilize my experiences on the bike as a reference point.
Second, riding the bike forces me to direct all of my attention on one thing, which is the road. I am in the moment while on the bike. There is no time to dwell on the stresses of life since distractions could potentially cause an accident. All five of my senses are engaged and my mind is focused. I can feel the wind in my face, the pedals on my feet, and the bars in my hands. Being completely focused on the moment is an extremely powerful tool also known as mindfulness. Essentially, I am putting aside my stress for the duration of the bike ride. This does not eliminate the stresses I may be experiencing. Rather, it is creating free space in my mind so that I may deal with the stress in a more constructive way once I am off the bike.
Finally, cycling makes me happy. Not only does the physical activity release endorphins, but it is the one hobby that provides me complete joy. When everything else may feel out of control, I know that I can hop on my bike to re-charge. In essence, my bicycle acts as my safety net. Cycling will always reinstate a level of confidence and control that is needed to regain my motivation.
And for the record……
I am in the process of creating a nonprofit organization in NYC. We work to provide functional bicycles to people who may not have any other means to obtain one. We believe that there is no reason why we can’t provide people with a FREE bicycle in a city as wealthy as NYC. We have donated a handful of bicycles to date. Each donation has an amazing story attached (Check them out here!).
We will also be giving away a free bicycle (pictured below) on Thanksgiving. Anyone can win this and we will ship it anywhere in the USA. Completely free. All you have to do is like our page on Facebook to enter.
For more information on Bike and Brain, check out their website here.
Photos courtesy of Matt Ryan