What do you do to help combat stress? Let’s face it, modern life is pretty stressful with commuting, work pressures, family and financial demands – if you’re not affected by any of these things you’re doing well.

Stress is the focus of this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week (14-20 May), and the Mental Health Foundation is aiming to make more people aware of the importance of dealing with and staying on top of it to prevent more problems such as depression and anxiety developing. 

Whether it’s going for a long walk, spending time with friends or meditating, it’s vital to have an outlet which lets you switch off and get away from the things causing the stress. 

For us and many people who come to our studios, exercise is a huge part of staying mentally and physically healthy. It’s one of the ways recommended to combat stress, not least because of the endorphins – the body’s natural mood-boosters – released when you exercise.

Group exercise – and the sense of togetherness and belonging it brings – can be even more beneficial. We’re all familiar with that buzz when you finish a great workout and get high-fives from all your classmates!

We chatted with three of our regulars to find out how exercise has helped them overcome problems. 

Andy Vandenberg, who runs and does several classes a week at Digme Oxford, told us: “I have battled with anxiety for nearly four years now. When I had my first anxiety attack, I didn't know what was happening other then I knew I needed to escape. 

“Running helps me feel like I have escaped in a positive way. I run because it makes my mind and body feel free and helps to calm my mind. I have a particular route that I visit when I am feeling very anxious and have named this my happy place

“I know that when I go there, all will be okay. I have also found that doing various running events has helped boost my confidence in tackling anxiety. Whether it's a 5k or a 100k race, the events I have completed are reminders that no matter how hard things get, I will get through this.”

Luke Tyburski is another who struggled with depression despite being at the start of a promising career as a professional footballer. When injuries brought that career to a premature end, everything seemed bleak until he discovered a passion for ultra-endurance events. 

He ran the famous Marathons des Sables across the Sahara Desert, and completed an incredible challenge he called the Ultimate Triathlon which involved swimming the Strait of Gibraltar, cycling up the length of Spain and running along the French coast to Monaco in just 12 days.

Last weekend rode the 300km London Revolution cycle event as part of his training for another challenge to be announced soon.

Luke said of discovering exercise as a release from depression: “I felt like I had a purpose every morning. I was showing myself what I was capable of. I was gaining confidence through running and achieving each day’s stage.

“There was a definite chemical change in my body. It helped me realise that life is like exercise – you only have to worry about the moment you’re in, not yesterday or tomorrow.

“All I had to do was put one foot in front of the other, and there’s a big correlation with life. When people are having dark times, the mind gets away from the present and becomes preoccupied with the past or the future.

“You can’t do that in endurance sports, and it’s detrimental in life, too. You have to stay in the present to remain positive.”

Bridget Hunt, a regular in Richmond, has found it is not just the exercise itself which helps, but the feeling of belonging by working out with other people.

She said: “As well as the physiological benefits, there are the mental and social benefits of exercising as part of a group or going to a fitness class. I’m naturally introverted, so that tribal belonging of going to a running club or meeting a group of friends for a workout helps me to feel less alone.

“I love Digme because the moment I walked through the door I was made to feel part of the family. It’s non-threatening, and since day one I’ve always had a real sense that the staff are there for me and want me to enjoy it. I’ve been to a lot of fitness studios and it’s unlike anywhere else.