How this Gosport man is improving mental health through organised walks and sea swims
The effects of social distancing, lockdown, anxiety-ridden news and absence of routine has no doubt had a toll on our nation’s mental health and wellbeing.
Since March 2020, what seems like a never-ending reel of lockdowns has been hard for all of us, as we crave social interaction, reassurance or even just a hug.
But Chris Reeves – who admits he is no stranger to the effects of bad mental health – is on a mission to improve our mental mindset through his project, Win The Morning, Win The Day. And his technique is a fairly simple one: get up at 5.30am for a two-mile walk around Stokes Bay, Gosport, followed by a dip in the sea.
‘I can’t believe how successful it has been and how much it has grown. It has meant the world to me,’ says Chris, 37, originally from Liverpool.
Recently, petty officer Chris celebrated his 20th year in the Royal Navy where he works as a physical training instructor. He loves his job, but his life has had as many highs as it has lows.
He says: ‘I would always be the life and soul of the party, loved playing several sports and the social element that went with them. But then came lows, lows which really got to me and I just couldn’t shift.
‘I was a rugby league and football player in Liverpool who joined the navy at 17. I was living up to that manly expectation and that was how I was brought up to be.
‘But when I was diagnosed with clinical depression, it changed me. I had a lot to deal with and a lot of it was brought on by myself and my actions. I have done a lot of things I am not proud of.
‘But you can’t change your past but you can change your future. I now have a young daughter who means the world to me and I want to be there for her.’
The first lockdown exacerbated Chris’ low mood, especially as his job did not allow him to work from home.
‘Seventeen weeks at home doing nothing was really difficult. I am a creature of habit and I love routine but suddenly I had nothing to do,’ says Chris.
‘I was watching rubbish on Netflix, probably drinking too much like a lot of people and needed purpose.’
Talking with his friends, Chris found out about The Leg It podcast, hosted by Andy Grant – an ex-Royal Marine who lost a leg in Afghanistan – who was in conversation with Mark Scanlon, who were talking about the phrase ‘win the morning, win the day’.
They were discussing a new initiative which started in Liverpool encouraging the public to run for 20 minutes at 5.30am followed by meditation and a dip in the sea at Crosby beach.
Chris explains: ‘I listened to the podcast and I can honestly say it changed my life.
‘I messaged Mark saying I wanted to start something similar down south as people needed it in their lives after such a poor year. He responded by saying he thought this was a great idea and he wished me all the best with it.’
Together with his friend Dan Turner, who runs Bootcamp UK Gosport, they kickstarted Win The Morning, Win The Day at Stokes Bay in August 2020 – a Friday morning event which starts at 5.30am at Bayside Cafe followed by a two-mile walk, a dip in the sea and a good chat with a cuppa.
However, it is as much about mental fitness as it is about the physical.
‘I hoped that this would give people the chance to talk about mental health issues, meet new people and get outside their comfort zones,’ says Chris. ‘It’s also about accountability.
‘I set up pages on Instagram and Facebook but I didn’t think anyone would turn up. Dan and I went down and there were more than 60 people there. The next time we did it there were 110 people.
‘People liked the idea. One man said he couldn’t make it to Gosport but would do it at the same time in Southsea. I told him to set one up there and he did.’
Chris says there are now Win The Morning, Win The Day (WTMWTD) events in Hayling Island, Selsey, Poole, Kent, Devon, Manchester, South Africa and even Bahrain and Gibraltar.
Chris’ original WTMWTD Facebook page now has 2,800 members and he has more than 1,000 followers on Instagram.
‘I never thought it would be this big,’ says Chris. ‘I have a level five qualification in Coaching and Mentoring, a diploma in Neuro-Linguistic Programming and I am a Mental Health First Aider.
‘But all in all, I am just a lad who has seen my poor ways, trying to make them into better ways and I am sharing it and hope that if it can work for one person, then we have helped them.’
Chris admits it can be quite overwhelming trying to manage volunteers who run these events, especially as he is a single dad to his two-year-old daughter Lola and works full-time.
However, he is looking to expand this project into wellness weekends and has recently started an online shop selling WTMWTD merchandise, such as T-shirts and hoodies.
But WTMWTD has helped Chris as much as it has helped the people who go along on a Friday morning.
‘I am a real advocate for men’s mental health – we don’t talk enough. It took me a long time to admit I was struggling,’ says Chris.
‘As a man, we are naturally more reluctant to talk about our feelings and emotions, certainly in the armed forces.
‘This is something I have realised and have been trying to assist others with their feelings by giving them an understanding that it’s okay not to be okay and that it’s good to talk.
‘It’s hard to talk to your best mate or your wife about things you may be struggling with. It’s sometimes easier talking to a stranger who won’t judge you.’
And that’s where WTMWTD comes in.
‘I’ve been blown away by some of the conversations I've had with people, the relationships and bonds which have been made and how so many people are using WTMWTD as part of their daily lives,’ says Chris, smiling.
‘I’m interested in getting more men down there as I believe they are the ones who are most likely not to talk if they’re not feeling great.
‘The beauty of WTMWTD is that it is open to everyone, from children in prams all the way to OAPs. There is no prejudice.’
Win The Morning, Win The Day’s organised events are currently on hold because of coronavirus restrictions. However, stay up to date with the project via its website, wtmwtd.org, join the WTMWTD Facebook group and follow @wtmwtd on Instagram.