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mental health awareness week

Golf can do wonders for your mental health – I should know

Marking Mental Health Awareness Week, Steve Carroll explains how golf saved him from some personal battles

 

It’s 1am and I can’t sleep. I’m on the road soon – a journey that’s going to take the better part of a day. I should be excited. I am. But I’m fretting too. It’s a big gig. What if I mess it up?

Will the flight be OK? I don’t like flying. I’m always wide awake on a plane. I’ve got to hire a car too. I’m not the greatest behind the wheel. It’s a standing joke among my pals. And they drive on the other side. What if I crash?

What if I don’t sleep? I’ll have been awake for 30-odd hours by the time I get in the car. I’ll still have 145 miles to go. What if I nod off?

As these destructive thoughts loop round my brain, and go again on repeat, my chest tightens. The duvet feels like an oven. I sweat from the top of my forehead to the underside of my feet.

I know it’s irrational. It’s always fine. But I can’t stop the panic rising. I try not to fight it, to let it wash over me. But my body and my head scream out.

These panic attacks happen less now than they did. It wasn’t all that long ago they were nearly every day. They would strike with little warning. Location wasn’t a barrier.

Once was live on air. I was a pundit on a radio betting show and, from nowhere, I just felt my entire chest seize and my throat close.

Another was 6am after covering a Wembley cup final. I found myself wandering the streets around the ground in half-delirium after bolting upright in bed thinking I was having a heart attack.

Again, in the middle of a simple haircut, I freaked out. As I drenched the seat, I fixated on the clock. Ticking off the seconds and praying for the exit.

Therapy teaches you coping mechanisms – what to do when the anxiety strikes and how to deal with the triggers that can set it off. That helps.

I’ve also become a creature of habit. Here’s a stupid example. If I go away, I like to book a Premier Inn. Because it doesn’t matter where you are, they always look and feel the same.

It remains a struggle. People who know me will tell you I never shut up. But that’s because I know them too. If you want to hit the silencer, put me in a crowd of strangers.

You might wonder how I can do the job I do – one that by its very nature pitches you into the unknown.

All I can tell you is when push comes to shove I can get into a frame of mind that makes it possible. And in situations I feel I can control, the anxiety always melts away.

It’s how I can give a Rules night in front of 100 people but why I’ll cross the road to avoid an awkward encounter.

mental health

Golf and mental health: How golf continues to transform my life

I’m very fortunate. I had access to a therapist at a time when people didn’t have to wait years to receive psychological help.

But I’ve also taken medication that messed with my being and I have woken unable to lift my head from the pillow.

As we mark Mental Health Awareness Week, which this time focuses on ‘movement’, the government’s new attack on people with depression and anxiety sickens me.

You see, for me, it remains a work in progress – and always will. People sometimes ask me if I’m fixed, like I’m a car that’s been taken in to have some work done. The reality is, of course, much more complex.

Through all this, I have realised the enormous benefits of golf. It’s not an exaggeration to say it transforms my life.

Much of my mental state can be determined by how often I’ve been playing. When I don’t get out onto the fairways and greens – and who among us has over the past winter? – things can start to unravel.

One round, though, regardless of how I hit the ball, can begin to clear away the clouds.

There have been plenty of studies telling us about the physical impact of playing our sport. The one that revealed regular rounds could put as much as five extra years on your life grabbed the headlines.

More and more now, we’re also starting to understand what hitting that ball around a field can do for the mind.

There lies the real power of golf. I suspect those of us who play frequently already know that.

There’s something completely calming about being in a big green space, focusing on nothing more than a swing and the contact of club on ball.

My troubles have always drifted away in that environment and I’ve been able to find order in the chaos of modern living.

I realise that’s hardly a scientific analysis. Even so, the pressures of life still sometimes feel like they will overwhelm me. And asking for help has always been the hardest thing. It has always felt like failure. I am getting better at it.

The difference now is I can usually recognise when the walls start to narrow. I can at least acknowledge the fog and try to do something about it.

For me, that release can continue to be something as simple as getting out on the course.

Because I know what golf has done to put me on an even keel. I cherish the time I spend playing. I try never to take it for granted. I hope I never will.

Mental Health Awareness Week

This year, Mental Health Awareness Week, which runs until May 19, is focused on movement and how it can help us. To find out more, visit the Mental Health Foundation.

Steve Carroll

Steve Carroll

A journalist for 25 years, Steve has been immersed in club golf for almost as long. A former club captain, he has passed the Level 3 Rules of Golf exam with distinction having attended the R&A's prestigious Tournament Administrators and Referees Seminar.

Steve has officiated at a host of high-profile tournaments, including Open Regional Qualifying, PGA Fourball Championship, English Men's Senior Amateur, and the North of England Amateur Championship. In 2023, he made his international debut as part of the team that refereed England vs Switzerland U16 girls.

A part of NCG's Top 100s panel, Steve has a particular love of links golf and is frantically trying to restore his single-figure handicap. He currently floats at around 11.

Steve plays at Close House, in Newcastle, and York GC, where he is a member of the club's matches and competitions committee and referees the annual 36-hole scratch York Rose Bowl.

Having studied history at Newcastle University, he became a journalist having passed his NTCJ exams at Darlington College of Technology.

What's in Steve's bag: TaylorMade Stealth 2 driver, 3-wood, and hybrids; TaylorMade Stealth 2 irons; TaylorMade Hi-Toe, Ping ChipR, Sik Putter.

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