Why Susan Calman keeps a punchbag in her garage

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Why Susan Calman keeps a punchbag in her garage

Image copyright Steve Ullathorne

Comedian Susan Calman discusses how physical exercise helped her deal with depression – and why she's now campaigning for kindness.

Susan Calman has a punchbag in her garage.

Not because the comedian is planning a career change anytime soon, but because physical exercise is something she says has helped her deal with depression.

It's a subject the 43-year-old has often written and talked openly about – and she has become an advocate of exercise as one way to help deal with it.

"I started exercising, weightlifting and boxing, and I found the physical exercise really helped," she tells BBC News.

"Less to lose weight, but more because it helped my brain get rid of some of the negative thoughts while I'm exercising.

"Part of the battle is looking at what's contributing to your mental health issues. Can you find things you could easily change? And for me it was surrounding myself with positivity, and boxing."

Calman says one of the key benefits is that it helps give her brain "a little holiday from itself for an hour," to stop negative thoughts creeping in.

"I'm somebody who's always thinking about things, and a lot of people that have got depression are probably quite similar. They see something and it triggers a thought, whereas I'm trying to deadlift or punching a punchbag. All I'm thinking is trying to do as well as I can in that exercise, so it gives my brain a break."

She agrees with the suggestion that media coverage of mental health conditions has improved, but makes clear that's just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to ensuring people who suffer have adequate support.

"Whether or not I say I've got depression and Stephen Fry says he's got depression and all of that, does that help somebody who's sitting in an office concerned about being fired? It's fine for it to be easier to talk about, but the reality is we still need to get to a stage where people can get help."

Calman's latest book, Sunny Side Up, encourages readers to improve the lives of people around them by being kinder, while identifying the causes of any unhappiness.

The type of kindness is deliberately undefined – it could be anything from a buying a spontaneous gift for someone to changing your state of mind towards others.

"I want people to be nicer to each other and kinder to each other because I'm increasingly concerned about the nature of discussions, the nature of life," she says.

"I've just been in Edinburgh [for the festival], and people were rushing about the place, not being polite to each other, and kindness doesn't really cost anything.

"If we all started to be a bit kinder then maybe we could start seeing the world as a better place. It's really about kindness and then from that, just finding that happiness.

"It can be as simple as holding a door open for someone who's got lots of bags, or helping someone up the stairs of the tube, or giving someone a compliment, or buying someone a packet of crisps while they're feeling down. Anything that makes someone feel better about themselves."

Image caption Susan Calman competed with Kevin Clifton in last year's Strictly Come Dancing

One major source of joy for Calman last year was appearing on BBC One's Strictly Come Dancing – an experience she writes about extensively.

Unlike social media, which can often be an intense place, the comedian was struck by how many people – especially children – wrote her letters while she was on the show.

"Most of it was kids drawing pictures of me and Kevin (Clifton), and saying how much they were enjoying it, and I've kept a lot of them on my fridge. And we got so many beautiful letters."

A year on from Strictly, Calman says she and her dance partner are still "constantly talking", adding: "We're friends for life, properly, I love him."

The contestants often appear to form strong bonds while on the show, despite the competitive element.

"The competition only kicks in later on in the series, and that's partly because there's fewer of you," Calman says, adding that she still keeps in touch with many contestants.

"We've still got a WhatsApp group, so Alexandra Burke invites us to her premieres, and people invite each other to things, so we all still converse regularly. It's really lovely."

As for advice for this year's contestants, she says: "Just to try to enjoy it, because you get very caught up. You're about to dance in front of 11 million people, so you get very tense about the whole thing… Just enjoy it – it's such an amazing thing."

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