Mind Fitness - practise being calm

A 2018 YouGov survey showed that in the past year 74% of people have been so stressed they have felt unable to cope. It's no surprise that with the pressures of modern life we are apparently under more stress than ever. Unless we all decide to dump our busy lives and go off grid, we have to find ways of coping with our hectic schedules and the constant demands of daily life. 

In an attempt to manage this mental overload in a positive way, many people turn to exercise. Working out can help to alleviate stress and encourage happy hormones, as well as toning and fat burning. But what about our minds? We forget that this is an organ but it acts like a muscle and therefore has patterns of behaviour, much like the rest of our body. We can teach our brains to change patterns of thought, in the same way we can train our bodies to become stronger. 

Most of us have a few habits we’d like to improve on or get rid of entirely. We know we shouldn’t reach for that sugary snack or another glass of wine but we choose to ignore the niggling ‘no’ and our child takes over with an impulsive ‘yes’.  More importantly, the patterns of thought we manifest over years (indeed – from childhood) can be negative and cause problems in our relationships and professional lives. Our brains have the power to lie to us and create false beliefs, based on a perception and reaction to past experiences. Sometimes, our brains tell us there is danger when there isn’t – the ‘fight or flight’ state of overreacting is a classic behavioural pattern of someone who has not managed to observe those negative thoughts, but allowed them to control their behaviour instead. 

A new book combines the practise of mindfulness with CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) and neuroscience teaches methods and understanding in just ten minutes of practice a day.

Here are some top tips from Unlock You, by Andy Barker and Beth Wood 

Busy lives and the demands of work and home can quickly lead us to a crisis point. There can be a huge number of things which can push us over the edge – the January credit card bill, the car breaking down, being late picking the kids up again. 

If you feel like you are no longer coping, and you have stomach churning butterflies – it means your fight or flight response has been engaged. Our fight or flight response is an involuntary reaction to perceived threat or danger – but our stress response can become triggered so frequently that it means we often struggle to think clearly.’

Here are some of our top tips for keeping calm in a crisis:

  • Try Mindfulness

Mindfulness is an ancient Buddhist meditation practice. It’s now been proven by neuroscientists to be highly effective for calming the mind. It allows us to be present in the moment and experience life clearly and fully. It trains the mind to keep intrusive, unhelpful thoughts at bay so that we can rationally problem solve and fully appreciate the present.

  • Go for a mindful walk

It’s likely that if you do the same walk to work every day you will stop noticing your surroundings. To change this, try mindful walking, which is a brilliant way of mentally preparing for the day ahead.

As you walk, be aware of your feet on the ground. Think about the surface – is it hard or soft? Is your pace slow?

Become aware of your breathing. Is it steady? Are they deep or shallow? What detail do you see? This can turn a normal, functional walk into a mindful, restorative event.

  • The NOW technique

There’s a quick mindfulness exercise you can try called NOW – Notice, Observe, Wonder. If you begin to get anxious, look around you and focus on an object to study. 

Imagine a painting on the wall. Really observe it – pick out the detail. What colour is it? What shape? Then – wonder at the object and be curious. How was it put together? How did the artist create such a complex design? Now you are in the moment. 

  • Try Goal Based Visualisation

Goal Based Visualisation is an effective form of creative thinking that involves complete focus. It is sometimes used by athletes to prepare for their events. 

It works because the brain does not distinguish between real or imaginary experiences, which can help you practice for situations you find nerve-wracking.

For example – if you’ve been asked to give a speech at a wedding, the prospect might fill you with fear and panic.

A few days before, start to visualise the process of giving the speech by sitting comfortably and closing your eyes. Complete the visualisation in three steps:

  • As you are announced, you hear supportive applause and cheers from the audience. Calmly, you take your place at the microphone and wait for the applause to settle down.
  • You begin your speech confidently and calmly and the audience responds well to your jokes and comments. You have won them over and your confidence increases.
  • Getting towards the end of the speech, you have them in the palm of your hand. You propose a toast and the audience cheers as you walk back to the seat. Run through the whole process again in detail, putting the three parts together – you will feel more confident and be more likely turn the situation into a personal triumph. 

Unlock You by Andy Barker and Beth Wood is out now, published by Pearson, priced £12.99.

To find out more go to: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Unlock-You-confident-happy-minutes/dp/1292251123