One of my biggest challenges has been managing my anxiety, mood and energy levels. With the stage 4 lock down being extended, I am the first to admit that I am suffering pandemic fatigue! In our “Resilience Skills for a Pandemic” webinar series, Kate and myself shared some strategies for managing physical and mental wellbeing. Now more than ever, I am scheduling some “self-care reminders” to nurture me through the following weeks. Here are a few:
Get present and breath. When I am anxious, so much of my time is future focused, usually predicting the worst. Taking time out to take 10 deep belly breaths, helps me connect with the here and now and creates some time out from my “monkey mind.” Engaging in some regular mindfulness practice helps me to better observe my thoughts, and connect with my feelings. From this space, uncomfortable thoughts and feelings have less control and I am better able to connect and savour what’s good.
Focus on your circle of control. In this pandemic so much has been outside of our control. Taking the time to identify what is within my control has been key for me maintaining a sense of agency. The pillars of exercise, healthful eating, sleep and connecting with loved ones are things that I can control and take action towards.
Manage your news feed. The 24-hour news cycle is full of doom and gloom. Checking in once a day to a reputable news source has allowed me to stay informed, yet not be overwhelmed by negativity. I think now more than ever we need to be more selective with what we feed ourselves physically, mentally and emotionally.
Be Kind. Melbourne’s stage 4 lockdown has been challenging for us all. The resurgence of partisan politics and political points scoring has made me reflect on my personal values. For me, I would like to focus more on compassion, empathy and hope rather than blame. Like the political landscape, we all have our own inner critic. Exercising some self-compassion and being kind to yourself and others is key if we are to recover well.
Is this helping or hindering? This could either be a thought or a behaviour. Asking myself this question has given me the space to choose how I want to show up in this world moment to moment. What I want to stand for and who I want to be! All too often we can think and act in a way that moves us away from what we value in life. This question has helped me be more accountable.
Trust. The other day when feeling a little low, I was reminded by my wife Karen, of all the challenges we have faced as a couple. She helped me reconnect with our strengths and our resources that have enabled us to overcome adversity. The take home message: Have trust in yourself; your ability and that this to shall pass J J.
During this pandemic, exercise has been my number one strategy for keeping me resilient during uncertain times. If exercise was a pill, every doctor would be prescribing it! We know that when we move regularly our immune systems operate optimally. From and emotional and mental perspective, exercise is one of the best things we can do for our brain health, cognitive function and our mood!
Having a physical release to manage and use the fight and flight hormones of adrenalin and cortisol is key if we are to mediate the stress response. This is important if we are to dodge the long-term physical and mental health consequences of chronic stress.
In his book “Spark- How exercise will improve the performance of your brain,” Dr John Ratey explains how exercise transforms your mind. “Regular exercise will help you pay better attention, be more creative, you will remember things better and have more flexibility in your thinking!” I too have my own subjective experience of this. In my running days, if I encountered a problem or challenge, going for a run would improve my problem solving skills. Invariably, during or post workout, I would come up with a solution to my quandary.
When we move we use more of our brain and nervous system than any other activity. Consequently we release dopamine and nor-epinephrine, both of which are used in our attention system. This is what is targeted in psychiatry when people with ADHD are prescribed Ritalin. Exercise will make you more alert and more focused! A study from Stanford University measured the creativity of students. They discovered those students that were moving, performed better in the cognitive tests that they were given.
If you exercise for 5-10 minutes you will get an increase of other neurotransmitters such as serotonin that helps create a calming effect. Psychiatrists target this neuromodulator when they prescribe antidepressants. What’s more, you will boost the release of BDNF (Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor), the “miracle grow” or fertilizer for the brain. This helps neuroplasticity, creating new connections in your brain.
In summary, exercise metaphorically oils the brain, allowing our mental cogs to function better. It also fertilizes our neural networks so that they can grow and make further connections.
So what should I do?
Do the activity that you enjoy and move regularly. If you feel your brain is in “lockdown” get moving to shift your mood! If you can do it outside, you will also get the additional benefit of vitamin D, which is important for inflammation and the immune system. If you can move with someone else (socially distant), you also get the benefits of social interaction that is critical for our mental and emotional health.
Check out what a trainer does in lockdown to shift his mood! PS Mute the cheesy music :)
Please contact me if you would like assistance with your own ISO home workout
With major disruption to our lives, we need to redefine a new way of living. This 4 week program, provides you with the tools, support and accountability to help you get back on track.
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What people are saying....
"Thanks Jason for a really enriching session last night. You and Kate have clearly put a lot of work and thought into these sessions and I feel they have been very valuable and thought provoking. You both left me with lots of things to ponder on and explore. Can’t wait to Zoom in next week!"
"Thanks Jason – Monday night was great. Such a good thing to be doing at the moment, as I’m sure lockdown is going to continue. I have a feeling the whole year will have passed and I’ll feel like I‘ve spent it all at home (apart from going out for a walk!!)
TED Talk: Three Secrets To Resilient People
“Where you focus your attention is what you will experience.” It may seem like a simple statement, but it has profound implication to our experience of life.
With the 24-hour news cycle fixated on the pandemic and all the implications socially, economically and medically, it’s easy to get swamped by the “bad news” presented by the media. One antidote is to foster practices that help harvest and savour positive emotions.
This idea is derived from current neuroscience research that recognises that positive experiences are like Teflon- they slip away. Where as negative emotions are like Velcro- they stick around.
Further more, research by Fredrickson suggests that experiencing positive emotions in a 3-to-1 ratio to negative emotions helps people experience a state of mind that can; “enhance your relationships, improve your health, relieve depression, and broaden your mind.”
Our brains are wired to focus on the negative aspects of life and these are the ones we remember easily. This is our survival mechanism at play and is part of the brain’s protective make-up. After all, if we were unable to identify a threat, our ancestors would not have been naturally selected.
On the other hand, celebrating the good things in life, the events, relationships, the wow and ah-ha moments contribute to the joy of living and it is good to train ourselves to hold onto these experiences.
Here are three practices that I am currently experimenting with to facilitate connecting with the good.
Following up on our resilience and wellbeing webinar, Gill has made available several recipes that have helped her through this period of lock down and social distancing. Enjoy :)
Please take note, not only of the model, but the beautiful kitchen. I have been assured that it is always this clean!
During this period we are all trying to inoculate ourselves against the COVID 19 virus. In order to help our immune system we know that regular exercise, healthful eating, good sleep and stress management practices are all integral in supporting immune function. (For a good overview to boosting your immune system, listen to this ABC podcast)
Besides physical inoculation, there is also the mental and emotional need for inoculating ourselves against the fear, panic and anxiety of uncertain times. I know personally I have been in a heightened state of fight and flight.
Stress put simply is our bodies’ response to a perceived (real or imagined) threat or challenge. This response can be physiological, mental, emotional or behavioural. I personally have been experiencing increased anxiety and worry about the future. Here are some strategies I have been using to assist me in maintaining some form of balance and equanimity.
Breath! When we become stressed or anxious our breathing rate and patterns change as part of the biological stress response, in order to warn us that we may be under threat. When this happens we generally take short and shallow breaths from high up in our chest, rather than using our diaphragm. Slow conscious diaphragmatic breathing is a physiological intervention that can mediate our stress response. Check out this short video
Maintain social connection. Even though you are physically distancing doesn’t mean you need to be isolated. Social connection and the release of oxytocin is another recognised intervention in mediating the stress response. Get creative. I know of people who are using Zoom, Skype and Face time to have regular coffee catch ups, wine time (not whine time) dinner parties, and kids social catch ups. For more on the importance of social connection and good brain health click here.
Develop psychological flexibility. This implies you have the skills and ability to build awareness and be present, make room for uncomfortable thoughts and feelings, yet still take action guided by your core values. As the stress response more often than not involves uncomfortable thoughts, feelings and sensations, having the cognitive skills to better relate to these is imperative to managing stress.
Engaging in some regular mindful practice is a great way of creating some space between troubling thoughts and tumultuous emotions. Mindfulness based practice is like an antidote to living in the past (rumination, regret, resentment) or the future (worrying or predicting the worst). It enables grounding, centering and calming down when stressed. It’s like “dropping an anchor amidst an emotional storm”
Emotional flexibility involves:
Check out this short video on internal struggles by Dr Russ Harris
Download below this great resource created by DR Russ Harris for better inoculating you mentally & emotionally from COVID 19
Manage your (social) media intake. I am normally a veracious consumer of news and current affairs often listening to BBC, NPR and our ABC. Recently I have limited my exposure to the 24-hour news cycle. This involves taking a break from watching, reading or listening to crisis news stories, including social media. Instead I check in once a day and spend other moments listening to something more uplifting like ABC classical or an interesting podcast.
Maintain a routine is something that one can control. Having a written daily plan helps you stay on track with your self-care and other areas that you value and are important for maintaining resilience and equanimity. Check out Kate’s video below. Contact Kate for psychotherapy support.
As a health and wellbeing coach I help people build their physical, mental and emotional resources to meet life challenges. Over the last month I have been deploying all that I have learnt in the last 30 years of working in health and fitness. This has been identifying what is within my circle of control, taking action and calling on those resources that have me be as resilient as I can, in the face of uncertainty.
Some of you may already know that I have been amidst a family health crisis, with both parents currently in hospital, a wife that has a chronic health condition (reliant on immune suppressing medication) and the emerging uncertainty of COVID 19. I have had a few sleepless nights to say the least! I have also made it a non negotiable, to maintain and indeed increase my self- care behaviour, that has me be the most effective and resilient in these eventful times. Here I would like to share my top 6 strategies.
Finally I always come back to this….
"Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.”
One thing that is within my circle of control is choosing actions that are in alignment with my values.
At this time I stand for being: compassionate, caring, accepting, calm and healthy J
What are your self-care behaviours that you turn to in stressful times? i would love to hear from you :)
At Vital Lifestyle our primary concern is the health and wellbeing of our community. With the evolving COVID 19 situation, we are mindful of eliminating and minimizing risk to both you our valued client and our trainers. As such you will notice a few changes and we ask for your assistance.
We kindly ask for you to:
We recognise that this is a global epidemic and one which we are treating with serious precaution, however we wanted to reiterate that it is important for you, your health, and your family that you remain calm and rational, considerate of others, and most importantly maintain a healthy lifestyle wherever possible.
The New Year is often a time for reflection. It is also a period where many make resolutions for the year ahead and some create goals to track performance. Goal setting is often the starting point for most who want to create behaviour change.
As a coach, I suggest this should be one of the final steps. I believe many are unsuccessful in creating healthy change because they haven’t created a compelling vision or have not identified key values that drive their behaviour. If values are not in alignment with a personal vision it is understandable why there maybe ambivalence and why many become unstuck, during the process of change.
So what are values ?
Values are about how you want to present in the world, what you want to stand for and where and how you spend your time. A definition that resonates for me comes from and Australian psychologist Russ Harris, who specialises in ACT (Acceptance, Commitment Therapy). According to him they are leading principles that can guide us and motivate us as we move through life.
“Values are not the same as goals. Values are directions we keep moving in, whereas goals are what we want to achieve along the way. A value is like heading North; a goal is like the river or mountain or valley we aim to cross whilst traveling in that direction. Goals can be achieved or ‘crossed off’, whereas values are an ongoing process. For example, if you want to be a loving, caring, supportive partner, that is a value – an ongoing process. If you stop being loving, caring and supportive, then you are no longer a loving, caring, supportive partner; you are no longer living by that value. In contrast, if you want to get married, that’s a goal - it can be ‘crossed off’ or achieved. Once you’re married, you’re married – even if you start treating your partner very badly. If you want a better job, that’s a goal. Once you’ve got it - goal achieved. But if you want to fully apply yourself at work, that’s a value – an ongoing process.”
In summary values are desired qualities of ongoing action. They reflect how we want to treat ourselves and others. They enhance our deepest desires as to how we want to show up in the world and behave. As any change we wish to create is a result of our behaviour, distinguishing ones values first is key.
Try this exercise for the New Year…
For the New Year try being mindful before taking action. Ask yourself the question: "Am I moving in alignment with my values?"
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.