If you’re experiencing feelings of overwhelm or worry while working in the fitness industry, a spot of mindfulness could help bring you back to thinking rationally, as Aislinn Kelly explains.
Have you seen that meme doing the rounds? The one that asks you why, if someone bumps into you outside a coffee shop and spills their cup of coffee all over you, you find yourself covered in coffee? The message being that, whatever is in the cup, is what spills out of the cup. Likewise, whatever is within you is what, inevitably, will spill out of you if you’re rattled or rocked at any time.
Those of us experiencing overwhelm and worry – all too familiar feelings in this fast-paced industry – may find that, when a curve ball is thrown into our day, we find ourselves experiencing feelings of being unable to cope. I’ve been there on many occasions. I’ll wager that you have too.
But are these feelings real? Or are they projections into a future that hasn’t happened yet? For instance, when you’re late for a class, is it the actual being late in that moment that is making you feel stressed? Or is the thought of having to apologise to your class members when you get there? Is it the here and now or is it the unknown future that is causing you to feel like you do?
Now, I’m not saying the future doesn’t matter. I’m not suggesting you waltz late into class without so much as a ‘sorry’ and carry on as if nothing has happened. But what I am suggesting is that, in that moment of stress because you are late, it might be helpful for you to realise that it hasn’t happened yet. Sure, you’ll have to deal with it when you get there. But it probably won’t be half as cringey as you fear and it definitely won’t be the end of the world. In fact, we can usually turn these moments into a positive with a bit of creativity and ingenuity.
So, what can we do in that moment when we’re late – when the future that hasn’t happened yet is all too prominent in our present moment? It can be bloody annoying when someone tells you to ‘breathe’. But if we understand why it’s useful to use the breath, then maybe we can appreciate why using it in this moment is helpful.
You see, it’s all about self-regulation. Being able to self-regulate in times of stress enables us to feel more balanced. When we’re stressed, stress hormones are released and the activity in our brain changes – it’s harder to think rationally and the body is busy preparing us to fight or flee. We can’t fight or flee from being late for class. So why bother working up a sweat about it?
The easiest breath to employ is what I like to think of as the balance breath. Simply exhale for longer than you inhale. It’s that simple. Take the air in through the nose to warm it up before it hits the lungs and breathe like this until you feel calmer. Simply breathing in this way will send a message to your brain that you are calmer. Cue more rational thinking again.
And what about the box breath? This is the technique beloved by the Navy SEALs before they go into high-stress situations. Breathe in for four, hold for four, breathe out for four, hold for four. Repeat. If it’s good enough for combatants preparing for battle, I reckon it’s good enough for us (if you’re pregnant or have a medical condition that this could exacerbate, sit this one out and go back to the balance breath).
Do you sleepwalk through life?
How many times have you taken a class and sleepwalked through it? Literally gone through the motions, barely remembering the details of the class while your brain frets over this thing you’ve got to do or that thing you haven’t done – those worry thoughts again? Again, this is all pie in the sky thinking – it’s a future that hasn’t happened yet. Teaching your classes could be a real brain break for you if you let it. Instead of allowing worry thoughts to creep in, start noticing the details of your class. Take note of all the different styles of footwear on your clients’ feet, for example. Notice the expressions on their faces. Feel the beat of the music. Tune into your own body and how it feels in that moment – is there any discomfort? Anything you need to work on? Be present in that moment. Smile. Remember why you’re here and the brilliant gift you’re giving to the people sharing space with you right now. Give it a try and see how it feels next time you take a class or teach a PT session.
Write it down
OK, full disclosure. I was dismissive of the power of journalling for a long time. If I’m honest, I didn’t want my innermost thoughts written down for anyone to find and read – now or in 50 years’ time! But then I noticed I was sometimes writing out text messages that I didn’t send explaining why I was cheesed off or how I was feeling about something (a risky business and not one I recommend just in case you press ‘send’ by accident if you don’t want to!). Even though I was deleting the messages, I noticed it felt better just to get my thoughts out of my head. So, I started journalling with a difference – writing my thoughts down on scraps of paper and immediately putting them in the recycle bin. It’s just as effective and there’s no paper trail. Job’s a good ‘un!
Focus on the foot
The foot is the furthest part of the body from the brain, where all those worry thoughts and stresses are swimming around like little sharks. So, if you feel overwhelmed in the moment, a great technique is to literally focus on one of your feet. Everything about that foot, from the bones and tendons to the skin, toes and spaces between the toes. Give that foot some love. While you’re busy doing that, the worry thoughts are nowhere to be seen. Trust me, it helps.
So, if you’re experiencing feelings of stress, overwhelm and worry, yes you need to address why that is happening and start to make some changes. But, while you’re in it, it can be hard to be rational about the changes you need to make, so practising some mindfulness techniques to bring you back into the moment and able to think more rationally is going to help you to start making changes. Don’t knock it till you’ve tried it.
Aislinn is our resident sub editor and writer and is also a certified mindfulness teacher and hypnobirthing coach, working with parents and parents-to-be in her business, The Birth Coach (www.thebirthcoach.co.uk).