Exercise & Mental Health - Depression, Stress & Memory:

This past weekend my daughter and I took part in our first ever virtual running race. Now if you are new to virtual running, it's like an organised running event except that instead of turning up to the start line on a specific day and time, you have much more flexibility as to when you do it. Our race was the Magnificent 5km organised by Zoom Virtual Races and we had to complete the run and then send evidence of having done it to the organisers before the end of February. 

As well as the advantage of flexibility, it's a great way for me to spend some healthy, active time with my daughter. If you've been reading my blogs for a while you'll know that we regularly run the Ely Festive 5k each year although, given the cold this weekend, I wish I'd stuck my fake Santa beard on my face to add some extra warmth! It was freezing cold! And for some reason I decided that the best place for us to run was in a muddy field where the strong wind came howling into us around every corner!   

Now I'm a great lover of exercise as I know it benefits my mental health and physical health. My long standing leg injury means I've turned more to bootcamp over the last year (and I love it!) and if nothing else, yesterday was more evidence that my leg injury hasn't yet subsided as much as I'd hoped. But never mind, because there is still much to benefit mental health even where there are some activities that are more challenging than others.

In fact, a lot of research has demonstrated the power of exercise to boost our mental health and I've got a few examples that are worth taking a look at in this article.

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Health Anxiety Help: 

Last week I headed over to an appointment with a physiotherapist about my long standing leg injury that has kept me out of running for about a year now (thank goodness for bootcamp or I think I'd have lost the plot by now without any form of exercise!). 

Anyway, he checked out my movement, flexibility, leg strength and all the usual stuff and has given me some exercises to practice. Interestingly enough I often use the example of a physio when explaining how hypnotherapy works to clients, in that, in order to get results you need to go away and actually apply the strategies and techniques and take some action towards your goals. After all, if would be a bit pointless to go to the physio and then come away, do nothing and hope it changes all by itself - wouldn't it?!

Anyway I digress, because one thing that the physio asked me (that I've never been asked by physios before) was, 'have you googled your injury?' (oh how the times they are a-changing as Dylan might sing!).

Now these days I won't go near Doctor Google with my symptoms, whether it's a running niggle or anything else health related, for the simple reason that it's a sure fire way to drive up health anxiety. It could almost come with a guarantee of increased anxiety. Like many others I learnt this the harder way.

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Negative Thoughts, Mindfulness & Anxiety - The 321 Vlog:

Recently I wrote about a way to interrupt anxious thoughts and negative thoughts using the 3-2-1 technique. This is a very mindfulness based technique that shifts your focus and awareness to the here and now, rather than getting caught up in things from the past or worrying about what might happen in the future.

For those who prefer to get their anxiety relief fix in video form, I've also recorded this vlog about how to use the technique (and yes I did feel the need to talk about the TV show 321 and to do my lame attempt at the way Ted Rogers used to do the finger thing):

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Sports Performance - Mindset, Focus, Motivation, Results:

I can remember several years ago being desperate to complete a 10km race in under forty minutes. I would enter race after race in my attempts to reach the glory of the sub-40 minute time. It filled my thoughts at work and it dominated my conversations with other runners. It was a goal I had set myself and I was determined to get there.

Yet try as I might, for a long time it eluded me. I would cross the finish line one or two seconds over forty minutes - literally one or two seconds from getting it nailed. Over 6.2 miles of running, a couple of seconds is nothing, it's almost meaningless. Yet when the clock stopped, those couple of seconds were pretty much the most frustrating things ever known! 

I knew I was physically capable of knocking off those couple of seconds but what I didn't appreciate at that time was, no matter how physically ready I was from my training, mentally I was getting in my own way. My mind was filled with pressure, stress, doubts both before and during the race. I might lose focus for half a mile and realise I was off the needed pace to reach my goal. Once in a race, as I approached a corner I saw a sign that said it was 200 metres to the finish line, I looked at my watch, realised I couldn't hit the sub-40 and slowed a little, only to turn the corner, see the finish line was only about 100 metres away and realise in that moment of over thinking and lack of focus, I'd blown what would have been relatively easy to achieve. 

Once I learned some effective sports performance hypnotherapy strategies I went out there and nailed it three races in row. I felt like Robert Bannister when he broke the four minute mile (albeit I was a much slower Roger!).  

And if you've ever seen a golfer miss an easy putt because the pressure got to them, or a striker miss an easy goal because they'd lost confidence, or a driver start to overthink and hesitate because of a previous crash, then you'll know how important your mind-set is to sports performance at any level.

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A Way To Change Negative Thoughts to More Positive Thinking:

Last time out I wrote about a way to interrupt unwanted thoughts using the 3-2-1 technique which can help you to deal with negative thinking or anxious thoughts.

That is, in order to break that cycle of anxious thoughts, stressful thoughts or negative thoughts (and any other unwanted overthinking), you bring your attention back to the here and now by describing to yourself three specific things you can see, three specific sounds you can hear and three specific sensations you can feel right now.  

You then repeat this doing two different sights, sounds and sensations and then one different example of each. You can repeat this pattern as often as is beneficial, always remembering to use different sights, sounds and sensations each time.

This mindfulness type of psychological technique works by having you focus on your experience right now, where thoughts of what might happen or what has happened don't exist. In addition, it moves your focus of attention from inside your own head (where all those thoughts were residing) to what is going on outside and around you. It's a way of taking control over what you are paying attention to and your thinking.

As such, it's a brilliant technique to learn and apply. Yet sometimes we want to have a way to actually direct our thoughts in a direction that we want them to go. We want to change negative thinking not just to this very moment but move towards creating a habit of more positive thinking.

So by extending this 3-2-1 technique we can start to do this very thing.

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Interrupt Negative Thoughts in 3...2..1.. - Anxiety Help:

Have you ever noticed how easy it is to get lost in your negative thoughts? Sometimes they just sort of creep up in your mind and before you know it, those anxious, negative thoughts and intrusive thoughts have taken hold and the spiral of anxiety can soon take over. And of course, once you feel anxious, your mind will always find something to attach it to in your imagination so it flows like a river, soaking everything you think.

Further down this article I've described a simple way to switch your negative thoughts so that your thinking and attention comes back to the here and now, rather than getting lost in future anxious thoughts. Anxiety is often described as like having an overactive mind that never switches off and starts to consider everything as a potential threat, and so you get all those what if this bad thing happens type negative thoughts, along with the worst case scenarios. And as anyone who has ever suffered with anxiety knows, most of those things never actually come to happen (but that doesn't stop the anxiety finding something else to worry about).

Yet when we bring our attention and thinking back to the here and now, there is no room for those types of negative thoughts and we can give our brains a bit of time off from all the anxiety.

Of course, one reason I love this 3-2-1 technique is because it reminds me of my younger days spent watching the TV show called '321' on prime time TV (back in the days when we only had three channels to choose from!). If you remember the show, you'll remember how the host, Ted Rogers, did this (seemingly amazing) quick thing with his fingers as he said the words three, two, one. We used to try and copy that on the primary school playground. And who can forget Dusty Bin!  (If you can't remember the quiz show, or are too young to have seen it, then have a look at this video which will help you understand the primitive world of TV in 1982! We thought this was great back then!! And be sure to catch the fastest fingers on TV!).

Anyway, enough of my childhood reminiscing, now back to interrupting negative thoughts in 3-2-1...

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Comparing Yourself To Others & Self-Esteem:

We've probably always done it, yet comparing yourself to others has hit boom time with the rise of social media. I like to think that, had he been alive today, Shakespeare would have changed his sonnet from 'shall I compare thee to a summer's day' to 'shall I compare how I feel and my own self-worth to your instagram and facebook profiles.'  

Now before anyone accuses me of blaming social media for leading us to compare ourselves with others, I'm not, and I should know it's been around longer because it's something I used to do incessantly before I'd ever heard of instagram, twitter, facebook and so on. There were times I could barely force myself out of the front door because of my anxiety-fuelled comparisons with others and worry about what they might think about me (and it was never something good).

Yet there's no denying that these days it's easier than ever to compare our own thoughts, feelings, perceptions and levels of self-esteem with the filtered, published results that someone chooses to portray online. We compare our inner self worth with someone else's carefully selected public profile. And if you are going through a hard time right now, then those images of smiley, happy people enjoying every moment of life can only make you feel a bit worse (after all, how come everyone else is so happy and you're not, right?).

It's something that comes up in my office, and I can reference a recent client where such a thing was adding to her feelings of low self-esteem.

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Quitting Smoking - Cut Down or Stop Completely?

This weekend just gone I spent Sunday with a lovely couple who had travelled over fifty miles to see me for help quitting smoking, having been referred my way by a friend who had also stopped smoking with me. One thing many smokers have tried in their previous quitting attempts is to start cutting down. 

It's perhaps long been assumed by many smokers that cutting down their habit must lead to a proportionate reduction in the risk of harm to their health. That is, if you go from a twenty a day habit down to ten a day, the surely the health risks must also be halved? 

However, recent research published in the British Medical Journal has found that, in the case of cardiovascular disease (the risk of developing coronary heart disease or having a stroke),  

As they conclude in their findings, "Smoking only about one cigarette per day carries a risk of developing coronary heart disease and stroke much greater than expected: around half that for people who smoke 20 per day. No safe level of smoking exists for cardiovascular disease. Smokers should aim to quit instead of cutting down to significantly reduce their risk of these two common major disorders."

That's pretty hard hitting stuff if you are currently a smoker and you thought that cutting down was safer in some way, the fact is, it just isn't that much safer with regards to heart disease and stroke risks. And perhaps this is even more alarming when you consider that, as reported by the BBC,  "cardiovascular disease, not cancer, is the greatest mortality risk for smoking, causing about 48% of smoking-related premature deaths".

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Stoic advice for dealing with annoying people - Stress Management Help

Over recent weeks I've become more and more interested in Stoicism, an ancient Greek school of philosophy (and I can tell you outright that philosophy has never been top of my list of things I want to learn more about!). I certainly wouldn't describe myself as a Stoic, yet there is a lot of gold in the writings and approach taken by the Stoics.

And whereas stoicism is often taken to refer to 'the endurance of pain or hardship without the display of feelings and without complaint' (as a google definition describes it), in fact it more refers to ways and ideas to achieve more inner tranquillity, peace and joy in your life and by seeking an absence of negative emotions such as anger, anxiety and fear.

Which of course has huge overlaps with the goals that people describe when they come to see me for help to overcome these issues and to become more mentally calm and feel more confident in themselves (and thus reducing their anxiety, stress and fear).

So here today I'm drawing upon some of this good stuff to talk about how to deal with annoying people, or more accurately how you can take back control so that they no longer annoy you.

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And Now...For Something To Tackle Overthinking & Negative Thoughts:

It's been another busy weekend in the Regan household and once again we headed through the streets of Ely on a rock hunt (I've written about the benefits of rock hunting in another blog). This time we were out in the snow which fell consistently for a few hours yet didn't stop us finding over a dozen of the painted rocks hidden around the city.    

Of course, whilst we might find a few in close proximity, and there's always a bit of a family buzz about checking out the design painted on the rock and any writing about who created it, there can also be long periods where no matter how closely we are looking, we just don't spot any (and being a slightly competitive person, that just makes me more determined to keep searching for longer!).

During these quieter periods, it's only natural that the kids and I start to become a little disheartened. We start to notice that, in the snow, we feel a bit cold and want to get indoors in the warm and dry, and the kids start to get a bit disinterested and start complaining of being tired or hungry. 

And, just as with anxiety and stress and overthinking, it could be quite easy to fall into an ever increasing cycle of negative thoughts. That is, a negative thought starts to go around and around our minds, we feel anxious, stressed or low, and that leads to even more overthinking and negative thoughts.  

One of the key things in taking control over thinking and negative thoughts is to start to break that cycle. It's that loop where you get more and more stuck in your thinking and it all just seems to go around and around your mind with little or no let up or peace from it.

So here I have one quick technique that I teach to my clients, that I use with my kids (to shift them from feeling negative) and that I use myself. 

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