This post could be construed as a Sports Therapist jumping on the mindfulness band wagon. I promise it’s not. This shift to a more mindful focus is more about helping people in any which way we can to better deal with their physical problems. 15 years of personal and professional experience tells me that if we address our emotional issues at the same time as our physical ones we just get so much better so much quicker. More stress = more pain. End of discussion.If you would like a bit more than a statement and are interested in the reasons behind this please read our previous post: Does More Stress Cause More Pain?
Mindfulness is a huge subject that can mean all kinds of different things to different people. This post started out as as a top 21 tips on how to be more mindful. But then I realised that the run up to Christmas was an unrealistic time to try to get people to be more mindful. Instead I thought it better to look at exactly what we’re doing a lot of at this time of year – avoiding being mindful and maintaining our old stressed out habits.
Those same stressed out habits to increase the overall sensitivity of our bodies and increase our experience of pain. That’s why we, as a Physiotherapy and Sports Therapy clinic, are so interested. So in the first of this now two parter we’ll look at the most common ways in British* society we like to distract ourselves from actually forming, better, healthier, more mindful, habits. When we understand what we’re doing wrong it’s easier to correct it. In part two of this Blog in the new year, we’ll look at what we can replace our old bad habits with. The first part to change is always recognition of what needs to change.
* I use the term British in the inclusive sense of the expression to include all of our brothers and sisters from the EU and the rest of the world. Despite what any referendum or xenophobic undercurrent may suggest!
How Do We Distract Ourselves From Being More Mindful?
Before we get going this list is not supposed to puritanical though I will forgive you if it feels that way. It feels that way to me! The point here is make you aware of things we all do that we use to make us feel more relaxed but aren’t helping in the long run. The point is not to make you feel bad every time you do one of these things. The point is to help you recognise when you are ‘using’ one of the distractions below. You can choose whether or not you really want to do it or something more mindful with greater purpose.
It may be in exact moments you do need to distract yourself. That’s ok. It’s when these distractions become habitual and we no longer know why we are doing them and they become a way of life. That’s when true problems get buried and manifest themselves as physical or emotional conditions.
1. Watching TV
This is the most common misconceived way of relaxing we hear at the clinic. “Oh yes I do lots of relaxing in front of the TV”. It’s true, TV is great for switching our mind off. I am a quite partial to some mindless TV watching myself. It’s not what we would call restorative. Your brain literally does nothing while watching TV. It has no images to conjure up. Nothing to process. It literally makes it lazy.
The more TV we watch the harder it becomes to use our brain actively. In social situations. Processing emotions. Getting stuff done. And actually switching off in a positive ways becomes really tricky if we’re used to constant stimuli. Albeit mind numbing stimuli.
Now we’re not being totalitarian here. We’re not suggest you don’t watch TV at all. Just cut out the rubbish that really doesn’t enrich your life in ANY way. You’ve already thought of the shows that need to go! I have a bug bear for Soap Operas. Why spend your life watching someone else’s made up life instead of living your own?
Of course watching mindless sports on TV is absolutely fine. This is my one so I said it was ok! But I’ll use myself as a balanced example. I now only watch important sport on TV. That’s football game featuring my beloved Liverpool. Or really big tournaments in my favourite sports. Just not everything that’s going every night! Trust me life is better.
If soaps are your thing. Perhaps you could just choose to watch your favourite one or two. Free up sometime for something more mindful bye ditching the one when you know you are watching just for the sake of it.
Ah yes. The UKs favourite distraction from what’s really going on in our heads! My personal favourite too. It’s really nice to have a couple after work to take the edge off or to have a blow out at the weekend to let some steam off. Trust me, I know. But isn’t it healthier to address what it is we’re taking the edge off? Or why exactly we need to let steam off. We then can enjoy a drink from time to time for the right reasons.
“Alcohol. The cause of, and solution to, all of life’s problems.” H. Simpson
In the UK the problem is systemic. It’s a massive part of our culture. It is our culture. To go against the trend takes real dedication and bravery. On announcing you’re not drinking at any social event standard British ‘banter’ includes: “Are you sure?” “Are you feeling ok?” “Go on, just have one” “You can always get a taxi.”
I’m not suggesting we all go tee-total. But let’s choose our moments better and give ourselves more time off. More time to think straight and consider the more important things in life. Actually do something about the things you drinking to distract yourself from.
3. Weed / CBD Oil
Back in 2004 one of my first ever clients was a private psychiatric nurse. She told me that most of her clientele were in someway weed related. At the time I was surprised having not long some through university of pot smoking was rife and very much an accepted practice. 15 years and 3000 clients later I’ve seen much evidence of how true her statement was. I’m not even talking about moving onto ‘heavier’ drugs off the back of cannabis use either.
The ‘it’s only a bit of weed’ attitude really doesn’t do us any favours. It sucks all our get up and go out of us, maintains (or even creates) anxious and depressive states and that’s before moving onto cases of serious psychosis. I appreciate these words aren’t be too popular in Swindon! Sometimes it’s best to hear what you need to hear rather than what you want to hear.
Medical applications aside it’s the same with CBD oil. Granted it’s inert and less harmful. But if you’re using it to take the edge off isn’t it more constructive to look at what you’re taking the edge off and change that?
Yum! Eating. Another one of my favourites. Each mouthful is a tiny distraction. Some people need to constantly eat or graze to use it as a distraction. This can lead to obesity and bulimia among others. Again addressing the underlying cause of the mental discomfort is a much better way. Ironically there are many mindful exercises that involve eating something in a very mindful way. Savouring the taste. Chewing and enjoying each moment. It’s a great way to flip things on it’s head and turn a negative into a positive.
The more time we take to enjoy meals instead of shovelling it into our face the more overall enjoyment we glean. The longer we take to eat the more the realise the appropriate point to stop when we are actually full. I heard this was after about 20 minutes of eating. I’ll let you do the searching online for the evidence to back that one up. Anecdotally that feels about right for me personally.
5. Sex (for the wrong reasons)
What exactly are the wrong reasons? For inflating you ego. Making you feel momentarily better about yourself. Searching for external validation that someone out there finds you attractive enough to sleep with you. It’s more important to find yourself attractive. You spend more time with yourself than anyone else. It’s nice to be able to like yourself. In this digital tinder society it’s too easy to go for a quick ego boost by swiping left or swiping right.
You’ll notice I stopped with the pictures for this one!
6. Social Media
Social media is a very useful tool for bringing people together and keeping them together. But constant checking and constant notifications that we can’t possibly miss for Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO) can keep us in a permanent state of arousal. Not in a good way! It maintains us in that fight or flight response where we feel more pain and are more liable to fly off the handle at anything or anyone that comes close.
Switch the notifications off. Give yourself small windows to catch up with what’s important on social. Most importantly stop stalking your ex! If you’re struggling that much to get over your ex get some therapy! Pining over them on Facebook isn’t getting you anywhere.
These three simple habit shifts will free up considerable time to spend on more mindful restorative pass times and reduce overall anxiety build up due to being on alert all the time.
7. Screen Time
Yeah I know the technology is whizzy. It’s not like I’m not writing this on a laptop. Yeah I know there’s lots of cool things on YouTube to watch. But do you need to have your face glued to screen as much as you do. Same thing as with TV above all that blue light stimulating your brain. Especially that naughty screen time just before bed stimulating the old brain.
Cut it down to the bare minimum. Have a look at your usage stats on your phone for motivation. My usage of the BBC Sport app was truly staggering! I say was… I’m in remission now!
I thought I’d throw this one in to be a bit controversial. Is this really a Sports Therapist dissing sport? Well kinda. It’s what I call excessive sports use to keep yourself sane. I’m not judging here as this is what got me into the career that I still love some 16 years ago. It was the injuries that I accrued distracting me from a career I hated that forced the significant change of life direction. Without which you wouldn’t be reading this.
If you, like I once did, find yourself needing to do more and more sport to give you more and more hits of endorphins you may be better off addressing why you need that buzz. Addressing the underlying reason is always the best way. Of course exercise to a sensible level for all the right reasons is a beautiful and wonderful thing. Happy hormones. Good mental health. All those good things. But same as with anything else in life. It is possible to get too much of a good thing.
You’ll notice, with the exception of point three, that all of these things in moderation aren’t necessarily a bad thing. But it’s when use of this becomes excessive that addictions begin. It may not be just one. It may be combination of some or even all of the above that distracts you from what you really ‘should’ be thinking about and addressing. You may have been distracting yourself for so long you don’t even know what you’re distracting yourself.
“If beer isn’t the answer I don’t want to know what the question is!”
So how do we break all these old naughty habits? I appreciate going cold turkey on all of the above may feel like living in a convent or monastery! I know I did try it. At this time of year it’s on a best endeavours basis. The new year is the time to replace our distractions with more mindful, restorative and ultimately rewarding pastimes. For now tune into what your distractions are and when you use them.
Like a cliffhanger similar to the end of The Empire Strikes Back. We’ll be back in the New Year with that life changing list of 21 easy to implement mindful tasks. Ultimately, in our field of work, to reduce your risk of injury and sensitivity to pain. In the bigger picture to enhance your life. You’re welcome!