Have you ever had those times when you’re caught up in your head about something for hours? Just sitting there, not moving, just thinking round and round. You sort of know you should get up and distract yourself, but you don’t. You’re in a hole.
I’ve experienced this. And I suspect many more people have too, and more so over the last 18 months or so. That’s why it is more important than ever to MOVE.
A CALL FOR PHYSICAL MOVEMENT AND MENTAL CHALLENGE
The more time we spend in our heads and inside our homes, the less time we have awareness of our physical body and our environment. Our minds have more time to perpetuate our fears without challenge. What’s worse in this age of incessant social media and rolling news coverage, is that new fears are also being fed to us as we sit at home scrolling.
If we don’t check this swirling mental concoction with some physical movement or purposeful action, we become a receptacle for fear and anxiety which is harmful to ourselves and those around us. “Getting out of your house” and moving will have two important benefits.
I am a huge advocate of regular, rigorous exercise but aside from the obvious physical health impacts, it is a massive mood booster. The reason I’ve noticed this is so useful is that it forces you to concentrate on your physical body. Any stress or anxious thoughts are concentrated in your mind. When you begin to exercise, that energy shifts from all up top, to below your neck.
Your awareness redistributes from your head to the rest of your body
Seeing as your arms and legs don’t harbour thoughts and fears (at least not in the same way as the mind), these anxieties have less energy to perpetuate in your head – the energy has been drained away. What’s more, is that your physical movements are happening in the present and you are focussing on them. Think of physical exercise as a form of meditation to bring you into the present (it doesn’t just have to be yoga!).
My personal exercise regime revolves largely around using weights. Let me tell you that I cannot worry about a stressful day at work at the same time as trying to stop myself from being squashed by a barrel!
Getting out and moving doesn’t always have to be as intense as weight training of course. A walk around the neighbourhood also does a great job of refocussing our attention away from all the mental junk going on in our heads. A walk can be made mindful by consciously observing our environment. For example, you could:
- Notice every time you spot something a particular colour;
- Name the sounds you hear as you walk;
- Play “I Spy”;
- Count the number of steps it takes to reach the end of the road.
By getting active and using other senses, stressful energy is dissipated through the body. A bit like an hourglass with all the sand in the top trickling down to the bottom when it’s turned upside down. And just like an hourglass, we have to keep moving regularly to maintain balance.
The second of the benefits to getting outside has less to do with exercise and more to do with an active challenge to your worries. Do you stop yourself from trying something based on a news story? Does the concern that holds you back come from hearsay or your own lived experience?
If our worries prevent us from getting outside, physically and symbolically, they remain unchecked and unchallenged. The fear lives in our imagination and may simply grow, keeping us in our comfort zones where it grows even more and makes us less likely to challenge it. A vicious circle.
I have had words of warning from people who are really just projecting their fears onto me. I was once deterred from taking a bus home late one night because it was thought the people on the bus were a threat. This came from someone who never gets on the bus! When these warnings come from a shrinking away from life and an overgrown worry in somebody else’s mind, rather than from a real-life experience, I tend not to listen too much.
I am not encouraging reckless behaviour, just a responsible challenge to fear. This simply means taking a fear (yours or someone else’s) and saying “really? let’s try it and see for myself”. Otherwise, the anxiety will conquer you and keep you stuck in one place.
The experience will teach more than taking another’s word for it; it will give confidence and feed your unique perspective on life and challenge so-called “established wisdom”.
Being physically restricted leads to the same in our minds. Be bold, get out your house, get out your head!