A great 5-minute read, written by Green Tree Therapist, Hannah Newman. Hannah is a qualified Solution Focused Hypnotherapist, who comes from an NHS background. She is passionate about enabling people to understand, and work with, the link between their mental and physical health:
Have you ever been stuck in the cycle of saying to yourself on a Sunday evening “I’ll start exercising from tomorrow”? Monday comes around and slowly throughout the day, you feel your motivation dwindling away.
You hit a traffic jam on the way home and decide “It will be better if I start tomorrow instead”. Tuesday comes and goes and the same happens, before you know it, Monday has come back around and over the weeks you become stuck in a vicious cycle of never actually starting.
Instead of commencing the activity you had planned, you find yourself on the sofa with a comforting snack riddled with feelings of guilt and disappointment. Before you know it, weeks have passed, you still haven’t started, and that initial enthusiasm you once had has vanished.
I have always been passionate about health and fitness, but despite having this enthusiasm, I too have been a victim of this cycle. Quite recently, I found myself stuck in this sequence when the country went into lockdown. My main form of physical activity was carrying my quarantine snacks to the sofa. I found myself becoming lethargic, craving sugary foods, struggling with my sleep pattern and spent most days with a headache.
I decided something needed to change and started to think about how I have broken this cycle in challenging times gone by. I returned my snacks to the cupboard, utilised my solution focused skills and thought about what small steps I could take to break the loop.
I recalled how well I felt in myself and how calm I felt when I had exercised. When we exercise, our bodies produce a wealth of chemicals whichlift our mood and boost our sense of well-being. In turn, both our appetite regulates and sleep quality improves (both of which are equally negatively impacted by anxiety). Regular exercise reduces and regulates the body’s level of stress hormones, in particular, adrenaline, which plays a crucial role in the fight-or-flight response. Too much of it can cause a variety of health problems.
If exercise provides us with so many health and well-being benefits, why does our brain prevent us from participating?
Imagine that each of us has a stress bucket, and each day this bucket gets filled with all of the stresses of everyday life: traffic jams, a meeting, or our smart phone not connecting to the Wi-fi. Even without any ‘big’ problems, these relatively small stressors can accumulate and cause our bucket to overflow.
When our anxiety begins to build up, our brains perceive that we are under threat and we begin to operate from primitive, ‘cave man’, part of the brain. The main concern of this part of the brain is to keep us safe and alive. When we are operating from this primitive, emotional brain we only ever respond with anxiety, anger, or depression, or a combination of all three. The primitive brain has not evolved for millions of years and doesn’t have the ability to tell the difference between the anxiety caused by a laptop breaking and the threat of a tiger chasing after us so it perceived as a genuine threat to life. The same as if a tiger could appear at any instance.
If you were at risk of a tiger chasing you, it would not be in your best interests to start using all your energy up on copious amounts of burpees and mountain climbers. Instead, we are encouraged to stay at home where it is safe, fuel up and preserve our energy ready for when we need to do a Usain Bolt sprint away from the tiger!
Now of course that tiger never appears but the brain has logged that as a successful response which has kept you safe and alive. The next time those feelings of stress or anxiety occur, you will be encouraged to do the same again. Great if we were at risk of a tiger chasing us but not when you’re wanting to begin or continue with your fitness journey.
As Solution Focused Therapist’s it is our job to keep you out of that primitive part of your brain that wants you to stay inside where it’s safe.
I’ve attended plenty of fitness classes and each instructor starts their warm with light activity to increase the heart rate. But for me, the warmup starts long before I even get into my gym kit and this is where a Solution Focused approach can be incredibly helpful.
The world’s top athletes all work with a therapist to enhance their skills, and there’s no reason that you shouldn’t too! There is a physical limit on how many times a footballer can practice taking a penalty, but there is no limit on how many times they can visualise doing this. When we visualise ourselves successfully completing a task or activity, the likelihood of us completing and maintaining it increases significantly.
You wouldn’t book a holiday somewhere if you thought you would have a terrible time; you book the holiday because you can see yourself having a nice time doing the things you enjoy. The same applies to this scenario, the likelihood of you successfully starting or continuing your fitness journey will be far greater if you can see yourself achieving your goals.
So, you can see how the combination that we specialise in; Solution Focused talking therapy (emptying your ‘stress bucket’, and stopping the associated safety tricks your brain plays on you), and modern, Clinical Hypnotherapy (visualising yourself as the version of you that you want to achieve), can begin to let you step out of that cave, and actually take action towards your fitness goal.