Thursday, September 9, 2021

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Mental Fitness: How to Unlock Your Potential in Times of Stress

We’ve never shied from conversations on mental health at Honan, but with much of Australia and South East Asia experiencing lockdowns or restrictions due to COVID, our company-wide Mental Fitness Workshop with leading psychologist and Head of Mental Health & Wellbeing at St Kilda Football Club (SKFC), Dr. Ben Robbins was timely to say the least!

Including powerful insights about mindset, stress, and anxiety, Dr. Ben shared practical tips and techniques for navigating everyday life, which you can apply, regardless of your occupation. Here are the top takeaways from Dr. Ben:

1. We are currently spending a lot of time in fight/flight mode

While useful in survival situations, our fight/flight response is often experienced as anxiety in the modern day. For example, running late, receiving an unpleasant email, public speaking, the unique stresses of working from home can all activate this response. With all our attention going to that perceived threat, it can be difficult to think clearly, make decisions, and behave in line with our values.

Dr. Ben explained that our default fight/flight response activates what he calls the ‘red brain’ (the amygdala). He used the example of a player responding to a poor decision by an umpire with frustration and anger. Reacting to a perceived threat with our red brain like this can lead to decisions and actions that we would not make in a calm and more balanced state. Being caught in this cycle takes us out of the present moment and it can trigger negative self-talk, rumination, and even depression. Living in this headspace does not allow us to perform to our potential.

2. Tap into your ‘blue brain’

In contrast to the ‘red brain’ is what Ben calls the ‘blue brain’ (predominantly the frontal cortex). This part of our brain helps us make rational and balanced decisions and actions. When we activate our blue brain, we are calm and present. This practice of mindfulness can help us manage our environment and stress.

3. Make everyday activities mindful

Mindfulness is about paying attention to the present moment with an attitude of openness and curiosity, not judgement. Each day, we have opportunities to practice informal mindfulness, such as stopping to taste a cup of coffee, paying attention to the feeling of water on your skin whilst having a shower, or going for a walk and noticing your surroundings.

4. Meditation: the tool to accessing mindfulness

Meditation is not about clearing your mind, instead, it’s about creating space, clarity, and awareness around your thoughts. It’s natural for our minds to wander, however, through practice we become better at noticing this and re-orienting our attention to the present. In fact, through repeated meditation practice our brains physically change. To illustrate, Dr. Ben used the example of learning to drive. When we first learn to drive, it takes all our concentration and effort, but in time and through repetition, we build and strengthen these neural pathways and it becomes easier. It’s the same with meditation!

To help, Dr. Ben recommends trying a mindfulness meditation application such as Calm or Smiling Mind.

Honan is the proud naming rights partner of SKFC’s Business networking group, STK Business. Our staff were greatly appreciative to have had access to Dr. Ben for this insightful workshop.

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