Navigating Now & Beyond: Mental Health (MindFitness)

By Andy Barker, MindFitness

The last few months have thrown us enormous change and a number of serious challenges. Many of these will not simply melt away as we head into the new norm. Working from home, for example, presents threats to wellbeing and mental health. We are social animals who rely upon human connection to work at our best and to maintain a positive mindset. There are challenges to maintaining relationships and to sleeping well, and there is a rise in anxiety because of the barrage of negative news that has invaded our working day and our beliefs. And now we face another period of upheaval and change as we head out of lockdown and into whatever the new norm proves itself to be.

We must endeavour not to allow our fears for the future to become real in our mind. We have about 60,000 thoughts a day, only 5% of which are spent on the task in hand. The rest is referred to as Noise. There are many kinds of Noise; one of the most common, particularly in times of stress and change, is Future Noise. Because of the way that our brain works we create mental movies of potential futures and it is likely that each time we ‘play’ the movie it will head further towards worst case scenario. We can use Mindfulness, the practise of bringing our attention to the present moment, to quieten the Noise and bring us to a place where we are able to think about a problem more clearly and rationally.

A quick mindfulness exercise that will bring you out a fight or flight and reduce the level of your stress hormone cortisol, is NOW. It’s a mnemonic so it’s really easy to remember. N stands for Notice. Look around the room and let your eyes fall upon an object. The O stands for observe. Observe the object that you have chosen in detail – see the colours, shape and texture. This is what will bring you into the present moment; your senses only work in the present. And then W is for Wonder. Try to bring a sense of wonder, either awe or curiosity to your observation. The brain cannot think a negative thought and feel a sense of wonder at the same time.

When we are anxious about any issue or problem our fight or flight response, sometimes called the Stress Response, kicks in. When this happens all useful information stops being passed up to the higher thinking brain. Doing a Mindfulness exercise, as well as quietening any Future Noise, will bring you out of fight or flight so that you can think rationally about the challenge that you are facing.

As you begin to tackle the issue try to identify and reduce the tendency to awfulise. At the present time there are situations that are genuinely serious, but we all have a tendency to see things as more awful than they are. We will probably be giving time and anxious thought to issues that are relatively trivial. Ask yourself ‘how awful is it really on a scale of 1 to 10? (10 being the most serious)’. It is sometimes useful to contrast the problem with a genuinely serious situation and then say ‘ok in relation to this what I am worrying about is probably a two or a three.’ To establish a resilient and positive mindset you can train your brain to respond differently to the same situation.

Write down a problem that you’re facing and then write beside it the numbers 1 to 10. Next give 10 different responses to that same problem, where level one is that it’s almost fine and level 10 is that it’s the end of the world. It is partly about bringing the high numbers down. At Mind Fitness we always say ‘don’t sweat the small stuff’. But it’s also about training your brain to respond differently. Once trained you will always be in control of the way that you respond to any situation.

And finally do all that you can to look for the positives. In difficult times this may be hard; it may even seem irreverent. But it is also when they are needed the most. Rather than allowing a negative mindset to make a bad situation worse try to notice what you do have instead of what you don’t. Gratitude is a powerful motivator.

By using these techniques we can get ourselves to a place where we will be thinking rationally and feeling more positive. We can free our mind to consider options, face up to problems and perhaps even see opportunities that we didn’t know were there.

Mental Health First Aid England

Andy Barker, the author of this blog also runs Mental Health First Aid England, mental health awareness courses in collaboration with Ukie. Check out the latest dates available here. Ukie discounts for these courses are available to members. 

Navigating Now and Beyond

This is part of our Navigating Now and Beyond in partnership with Sports Interactive series - guest articles and guides providing technical and practical advice for games companies to navigate working now and beyond the current Covid-19 crisis. 

Find more articles at our Navigating Now and Beyond hub here.