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How to beat stress by having fun and finding flow: A guide for Cornwall and Plymouth.

Racing thoughts, irritability, lack of focus, tension headaches, strained relationships, fatigue, insomnia…We all know the signs of stress. And we know they suck. But why is it important that we don’t let stress kick our butt?

Stress management is essential for physical and mental wellbeing, as well as our interpersonal relationships. But let’s face it, ‘stress management’ doesn’t sound all that much fun does it. Nor, to be honest, do the two solutions I hear most commonly touted for beating stress: Exercise and meditation. While I can say from my own experience that both of these have immense value, this article looks at how accessing flow states can be a fun, local alternative.

First though, let’s explore how stress works and why it’s important that we don’t allow it to run our lives. What creates stress, external events or our internal mind state?

Both actually. One thing that may surprise you though is that the human brain doesn’t know the difference between an imagined scenario and an actual event. This means that thinking about something stressful which might happen in the future, can trigger the same psychological and physiological response in our bodies and minds than if the event was actually happening!

We think an average of 80,000 thoughts a day, 80% of which are repetitive and habitual. When we are caught in cycles of repetitive negative thinking- fixating on past events or worrying about the future- the brain is experiencing and responding to these thoughts as if they were happening now, in material reality. Depression and anxiety as well as other more serious mental health conditions can be caused and made worse by chronic stress.

And what about physical health? The brain and the body are constantly sending messages to each other, and these messages tell each of them to make adjustments in how they are working. When the stress response is triggered, the body directs more energy to dealing with the threat- imagined or real- and temporarily neglects other vital functions, such as the immune and digestive systems as well as our inflammatory regulation system. This is how our physical wellbeing may start to suffer if our body-mind feels permanently under stress. For example, people with Irritable Bowel System (IBS), eczema and psoriasis report that their conditions worsen with increased stress. Studies have also proven that cardiovascular conditions, diabetes, abdominal obesity and HIV are all also negatively affected by stress.

Flow – the way to wellbeing and high performance.

Flow States- or being ‘in the zone’, as they are often called- have been the focus of positive psychology for many decades now. Positive psychology looks at highly successful individuals who enjoy an exceptional quality of life and tries to understand what the hell they are doing differently from the rest of us. Studies show that accessing flow states on a regular basis is one of the factors that sets these people apart.

What is a flow state and what’s it got to do with stress? Flow is a heightened state of consciousness that is fully absorbing. We forget time and lose all self-consciousness. It’s a universal experience we have all had at some point in our lives, but most of us don’t have it in our wellbeing toolkit. It’s certainly not about relaxation and checking out though…there could in fact be an element of stress involved… but the key is that this stress is transformed into flow through focus.

Experts in the field of positive psychology have discovered specific characteristics of flow states:

  1. Clear goals and immediate feedback on progress: An athlete in a race knows what they are aiming for and how well they are doing.
  2. Complete concentration on the activity with no room in the mind for distraction. This often means there is some kind of risk involved: A rock climber reaching for their next handhold is entirely focused on the present moment and definitely not thinking about what they might eat for dinner.
  3. Actions and awareness become one: A musician merges with their instrument and becomes the music that they play. While the activity is far from effortless or easy, it becomes almost automatic.
  4. Loss of self-consciousness with no anxiety about failure: A martial artist in flow is not trying to impress or wondering how they look in their robes. As Bruce Lee put it, “showing off is the fool’s idea of glory”.
  5. The activity is intrinsically rewarding: You engage in the activity for its own sake, without turning it into a means to an end.

 

Find your flow, have fun and beat your stress in Cornwall and Plymouth

Consider transforming your stress into flow by trying a few of the following activities.

Surfing

Cornwall’s north coast is considered one of the most exciting surfing destinations in the UK and is a haven for flow seekers. This activity takes a lot of practice and skill, but there are plenty of beginner friendly surf schools for anyone giving it a go for the first time. The immersion in cold water will swiftly wipe all other thoughts from your mind and, if done regularly studies suggest, could help activate calming responses (known as the parasympathetic nervous system) to other unrelated scenarios in life.

Go-Karting

If you’re looking for a flow state that won’t require serious commitment or regular practice, then my personal recommendation is that you ‘arrive and drive’ at Adrenalin Quarry’s Kartworld. Feed your need for speed with focus, flow and absolutely no fuss. Go Karting will hone your reflexes and cultivate your concentration. No need to fear messing it up either, with friendly, knowledgeable staff on hand at all times. Set in a site of special scientific interest and natural beauty, situated near Menheniot, between Plymouth and Looe, this place is a treasure and a treat for anyone looking to find their flow without starting a whole new hobby.

Martial Arts

Practicing a martial art is a great way to enter flow, have fun and beat stress. As the name suggests, serious practitioners consider themselves artists as well as athletes. Ki-Aikido in particular has its focus on flow states rather than combat. And according to the main man Morihei Ueshiba, it’s “the art of adapting to circumstances as well as the art of freedom”. Hmm, that last part has me sold! I’ve been wanting to learn a martial art for ages and am going to try out some lessons with the setsudo ki-aikido club in Liskeard, one of several dojos in the Cornwall and Plymouth area.

 

 

 
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