EMOTIONAL DIFFUSION TECHNIQUES

Overview: Emotional Diffusion Techniques

We sometimes need to diffuse highly charged emotions to enable us to take back control of how we are feeling. Anger is one of the emotions which can really get the better of us and can result in a host of negative outcomes. Highly charged emotions also stop us from being able to perform at our best because they restrict our ability to focus on what will work for us.

The Why

When we engage with thought diffusion, we step back and observe our feelings so that we can get a hold on them in the way we want to. When you are experiencing negative emotions, your brain is more likely to focus on negative thoughts and you will get caught up in a negative cycle. Before you are able to manage your emotions in the moment, you need to start paying attention to your ‘red flags’ – the things that indicate your emotions are starting to flare up. This means you can respond to them before they escalate and take over. Name them and identify them so that you can be aware of them when they emerge.

Great for…

De-stress, Mood

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Exercise

Stop

In a high emotionally charged moment, stop and take time out. If you can, remove yourself physically from the situation, even if it is just for one minute. If you can’t physically remove yourself, take ten deep breaths, making sure your out-breaths are longer than your in-breaths. This helps calm your body back down so that you are in a better position to respond in a more rational way.

Challenge

Observe what is going on so that you can use all the information you have about yourself and the situation.  Try to stop filtering out positives and focusing on the negatives. Notice what is happening with your thoughts, emotions, behaviours and physical self and how you might be interpreting what is going on in the moment. Is there a different way to view what is going on that might be more helpful?  Is there an alternative to being angry or aggressive?

Change

In the space you have created by taking time out, you can now choose how you are going to respond. Instead of being angry or negative, you can opt for a more constructive or assertive approach. This your opportunity to so more than simply react to someone or something.

BODY RELAXATION TECHNIQUES

Overview: Body Relaxation Techniques

If you are feeling calm and relaxed in your body, you think more clearly and make better decisions. So it’s worth paying attention to your body when you’re feeling tense. There are a number of different techniques that can be used to help us bring our bodies back to a state of calm and relaxation.

The Why

By bringing our body back to a state of calm and relaxation, we come out of ‘threat’ mode, so we are in a much better state to make rational decisions and perform at our best. This is because once our ‘threat’ system is offline, our rational brain is able to work at full capacity. Try out these relaxation techniques and see which ones work best for you.

Great for…

De-stress

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Exercise

Stop

Pay attention to how you feel in your body

Challenge

Is your body tense? Is it contributing towards you feeling positive, calm, and relaxed?

Change

Change how relaxed you feel in your body by using the step-by-step guide below or listening to the audio file.

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PROGRESSIVE RELAXATION

Progressive relaxation involves tensing and relaxing muscles throughout your body to help release stored up tension and stress. It is very effective if you’re having trouble getting to sleep but you can also use it throughout the day if you are struggling to relax. You can guide yourself once you know the steps or use a guided audio. There are so many guided audio options to choose from for free on the internet.  Make sure you pick one with a voice you find calming and relaxing.

Through practice you can start to recognise the difference between the feelings of a tensed muscle and a completely relaxed muscle. That way you can respond to the first signs of muscle tension by tensing and releasing your muscles progressively throughout your body. Muscle tension tends to accompany anxiety or stress so it is great to be able to respond as soon as you recognise this physical response.

Ideally you should try and spend 10-15 minutes doing a progressive relaxation exercise but if you can only find 5 minutes, then that’s fine too. Do the exercise as regularly as you can – preferably once or twice a day. And try to find somewhere quiet so that you can refocus your attention to your muscles and your body.

Remember, this is a preventative as well as an active tool. In other words it’s a useful exercise to practice not just when you are feeling tense but to help prevent the build-up of tension too.

Please note, if you have any problems such as pulled muscles, broken bones or any medical issues please consult with a doctor before you engage with this relaxation tool.

Practicing Tensing The Muscle:

Firstly, start by tensing a specific muscle group e.g. your right hand. Focus on the muscle whilst taking a deep breath and squeeze the muscles in your right hand for about 5 seconds. Feel the tension in your hand by making a tight fist. Try to focus on the right hand only and don’t let other parts of your body tense. Don’t tense so hard that you hurt yourself but ensure you really feel and focus on the tension.

Practicing Relaxing The Muscle:

The next step is to relax the tensed muscles. After your 5 seconds of tensing, let go of that tension and let the tightness flow out of the muscles so that they feel relaxed and limp. Really focus on how different the feeling is between the tense and relaxed muscle and engage with the feelings of the relaxed muscle.  Stay in this relaxed state for about 15 seconds before moving onto the next muscle group.

Now Start From The Bottom and Work Up:

Ideally you would start at your feet and work your way through the different muscle groups of your body, but if you prefer to start somewhere else, that’s fine, as long as you work through all the different groups in your exercise.

The different muscle groups to focus on are listed below:

  • Foot (curl your toes downward)
  • Lower leg and foot (tighten your calf muscle by pulling toes towards you)
  • Entire leg (squeeze thigh muscles while you are still tightening your lower leg)

(Repeat on other side of body)

  • Hand (clench your fist)
  • Entire right arm (tighten your biceps by drawing your forearm up towards your shoulder and “make a muscle”, while clenching fist)

(Repeat on other side of body)

  • Buttocks (tighten by pulling your buttocks together)
  • Stomach (suck your stomach in)
  • Chest (tighten by taking a deep breath)
  • Neck and shoulders (raise your shoulders up to touch your ears)
  • Mouth (open your mouth wide enough to stretch the hinges of your jaw)
  • Eyes (clench your eyelids tightly shut)
  • Forehead (raise your eyebrows as far as you can)
  • Whole face (scrunch your whole face up)

MENTAL IMAGERY AND VISUALISATION

Overview: Mental Imagery and Visualisation

Mental imagery and visualization can help us reach a desired state simply by creating and focusing on relevant pictures or ‘movies’ in our mind. Depending on the imagery we choose, this tool can help us feel more positive, calm and relaxed, confident, happy and so on. And being calm and relaxed or confident improves our performance because it takes us out of threat mode. This enables us to think more clearly and stay focused on the task at hand.

The Why

We now know that mentally visualizing a situation or event can stimulate the same areas of our brain that would be affected if we were experiencing it for real . Evidence also shows that if we can visualize something going the way we want it to go – instead of worrying that it won’t go well – there is a greater chance it will go the right way for us. Athletes often use this approach when they have a big game. Jonny Wilkinson would visualize the kick going through the post over and over again before he actually kicked the ball. Michael Phelps the Olympic swimmer, would imagine that he had webbed hands and feet to improve his performance in the water.

Great for…

De-stress, Drive, Confidence, Mood

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Exercise

Stop

Take a step back and think whether you already use positive imagery or visualization to impact your mood and emotions or forthcoming situations. Or do you actually tend to imagine things not going how you want them?

Challenge

Could different imagery have a more positive impact on the way that you approach your moods and emotions or forthcoming situations? What sort of images or visuals would be more useful or could leave you feeling more positive?

Change

Try some of the exercises below to change your mood and emotions or feelings towards something that is approaching.

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EXERCISES:

How To Use Visualization:

There are different ways you can apply visualization and mental imagery, depending on what you want to achieve. Below is a how-to guide to visualization, with examples of common and useful scenarios to visualize.

One of the most important things to remember is always to visualize in the first person. Imagine every detail as though you are looking at it through your own eyes, living the moment you are visualizing in the here and now. The more you can connect with how that experience feels, the more powerful and effective the visualization is.

General Steps to Visualization:

  1. Find the right place to do it. Of course you can visualize anywhere, as all you need is your mind, but it’s worth finding somewhere quiet if you are starting out.
  2. Some people find it easier to close their eyes when they do this, although it is fine to keep your eyes open if you prefer
  3. Choose what you want to focus on and visualize – it could be a technique, a skill, a place, a feeling, an outcome.
  4. Use your imagination to bring it to life as though you are living the imagery in the here and now. Think about all your senses and how they would be responding in that visualization.
    • How do things smell?
    • What sounds can you hear?
    • What can you touch and feel and what are the textures?
    • What can you see?
    • Are there people with you?
    • What are your emotions and how does your body feel?
  5. Think of a word that best describes your visualization, in terms of how it feels, or what you want to achieve or the overall experience. Now repeat that word three times as you take 3 deep breaths.
  6. That word will help you connect to that visualization in the future if you want to engage with it again.

POSSIBLE VISUALIZATION SCENARIOS:

Building a Confident Self:

  • Use the general steps above as a framework to work from
  • Overlay this by identifying a time you were feeling really confident and think about what is was like, how you felt emotionally, how it felt in your body, what were you thinking about yourself and the situation around you
  • Now think about that specific situation where you want to feel more confident
  • Imagine yourself there, looking through your own eyes but with the confident feelings and thoughts you know you are capable of, based on the connection you have just made with a previous time you felt confident
  • Imagine yourself being confident and achieving what you want to achieve, by bringing the situation to life, what can you see, hear, touch, feel whilst holding on to those confident feelings throughout your mind and body
  • See it as though it is a movie playing out from the start of the situation to the end
  • Visualize this as often as you can.

Completing a Task:

  • Use the general steps to visualization as a framework to work from.
  • Overlay these steps by thinking about and feeling what it is like to finish a task in the way you want to complete it
  • Start at the beginning, thinking about anything you need to plan
  • Think about the confidence you need to feel in yourself or in your body in order to complete it
  • Consider how it feels in your body when you complete the task, where you are, who is around you and how positive you feel towards yourself
  • See yourself experiencing a sense of accomplishment
  • Connect with how good it feels to complete it so well
  • Visualize the task such as this before you do it as often as you can.

Relaxation:

  • Use the general steps to visualisation as a framework to work from
  • Identify and picture a place, scene or image that feels relaxing for you – it could be the beach, a forest or somewhere calm that’s uniquely meaningful to you
  • It can help to have some form of water, like the sea, a waterfall, lake or river, and a wide landscape with things in the distance and in the foreground to focus on. What you find relaxing is completely individual to you
  • Now engage in all your senses, what you can see, hear, feel (emotionally and physically), smell and touch.
  • Immerse yourself in the place you are in ( in the first person, remember)
  • Use these mental scenes for relaxation whenever you need them

Soothing and Calm:

Using compassionate imagery activates our soothing system (see the Emotional Regulation model) which allows us to stay calm and focused and enables us to perform better. It helps to slow yourself down and get yourself in a calm physical state to attend to what you need to attend to. The goal is to find an image which helps unlock compassionate feelings inside you. You can then use that image when you need to create a sense of calm and focus. This imagery will be specific to you.

DISTRACTION TECHNIQUES

Overview: Distraction Techniques

Distractions usually tend to be seen as negative. But distraction techniques can be really positive too, especially when our mind gets caught up in a negative spiral or when we feel the urge to engage with unhealthy behaviours. Distracting ourselves by doing something positive enables us to get back on track or re-engage with more healthy behaviour. It helps us get ourselves out of the loop in the moment. Sometimes it helps to chat things through with someone else as these distraction techniques only provide temporary relief from our busy minds, but they will help us get ourselves out of the loop in the moment.

The Why

Distraction is a self-soothing technique and can contribute towards changing your mood by taking your mind away from something that is making you feel negative. It works because it forces you out of your head and away from an unhealthy behaviour. Positive thoughts in turn fuel positive performance.

Great for…

De-stress, Mood

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Exercise

Stop

Stop thinking that all distraction is a bad thing and consider it as something you can do to improve mood or healthy behaviours

Challenge

Consider if you could stop doing something that you know isn’t good for you and instead do or think something that will leave you feeling better.

Change

Think about some things that you find distracting yet enjoyable which you can do for 10 or 15 minutes. Jot them down in a list so that you can check in with them when you need to.

When you find you’re having some unhelpful or distracting thoughts that may not be helping your performance then try these short activities. They could include:

  • Taking a walk outside making sure you focus on your surroundings as opposed to what is going on in your head
  • Watching TV
  • Picking up a newspaper, book or magazine – something you enjoy thinking about
  • Listening to music – it’s always good to create an upbeat playlist for times where you need some distraction
  • Picking up the phone to speak to a friend or family member
  • Grab some food or a non-alcoholic drink
  • Do something creative like pick up an instrument if you play or doodle or draw
  • Pick up a pack of cards and play something
  • Do a puzzle or brain teaser

STRENGTHENING OUR SOCIAL SUPPORT NETWORK

Overview: Strengthening Our Social Support Network

Having a good network of support from friends and family affects both our mental fitness and our general wellbeing and physical health. So if we find that we’re not opening ourselves up to connecting with others or not making time to support people we know, it’s critical to make changes. You don’t need a huge network. Just a handful of friends and family, in and out of the workplace, is enough just as long as you engage with them regularly.

The Why

Poor social support networks have been shown to have an impact on our mood, especially if we are feeling lonely. A strong social support network means that you have more emotional, physical and logistical support available to you, both day-to-day and when life throws challenges at you. Relationships with others provide an opportunity to talk things through and even for mentoring which often reduces the stress and anxiety of problem solving. Social support can also improve the motivation and perseverance we need to reach our goals. It even affects our immune system which keeps us fit and healthy and capable of performing at our peak.

Great for…

De-stress, Drive, Confidence, Mood

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Exercise

Stop

Stop and think about how much time you are spending with friends and family.

Challenge

Does it feel like you spend enough of your time with others, so you can be supported by them and support them back? Are you realistically giving yourself the opportunities to build a supportive social network? Maybe you choosing to avoid other people or you just feel you don’t have time in your life for them.

Change

  • Don’t wait for others to pick up the phone or to organize things. Be proactive and reach out to them.
  • Sometimes we need to use the amazing levels of technology we now have, from messaging to video calling. Don’t rely on technology, though, as face to face will always be the most beneficial way to engage with someone.
  • Don’t be shy to seek support from your peers. A problem shared is not always a problem halved but it still makes sense when you need to work things through.
  • Find like-minded people. Try expanding your network of social support by going to places or joining clubs where you know there’ll be people with similar interests.

PROBLEM SOLVING

Overview: Problem Solving

All too often we overthink things we see as problems and sometimes that makes us feel worried or even overwhelmed. Yet problems are thrown at us on a daily basis. So it really helps to take a positive step by step approach to problem-solving, a technique for both overcoming day-to-day obstacles and reducing our levels of worry.

The Why

A systematic approach means you deal with problems rather than being left with them to worry about. And that’s important because worry actually sometimes either leads us to avoid the problem altogether or to start overthinking it. Worrying also keeps us “in our heads” rather than paying attention to the here and now. It stops us approaching the problem rationally and, because our brains still try to process our worries at night, our sleep can be affected too.

Great for…

De-stress

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Exercise

Stop

Is there something in your life you are worried about or that you have been over-thinking?

Challenge

Ask yourself if you have actually tried to solve the problem – or have you just been thinking about the problem, making it feel bigger and bigger?

Change

Of course, there are some problems that are simply out of your control, but for many personal issues, it’s worth trying a different and systematic approach.

The 7 Question Estimate Process is often used for problem-solving on the battlefield: it’s a great tool for sorting your everyday problems as well.

Use the following step by step questions to help guide you through solving a problem:

  • What is the problem and who is involve?
  • What is my part in the issue?
  • What effects do I want to have on the problem?
  • Where can I best achieve these effects?
  • What resources do I need to achieve these effects?
  • When and where do I need to activate these resources in order for it to work?
  • Do I need to ask for help, tell anyone or put in control measures to assure my plan doesn’t fail?

INCREASING POSITIVE ACTIVITIES

Overview: Increasing Positive Activities

We all have activities that we know make us feel good – emotionally and physically. But sometimes we just feel too busy, too focused on one aspect of everyday life or work to make time for them. This exercise is all about restoring the balance and consciously putting those positive activities back on the map.

The Why

This is a direct application of the principles of the cognitive behavioral model which underpins all the MindFit exercises. Engaging in positive behaviors – rather than negative or unhealthy behaviors – is more likely to result in positive thoughts. Positive thoughts then cause an increase in positive emotions which in turn fuels a more positive cycle of performance.

Great for…

De-stress, Mood

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Exercise

Stop

Take a pause and identify what activities make you feel happy – make a list of what these are.

Challenge

Have you recently stopped engaging in some of these activities? If so, ask yourself “why?”

Change

Consciously plan positive activities into your diary. Identify ones that you could easily do every day like listening to music or going for a short walk or a run. Then think about the ones you might do weekly or monthly – the kind of activities which take more organizing or cost something such as going to the Movies or having lunch with a friend.

SELF-COMPASSION AND ACCEPTANCE

Overview: Self-Compassion and Acceptance

Self-compassion may feel like a strategy that would hinder performance. People wrongly assume that compassion means letting yourself ‘get away’ with things or not pushing yourself hard enough. But self- compassion is crucial for high performers, because it facilitates a more positive mood and optimism and lower levels of anxiety – a lot more useful than the bad feeling we are left with when we beat ourselves up. Self-compassion is all about directing our attention in a kind and helpful way through the way we think and behave. We can provide ourselves with encouraging talk and engage in positive behaviors instead of being self-critical and harsh with ourselves. When we have self-compassion, we demonstrate tolerance and a non- judgmental attitude with ourselves.

The Why

If we engage in self-compassion we are able to calm down our fight or flight system – the emotional system that is active when we feel stressed, anxious or angry. Self-compassion also allows us to come to a place of acceptance about things and events. It helps us recognize challenging situations more clearly as natural “speed bumps” and inevitable parts of life.

Great for…

De-stress, Drive, Confidence, Mood

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Exercise

Stop

Stop and start paying attention to how you are with yourself. Are you self-critical a lot of the time? Do you often get angry at yourself? Do you put others needs above your own?

Challenge

If you answer yes to any of the questions, then start to challenge this way of thinking and behaving. What can you do to soothe and comfort yourself? Is it fair to be that harsh with yourself? How would others feel if you talked to them the way you can sometimes talk to yourself? Do you think you can look at your own needs as well as others?

Change

Start making some basic changes which will mean you are being more kind and compassionate with yourself. There are a number of different exercises you can do to help boost your self-compassion

  • Changing your critical self-talk: Start to notice what sort of language are you using with yourself. Speak to and encourage yourself the way you would speak to and encourage others if you wanted them to feel motivated and happy. Look at the statements you use when you talk to yourself and try to change critical and negative language into something more positive.
  • Kind gestures to yourself: We’re used to doing nice things to others if they are feeling challenged. So start rewarding yourself with the sort of things you know you like or enjoy. Especially after you have achieved something. List things that comfort you, soothe you, make you happy. Commit to giving yourself at least one of these a day.
  • Self-compassion 5-minute break: Take 5 minutes away from what you are doing to give yourself some warmth and kindness. This will be totally personal to you, from making yourself a cup of tea to taking yourself outside or speaking to a friend. Think about what these might be. Take the kids outside to the park after school or at the weekend.

POSITIVE SELF-TALK

Overview: Positive Self-Talk

The power of our inner critic, suggests that if we continue to feed ourselves with negative thoughts we will feel pretty bad about ourselves. Imagine how friends and family would feel if we constantly told them they’re not good enough or they need to do better or they have done something wrong. Positive self-talk – which basically means turning the inner critic into a positive, encouraging voice – is a powerful Mental Fitness strategy. It’s used across many fields, especially in sports, to ensure a positive frame of mind during training and big game days. So be mindful that the words and thoughts we use with ourselves will affect our level of performance, general wellbeing and self-confidence.

The Why

By simply starting to be aware of our inner critic and changing the way we talk to ourselves, we can start to turn that inner critic into our own internal encouraging coach. And by using encouragement and support with ourselves, we stimulate that soothing system which helps to calm down our threat system which means we feel less stressed and anxious about taking on a task. Studies have shown that positive and instructional self-talk in endurance settings enhances physical endurance and can help us perform better. Below are a few really simple exercises that you can use to help bolster your positive self-talk.

Great for…

De-De-stress, Drive, Confidence, Mood

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Exercise

Stop

Get yourself a small notebook or diary or use your phone and write down if you have a critical voice and the sorts of things you might say to yourself in one day and how many times. Log this over a day if that helps.

Challenge

Look at the list of critical things you say to yourself. Do you think your critic is quite harsh? Do you think that saying these things to yourself would leave you feeling positive or encourage you?

Change

To help over-ride some of these critical statements, at the end of each day write down 3 positive things that happened with the day and what part you played in these things happening

Exercise 2

Stop

Take some time out to think about a goal or goals that you want to achieve be that behaviors you would like to improve or change, or specific goals at work or in your personal life

Challenge

Consider if you are encouraging towards yourself about reaching this goal or, when you think about it, do you use statements like “that’s too hard”, “there’s no way I will do that”, “I’m no good at that really – I’m going to find this hard”. If so, ask yourself if you think this is helping you reach your goal. Do you think if you talked to your work colleagues, friends or family members this way, it would encourage them to reach their goals? Challenge these negative statements. Ask yourself if there’s evidence that you’ve been able to reach some of your goals in the past.

Change

Think about shutting down your inner critic. It does you no good, in fact it only serves to make you feel bad and hinders you being the best you can be. Create relevant and positive statements about yourself which are encouraging and motivating, for example “I’ve been able to achieve goals in the past so I am more than capable of doing what it takes”. Make sure that the statements are credible and achievable.

  • Write these statements down. It’s important that you write them down and don’t just keep them in your head. Make sure you write them in the present tense, for instance “I am capable of giving this presentation as I am professional and skilled at what I do.”
  • Ideally, these statements should be positive things you want to happen. So, they should be connected to positive feelings. Include this into the statement such as ‘I’m excited about giving this presentation as I can show off my skills and what I know”.

A BIT OF GREEN

Overview: A Bit of Green

Being outdoors, where there are trees, greenery and nature, has a positive impact on our ability to think and focus as well as impacting our mood and stress levels. This in turn can contribute to how we perform each day and can help us sleep better at night.

The Why

Being active helps release endorphins (our happy hormones). Getting outside can take us away from the to-do list we have staring at us at work or at home and it helps us refocus our attention away from social pressures, allowing us to focus on things that are actually important to us. Physically, being exposed to the natural sunlight means we produce more vitamin D which is essential for the absorption of Calcium – which is linked to positive mood. Meanwhile being in nature has also been shown to stimulate creativity, a really positive contributor towards our mental fitness.

Great for…

De-stress, Mood

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Exercise

Stop

Stop what you are doing (if you can!) and consider if you can make time to get outdoors.

Challenge

If you immediately think “I can’t”, then challenge this automatic thought. Is there anything you can do to make it happen? If not now, then later in the day. Are there ways you can be in nature more regularly in your day?

Change

Find ways to change your behavior to get nature into your everyday life e.g.

  • Try and take at least 2 walks of fifteen minutes a day.
  • If you have been sitting at your desk and stuck on a particular problem, take a break and find somewhere where there’s greenery
  • Introduce a plant where you work
  • Try and incorporate a route with trees and greenery into your journey to work
  • Get on your bike outdoors, go fishing
  • Go for a stroll in the park or eat your lunch outside.
  • Take up a hobby which requires you to be outside.
  • Take the kids outside to the park after school or at the weekend.