4 simple tips to add to your daily routine to calm the mind and your life

Hugh Simson by Anne Carolien Kohler GetTogetherPhoto 87.jpg

Last weekend, I swam the swim leg of the Team event at the Noosa Triathlon on Sunday - 1.5km ocean swim, a mate did the 42km bike and my cousin did the 10km run. For you who don’t know me personally I’m a decent swimmer, I came 3rd in the 50m freestyle at the 2016 PanPacific Master Games 34-39 year farts... soo I can swim.. but long distance is not my thing, plus ocean swimming “no way”. I didn’t really train, I did a couple of  1km pool swims and surfed every other day, so I thought I would be ok. Looking out at Main Beach Noosa and watching the full tri competitors swim around the buoys, I was feeling pretty relaxed... We got marshalled at the start... the gun went off and about 30 of us ran into the water. I waded out and started to swim... people were crashing into me, I was touching the guys feet in front, my arms and legs were being hit.... I started to get overwhelmed..I couldn't find any room to swim properly.. I was like WTF have I got myself into, I started to do breaststroke… waited for a gap so I could swim and get into a rhythm.. I started to lose my breath and panic a little bit.. I had only  been swimming for 200m, but it felt like ages and this is what I was feeling.. I felt like I was in a water stampede.. I started to do backstroke so I could catch my breath.. and thoughts started to rush into my head, what if I swam to the lifeguards and said I felt sick and stopped, what if I couldn’t make it.... I lay on my back doing the old survival stroke, and I started talking to myself .. "Hugh.. just breathe..."

So I started doing some back stroke and taking in some big breaths. I got my breath back and I flipped over and started to swim, five strokes, then did some breaststroke.. then 10 strokes, did some breaststroke.. then before I knew it.. I was in a rhythm.. 

What did I take away from this? Life is exactly the same....

Doing things outside of your comfort zone from swimming, public speaking, taking on a task at work etc can all create stress an anxiety..... (and when you purposefully put yourself in those positions you train your mind and body to become more resilient... more about this another time)..

Stress or anxiety is one of the leading causes of illness in the corporate world, as it contributes to heart disease, mental health issues such as depression, and of course the main health issue: obesity. Urgent deadlines, over-promising and under-delivering, performance management of you or your staff , difficult clients, conflict with colleagues, high work-loads, poor management skills, promotions, demotions, bonuses... do these sound familiar? 

These are just some stressors you face day-to-day, not to mention whatever is going on in your personal life, too. Stress is created by our body’s inbuilt response of fight or flight mode, where you are faced with a situation that you either have to deal with then and there to overcome (fight), or run from it (flight). Have you ever noticed when you get stressed or become anxious you start to breathe faster, your mouth opens wide, your heart is pumping out of your chest, and it all makes the situation a lot more stressful? 

It comes down to being prepared (training yourself to get comfortable with the uncomfortable) and being able to have a practice to fall back on, like a safety mechanism which you can pullout at any moment which can assist you overcome that stressful moment..

Here are some tools you need to add to your routine to start ruling it!

1. Get a good nights sleep

I can’t “stress" this enough (no pun intended) and I do talk about it a lot. Your brain needs its rest in the form of sleep to reboot and reenergise itself - kind of weird analogy, but do you ever notice when your computer starts to run slower, you close all the open windows, then you turn it off and back on ("reboot") it starts to work better? This is what sleep does to your brain... reboots it!

Sleeping poorly regularly will lead to increased susceptibility to health-related issues as your immune system and hormone levels will begin to falter. You will be more vulnerable to illness and you will inevitably make poor choices when it comes to the food you eat. Why? Because stress causes you to crave the quickest form of energy there is—sugar. You will also start to gain weight, as the fight or flight response is getting ready to store fat because your body doesn’t know whether you are stressed because of work or because you are being chased by a lion who is going to eat you. So even if you don’t eat because of stress, your body’s natural response is to store fat for the perceived emergency. As you are functioning at an elite level every day, your senses are so stimulated it takes longer for you and your mind to unwind. So get a good night’s sleep and start creating a bed-time routine.

2. Don’t hit the Snooze...

This is your first opportunity to rule your routine, don’t ruin it by sleeping in. You have set your alarm just before you go to bed for example at 5.00 am, so your intention is set. As the sun rises earlier too, make the most of the morning..

This intention the night before has set you up for the next day and is a key component to the type of day you will have. We always have the best intentions before we go to sleep making plans for the next day, including exercising before work. We have all hit the snooze button, and slept in and woken up feeling no better for the longer sleep, but actually feel worse. As soon as you hear your alarm, grab your phone or your alarm clock and turn it off —do not hit snooze. If you are getting up earlier than normal (especially before the kids get up) you have a couple more hours in the day to get some exercise and mindfulness practices in, to set your day up for success. More about these below

These tips may sound easy, but when combined become a habit making your awesome morning routine... Slowly sit up on the edge of your bed and gather your thoughts. Take three deep breaths and slowly stand. Go to the bathroom and wash your face..... Rinse your mouth with water, to rid it of “morning breath”—I actually like to brush my teeth, rinse and use a tongue scraper (or the bumpy bit on the other side of your toothbrush.. yep that's what it is for..) to scrape my tongue. This will make you feel fresh, rid your mouth of germs, and clear the sleep out of your eyes—and when you drink your first glass of water for the morning, you won’t be digesting the bacteria built up in your mouth overnight. 

Drink 1-2 glasses of water. Your brain is 75% water, so imagine not fuelling it! When you sleep, you actually become dehydrated—ever wondered why when you have gone to the toilet after you have woken up your urine is yellow? This is a sign of dehydration. Here is my morning drinking routine here

Don’t let hitting the snooze button make you feel like you got out of the wrong side of the bed.

3. get moving & get flexible

It’s time to hit the gym, swim, pound the pavement, do yoga, or meditate. Whether it is going for a quick morning surf, walking, cycling, or going to the gym, exercise is a must, not only to help destress but to get your mind and body functioning for your day ahead. Have you ever noticed how much more energised you are after a good workout? This is because your body releases endorphins, those same hormones that make you feel good. There is nothing better than coming home from finishing a great workout or run to get you in a good mood for the day, not to mention you start the day off with a sense of accomplishment.

Remember, an exercise routine that works for one person may not work for you, so choose a physical activity that works and resonates with you and that you will ultimately enjoy. 

Exercising can be as simple as a 10–20-minute routine, even as simple as walking or running. I do CrossFit most mornings, but you can do really simple interval training at home (or if you are travelling, in your hotel) without any equipment, just your body...examples below. 

Time Poor? here are some quick fun workouts to do at home

Do 3–5 rounds (circuits) of 5 pushups, 10 squats, 15 sit-ups, which will take you 10–15 minutes (max). This is simple but effective, as you are moving your own body weight, and you can do it at home or in your hotel room when you travel.

Run/walk for 20 minutes—try to find some streets with hills and get moving. When you get fitter, you can add in squats or pushups, so at every second light-pole do 10 squats, etc. It’s all about making exercise fun and enjoyable, not a chore.

Get Flexible 

We are all so hunched over every day at work sitting at or desks, or driving our cars to work and no doubt suffer from head and neck aches and don't know why! Well it is the tension we keep in our shoulders and necks that can contribute to our headaches... I bet if you don't do any yoga., you haven't actually sat and stretched for years?!?! Can you touch your toes?!?! Well, stretching for 10 minutes a day while incorporating some deep breathing exercise will do wonders for your health and wellbeing. For example, sit and stretch your hamstrings, start with your left and stretch for 1-2 minutes, breathing deep and counting to 6 or 8 as you inhale then to 6 or 8 as you exhale. Do this for 1 to 2 minutes and then change legs. Even this simple stretch will have you walking and feeling better in the morning. I’ve become a huge fan and practitioner of stretching. Ever since I was a competitive swimmer at school, my flexibility was poor; I could just touch my toes after warming up for 5 minutes. It wasn’t until I started doing CrossFit that I noticed my range of motion, my ability to squat and put my arms over my head was causing pain and discomfort, resulting in injuries. But being flexible, being able to do simple things such as touch your toes, bend your back without pain, put your arm behind your back and being able to squat is crucial to your health and wellbeing. 

Download my simple stretching routine here..


4. get more zen..

Whether it is yoga, meditation or your own mindfulness practice such as conscious breathing this is a must in our day and age. We live such fast paced lives and taking 10 minutes out of your morning to sit in silence is awesome, I can’t speak any higher of it. The techniques I have learned over the past year since I have been regularly meditating helped me overcome the anxiety I was feeling during the 1.5km ocean swim. It has helped me be more patient with my kids (and in traffic or waiting in lines) and most of all being actually present and engaged in conversations I have.

We all have conversations daily where it is with our kids, family or work colleagues and we are thinking about everything else we have to do that day and tune out of the conversation. The techniques from meditation as simple as conscious breathing, is the tool I mentioned at the beginning of this blog post which you need to have in your routine, which you can pullout at anytime to get you through moments of stress and anxiety. I was introduced to an App called Headspace which is a guided meditation (talks you through it) where you can choose the length of time you mediate for , 10,15 or 20 minutes, and what you want help with in your life, such as pateitnts, creativity, stress etc. With the apps meditation and mindfulness techniques, you can train your mind for a happier, healthier, more enjoyable life.

Take 20 minutes of your morning to Stretch and Meditate… I guarantee you will see results!

Hugh Simson