Let’s get physical

Oliver Burkeman focuses on tiny changes with the biggest impact. This month, small active tricks to boost emotional resilience


Let’s get physical

The idea

When you’re facing a problem that’s psychological, it’s easy to assume the solution must be psychological, too. Try finding new ways to think about the issue. You may consult friends, read self-help books, or write in a journal, but it’s easy to forget that the brain is also a physical organ, so it’s deeply affected by what’s happening elsewhere in your body.

The simplest solution to a psychological problem is sometimes to switch your focus to the physical: make a bodily change, and a change of mind will follow.

How to make it happen

Use ‘HALT’

This stands for Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired, and originates with Alcoholics Anonymous: they’re the conditions most likely to make people resume drinking, but you needn’t be an alcoholic to benefit. The next time things are bad, ask if one of these is to blame. It’s amazing how often the real explanation for what appears serious is just that you forgot to eat lunch.

Feel your feet

When you’re enmeshed in negative emotions, pay attention to the sensations of your feet, in your shoes, on the ground. You know how hard it is to multitask? This trick exploits that fact: when you’re truly focused on physical sensations in the present, you won’t have the bandwidth for worrying.

If in doubt, get moving

Exercise, even if it’s a five-minute stroll in the park, combines all the best ways of using the body to influence the mind. It’ll improve your mood, and boost energy. But it’s also a distraction, and if you’re exercising in nature, even better: that’s the environment in which humans evolved to flourish.

Oliver Burkeman is author of ‘The Antidote: Happiness For People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking’ (Canongate, £8.99)

Photograph: iStock

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