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Lockdown Learning: 5 Lessons from the Age of Covid

1: Stress Management

Stress management is a huge and multifaceted topic, one that has been hugely highlighted during these lockdown periods. So many clients have spoken to me over zoom, email and social media talking about how their mental health has been negatively affected by the isolation.

I’ve a couple of chapters I wrote for a book that is in a period of heavy procrastination. I’ll not copy them out here, but here's’ the basics:

1A: The Central Nervous System is like a see-saw, on one side is the Sympathetic or fight/flight mechanisms, the other side is the parasympathetic or rest/digest side.

Like a see-saw, when one side goes up (becomes more active) the other side goes down. But, this see-saw isn’t properly balanced, the sympathetic side goes up way faster than the parasympathetic side, and can be a bugger to get back down again. It makes sense as to why when you consider we evolved to live in the wild like any other animal, but we have essentially stepped out of the food chain and created an environment where survival is no longer a priority, it’s a given.

1B: There are, as suggested by neuroscientist Andrew Huberman, 5 “Gates” into the nervous system. These are: Perception, Emotion, Action, Thoughts, Sensations. Figure out which Gates “open” most easily for you and you’re going to do well.

1C: Breath work is still the gold standard for controlling the nervous system aka stress response. Quick, forceful breaths where the inhale is the same or longer than the exhalle will raise the arousal level, slow breaths where the exhale is longer than the inhale will lower arousal. There are several reasons as to why this happens, but one i didn’t know until recently was that as you inhale the space in the rib cage reduces, the heart has less room, so it beats a little faster, arousal goes up. As you exhale, space increases, the blood pressure drops as there’s more space and arousal lowers. This simple bit of info simplifies the whole breath work thing. Do I want to be inhale dominant and send a stress signal, or exhale dominant and send a relax signal?

1D: All the meditation, breathwork, self awareness in the world is still a poor substitute for connection. Homo Sapiens is a pack animal, a herd animal, we live in groups. When we were out in the wild, the group naturally had a fairly strong familial vibe, the closer the group thought and worked as a unit the stronger the tribe became. Disharmony within the tribe could be disastrous for survival. We no longer have this in modern society, as mentioned, we have eliminated the need to simply survive in the modern world. This group identity has been replaced by individual identity, which isn’t necessarily wrong, unless we never find people with similar identity values. This is why the “club” is such a valuable concept. Be it a BJJ club, a Hurling Club, a Lifting Club, a Chess Club. The precise nature of the club isn’t vastly important, yes, you reading this will probably, like myself, lean towards the physical endeavours, but don’t discount the cerebral endeavours too.

I’m not devaluing the importance of solo endeavours (keep it clean people!) There’s few things that can beat getting out on the mountains or in the forest on your own.

2: The Kettlebell is still the king of the home gym!

Of course I’ve known this for years, but having spent the vast majority of my time in my own little gym over the last decade, it’s been a long time since I’ve trained at home with any frequency.

Lockdown has changed that. Like most of you, I’ve had to train at home.

And as much as I love bodyweight exercise, you just can’t beat the simple kettlebell.

My home collection contains 1 x 12kg, 1 x 16kg, 2 x 24kg, 2 x 32 kg. My wife uses the 12 and 16, I use the 24’s and pull out the 32’s from time to time.

You just can’t beat them. Swing, Squat, Lunge, Press and Get Up. Add in some skipping, maybe a pull up bar and you are golden.

All around the world I have people training and getting incredible results with just a couple of bells and their bodyweight. A few guys are training with those cheap concrete dumbbells, and they’re getting amazing results. And one in particular is using a bulgarian bag. It’s not the kit that makes for the results, it’s the person and the effort they put in. But if I were to say go and get yourself a single bit of kit, I’d be recommending the kettlebell. It is the swiss army knife of home fitness kit.

3: Modern Technology is awesome, if a double edged sword

I mentioned connection earlier. Through lockdown we have had the gift of technology to maintain connections. Yes, it’s not the same as being in the room with someone. But it’s way better than nothing. The double edge of technology is that we become too used to the convenience of using it and forget about the analogue world that we truly belong in.

Outside of the video calls, the instant messaging, the social media, we also have the online training apps (I use Train Heroic [affiliate link]), HRV tracking, Heart Rate monitors, Strava, Interval Timers, you name it, we have an app for it.

But ultimately, all you need is a willingness to do work.

We can get lost tracking every minor detail. We can become obsessed with what our smart watch is telling us about our sleep quality, we can obsess over a wayward HRV result, we can become anxious if we deviate from the training plan as shown on our online app.

We can outsource all our thinking to technology and in doing so we run the risk of killing our own creativity, our ability to listen to our bodies, to feel what's going on with our physiology. Using tech should assist our natural instincts and innate knowledge. It should never replace it.

4: Structure is vital

Over the last 2 years I’ve spoken to many clients who had lost all structure to their days. And their mental health was struggling as a result.

The workday provides a structure. Your job tells you when to start and when to finish, when to take a break, and what tasks to get done. Working from home removes some of these time constraints. One big thing you lose is the action trigger.

Action triggers are little routines that, well, trigger and action.

When this is done, then this will happen…

A normal day would go like: Wake up, morning routine, leave the house and commute to work, do the day, commute home, evening routine. Somewhere in that you’d fit in gym, sports practice, social time.

But what about when there’s no commute and no gym?

Chances are your morning routine is a series of action triggers that culminate in you arriving to work at a certain time. Action triggers that lockdown pretty much removed as you no longer have to commute any further than the laptop.

So setting up a morning routine, say a mobility set or a mediation practice in place of the commute can start the day, your workout can signify the end of the work day.

It’s a discipline, but to quote Jocko Willink, “Discipline = Freedom”

When we allow routine to slip, we lose control of the day.

5: You are resilient, but you should already know that!

We may train for this thing called “fitness” maybe for sport. But really what we are doing is providing a much needed physical challenge and test of our mental and physical fortitude. A test that we can continue to build strength, mobility and endurance in mind and body.

Strength, mobility and endurance that can and will stand up to any challenge.

Our modern 1st world lifestyle doesn’t provide many challenges, we have essentially stepped out of the food chain and live in the safest time in recorded history. This allows for us to get soft. Unless we seek out challenge.

And that is what you do, you have done and will continue to do.

You are Wild Geese which means you will willingly challenge yourself mentally and physically so that when a real challenge is thrown your way, you know you are adaptable, strong, enduring and damn resilient.

2020 and 2021 have been like no other. Job losses, isolation, fear, frustration. But you are strong and you have endured and will continue to endure.

Now, get ready, 2022 is coming...


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