Finding a flow state: how to reduce stress this silly season

14 December 2020
Flow state article pic

Our emotional wellbeing not only affects our mental health, it also has a profound impact on our physical health, as it affects the choices we make around our diet and lifestyle habits. When we feel good mentally and emotionally, we tend to engage in healthy behaviours. When we don’t feel good emotionally, we’re more likely to neglect healthy diet and lifestyle habits, which can further exacerbate our negative headspace. Poor emotional well-being also leads to physical changes in the body that can adversely affect our physical health.

The key is to be able to keep some of our diet and lifestyle habits on track when we don’t feel good emotionally and may be stressed. This will help keep our body and mind resilient. When we’re stressed, a good diet and lifestyle increases the robustness of our bodies and minds, therefore mitigating the effects of stress on our physical and emotional health.  

The components that make up our emotional well being are complex and multifaceted. Here are some of the main ones:  

  • Connection to nature and animals 

  • Sense of community

  • Quality and authentic personal relationships 

  • Social connection 

  • Faith and spirituality 

  • Silent reflection 

  • Engagement in hobbies

  • Ability to find a flow state 

  • Sense of purpose – what are you willing to fail and suffer for?

  • Movement, play and fun 

  • Leaning into discomfort and adversity 

  • Lifelong learning 

  • Hope and things to look forward to

  • Quality time with loved ones

  • Good value system

  • Altruistic behaviours 

  • Ordinary things in our lives that we often fail to be grateful for 

  • Gratitude – actively practicing it 

  • Leaning into joy

  • Vulnerability  

  • Personal boundaries and walking away when it’s not right – this is not failure

  • Shame resilience 

  • Wholehearted living 

  • Feeling and believing you are enough 

  • Authenticity 

  • Being comfortable with risk, uncertainty, emotional exposure and discomfort 

Sadly, our modern world, societal structures and societal norms make it quite hard to develop and maintain all of these components, which are vital to our mental and emotional wellbeing.  

Finding your own type of stress reduction and flow state

When people think of stress reduction techniques, as well as coping mechanisms for stress and mental health issues, they typically think of things like meditation and yoga. These strategies do have many benefits and work for many people, however, they’re not for everyone and are not the only options. In fact, these things can sometimes exacerbate a person's emotional state (i.e. meditation for an anxious person or someone who has experienced trauma can actually be detrimental).

Instead, we can broaden our horizons in what we consider to be forms of stress reduction and what we believe is useful for coping with uncomfortable emotions. This is where the concept of trying to achieve a flow state is helpful. No doubt about it, uncomfortable emotions can usually signify a deeper issue at hand that needs to be addressed and we shouldn’t try to push it to the side. However at the same time, there is room for engaging in activities that bring us into a flow state, allowing us to “get out of our heads” and into the present moment. This is because constantly thinking about our emotional turmoil is tiring and we sometimes just need a positive break to clear our headspace and “re-set” our minds. 

In positive psychology a flow state, also known colloquially as being “in the zone”, is the mental state in which a person performing some activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energised focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity.

When you look back on your week, think of at least 3 things that allowed you to reach a flow state. A behaviour/activity that allows you to be in a flow state will always satisfy the 5 criteria listed below. Flow state behaviours can overlap with hobbies and forms of exercise. If you can’t think of anything that allows you to be in flow, start looking!

Flow state criteria: 

  1. Something you enjoy

  2. You lose track of time (time becomes non-existent – either goes really fast or really slow)

  3. Brings you completely into the present moment 

  4. Increases your connection to your mind OR your body OR people you love OR nature/animals

  5. Breaks up the daily routine of life. 

Try to find something where there is a balance between the challenge of an activity and the skill you have in performing it. It must also tick the criteria above. This will help you achieve a flow state, which has many physical, emotional and cognitive benefits even days after being in a flow state. Surfing is my main flow state and it satisfies the 5 criteria above. Achieving a flow state will always satisfy the criteria above. 

Note: High skill + easy task = boredom. Low skill + hard task = out of flow. If you have low skill due to starting something new, don’t aim too high and get ahead of yourself – this leads to frustration. Lower your expectations, be realistic, start small and work your way up. Be consistent at showing up, trying your best and focus on the consistency of the behaviours that are required in the process to get better. Don't focus on the outcome. The outcome will naturally come when you focus on the consistency of behaviours that are directed towards the outcome. Embrace and learn from the failure and discomfort of starting something new. 

This article was written by our Melbourne Wellness Naturopath and certified personal trainer Alon Blumgart. Alon is passionate about helping his clients implement practical, sustainable and evidence-based diet and lifestyle habits, alongside treatment with herbal and nutritional supplementation. Alon specialises in a range of conditions including chronic gut/digestive issues (e.g. Irritable Bowel Syndrome, candida and parasite infections), female hormone disruption (e.g. PCOS, endometriosis, fibroids, PMS, post-pill hormonal disruption, menopause, infertility) and mental health issues (anxiety and depression). To book an appointment with one of our Melbourne Wellness Naturopaths, contact us now.