5 Things Drew Harrisberg does every day for mental clarity
By Exercise Physiologist, Drew Harrisberg
- A swim in the ocean (cryotherapy)
For me, cold water immersion is like a cup of coffee. It gives me an energising/awakening effect that can’t be matched. Cryo is a form of hormesis i.e a low-dose stressor that elicits health benefits. I swim every morning of the year and often end my day with a second one. If you don’t have access to a beach, a cold shower or an ice bath is another great way to build a strong mind and body. The self-inflicted nature of the pain makes it a bulletproof stimulus for growth.
- A workout
No matter how stressed, distracted, or foggy my mind is, a workout is a trustworthy remedy for me. It’s almost impossible to think about any life-stresses when you’re in the middle of a tough set. If I really need a release, I’ll smash a boxing workout at 12RND Fitness. It’s the ultimate outlet. There’s something so satisfying about smashing a boxing bag. I get the same feeling when I surf a big wave. Both the gym and the ocean demand that you’re 100% all there. Afterwards, you feel refreshed and rejuvenated.
- Movement Snacks
Movement promotes movement. I often break up long periods of sitting with small bite-sized movement snacks. Something as simple as 20 bodyweight squats or 20 up-dog-down-dog transitions liberates me, both physically and mentally. Whether I spend long periods of time working on my computer or writing a song on the guitar, simply moving my body unlocks a sense of focus and creativity.
- Mindful breathing techniques Mindful breathing is a tool that enables me to bio-hack my autonomic nervous system (ANS). The ANS is responsible for regulating bodily functions such as heart rate, respiratory rate, digestion, blood pressure, blood flow, body temperate, sweat rate etc. It is made up of two opposing systems: the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems. The parasympathetic nervous system is the rest/digest system responsible for rebuilding and restoring the body. The sympathetic nervous system is the fight or flight nervous system responsible for priming the body for action and mobilising stored energy. Most people live in a state of sympathetic overdrive due to the daily ongoing chronic stressors of the modern world. We want to flow in and out of these two nervous systems throughout the day without being overly dominant in either one. For example the sympathetic nervous system should be active during a workout, an important meeting, event, public speaking, or any time of day that makes you required to be alert. The parasympathetic nervous system should be active when you are resting, eating a meal, digesting your meal, sleeping, meditating etc.
Box breathing is a simple technique that I utilise regularly on a daily basis. An example of box breathing could look something like this:
Inhale for 4 seconds through the nose, hold for 4 seconds, exhale for 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds. Repeat for 4 rounds (or as many rounds as you desire).
You can also utilise any duration you desire (I personally like to use 6-8 seconds). When using this breathing technique try to inhale using your diaphragm. You don’t want shallow, high, ‘chesty’ breathing. You want deep, low, ‘belly’ breathing.
Great times of the day to use breathing techniques are after any time that you’ve been in sympathetic overdrive for extended periods of time such as after stressful back to back meetings or phone calls, when you’re stuck in traffic, after a strenuous workout, and before meals is a wonderful way to prime your body for optimal digestion.
If I really feel brain-clutter I’ll get out a pen and paper (yes, I’m old school) and write down all of the things that are bothering me. I’ll put them in list-form with dates that I need to have them done by. Next, I’ll attach a line of gratitude to my problems. I always say if I could choose my problems I’d take the ones I’ve got. It’s a great way to put things in perspective. Goal-setting is another brilliant way to clear the mind. I’ll write down goals in a hierarchal order of priority. I make sure they’re SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, timeline) goals and I always try to make them aligned with my values. That way I won’t waste my time seeking things that are not congruent with my ethics and beliefs.