Let’s face it, 2020 hasn’t gone to plan for anyone.
Some were meant to take the next step at work only to be made redundant. Some were meant to get married in the Mediterranean only to see that dream sail off into the sunset. And many have suffered at the hands of an invisible illness that has become an unwanted part of the vernacular.
Now, if you live in the usually thriving city of Melbourne, you are in stage four lockdown due to a spike in coronavirus cases in this part of the world.
But as they say, tough times don’t last; tough people do. Six weeks isn’t an eternity, even if it will feel like that some days.
In times like these, it is worth listening to the experts. That’s where highly regarded mental skills expert Emma Murray fits into the equation.
The 47-year-old played an instrumental role in Richmond’s drought-breaking premiership win in 2017 and has continued to be a central figure in the Tigers’ renaissance ever since.
Murray has had a profound impact on not only the AFL powerhouse but on New Zealand racing car star Scott McLaughlin – who has won the past two V8 Supercars championships since working with Murray – young cricketer Will Pucovski, Olympians Morgan Mitchell and Cate Campbell, as well as some of Australia’s largest companies.
When Dustin Martin won the Brownlow Medal a few years ago, the superstar midfielder mentioned Murray in his speech, less than a week before he gave his Norm Smith Medal to her son Will – who was left a quadriplegic after suffering a serious neck injury a year earlier – underlining how big of an impact Murray has had on his career.
“My big message, particularly to men who I speak to a lot in my work, is when we are in stress what is really important to understand is, yes there are thoughts that are really stressful, but those thoughts really reflect in our physiology,” Murray told Man of Style.
“We hold stress in our physiology. When we’re trying to cope in a stressful situation it is not so much only about thinking positive and being grateful and having the right perspective, it’s even more powerful to really manage our physiology.
“What that means is to really get a good breath routine going, where when I feel overwhelmed or cabin fever or that fear of money, that I have a solid breath routine I can come back to. When I change that breath, what’s happening is I’m changing my physiology; my diaphragms moving; my postures changing, those feelings send a message up to my mind that everything’s fine.
“Sometimes it’s a lot easier to change our physiology than to change our thinking and our thinking then catches up. Over this next six-week practice, do your exercise, do your meditation, but really find a mental practice such as breathing that is really going to help you over this period and beyond this period as well.”Mindfulness journals have been in vogue for a few years now, thanks in part to programs like The Resilience Project, who have championed the value of jotting down your thoughts on a daily basis. But if writing in a journal is a chore for you, Murray doesn’t think you’re alone.
“The journal thing is an interesting one. For me, I hate writing and it is purgatory for me; it is another thing on my to-do list; I feel guilty if I don’t do it, whereas I love meditating. It is about finding what works for you,” she said.
“Some love journaling. Will Pucovski loves journaling. Dusty Martin loves journaling. Alex Rance hated journaling. It is about finding out what works for you and what doesn’t.
“Some people love structured journals with questions already inside them, while others like to write about gratitude or what they want to do for the day or what might trip them up that day so they are prepared for it. if you like to brain dump, then journals are a great tool for you.”
One thing that is a non-negotiable in this period is exercise. If you are someone who has struggled to lace up the runners or hasn’t transformed their living room into a yoga studio, Murray advises against using the one-hour of exercise per day to flog yourself.
“Exercise is critical. I want people to remember that motion changes emotion. We want to think of that word ‘emotion’ as energy in motion,” she said.
“Our emotions are just the energy moving through our body. We then stick a label on them. We have this energy moving through our body and we go, ‘That feels terrible, I’m really depressed or frustrated or I’m angry’. If we want that emotion to shift, we have to shift that energy. We have to do that with motion.
“I recommend anyone in stage four to use that hour out of the house to really move in a way that is a little bit more gentle, so we are feeling the sun, we are feeling the wind – we are putting ourselves to recharge our batteries, rather than flogging ourselves. Just remember: any motion changes emotion.”
Mental health has seldom been more important than it is right now.