How the State of Flow Can Limit Your Stress Levels


Theconcept of flow was first outlined by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in abest-selling book by the same name on the subject. Flow does not refer to “goingwith the flow,” however, it refers to the state of mind one enters whencompleting a particularly difficult task that engages certain neural centers ofthe brain. This usually happens with a challenging workout or a game thatrequires timing and attention.

When you enter the state of flow, it stops you from overthinking about your yearly evaluation at work, or about those upcoming holiday parties where you must endure a round of questioning by your aunt who wants to know why if you are still single she can’t set you up with that nice doctor at temple.

Flow Helps Solve Problems

Flow does something else, though, it increases problem-solving skills and reduces your reactionary thinking in moments of stress because your neural pathways have practice at readjusting for unexpected challenges. Over time, neural pathways can be strengthened and our thoughts tend to repeat in whatever particular way we practice. Therefore if you practice making healthy and rational adjustments to unexpected challenges, when you face one in real life, like a delayed flight when your parents were adamant about dinner reservations the second you land for Christmas, you will be able to more calmly adjust without that dramatic reactionary stress.

It Can Be Used as a Strategic Tool

It is also a strategy you can use during a stressful task. For example, you can create a challenge for yourself at work on how to tackle a complex assignment so that you hit certain goals by particular times of day, creating a game for yourself out of the task. If you look at your work as an opportunity to induce a state of flow, you will be able to turn it from an anxiety-producing experience into an anxiety-reducing experience.

Flow is Easy Implement

This isfairly easy to implement, enjoy a reasonable amount of video game time at homeafter a stressful day, or a game of Tetris on your phone for a few minutes immediatelyfollowing a stressful meeting. Or you can choose to combine your sense of flowwith physical exercise by picking a fitness class that involves a somewhatcomplicated routine, like a boxing class, bootcamp, or dance class. It is okayif you aren’t good at the choreography, the point is just to focus oncompleting a complicated task that is purely for enjoyment.

Duringyour holiday travels download games like Tetris for your flight, grab yourfavorite cousin for line dancing at the local country bar in your hometown, orif you have family visiting Miami, bring them to try out a Salsa night andreally focus on learning some new moves.  Try treating your gift-wrapping and holidayshopping as opportunities to get lost in the task you are completing in orderto block out other stressors.

Take a look at a few of these resources below to get more information on the concept of Flow and how to implement it:

Sarah Russ, LCSW is a mental health professional in Miami focused on practical, actionable therapeutic strategies for mental well-being in a world of overstimulation and misconceptions about what constitutes true self-care. Sarah received her Master of Social Work from NYU and has been working in mental health for seven years. She specializes in healthy coping strategies and crisis management for those with chronic illnesses, substance use, and anxiety. You can follow her @mentalhealthformillenials or schedule a session with her at Arvon & Associates in Aventura, Doral, or Virtually by calling 305-936-8000.

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