As a professional footballer, if he is fortunate, begins his career as a child and ends it as an adult having known nothing but the same well-organised, rigorous daily schedule. There are even some of us who spend all those best physical years of our youth and adulthood at the same club.
Institutionalised is a description I would apply to my life as a footballer at Manchester United.
I had been there from the age of 14 to 42, and my life had been so distinctively shaped by the rhythm of life at Old Trafford that I realised, when it was coming to the end last year, I had to make some preparations for the change.
Aaron Lennon’s story has made mental health of footballers an issue again and I think that for his sake and everyone else in the game it is important to be open about how we feel as professionals, and how we cope with stress.
I know that those outside of the game will point to our wages and the kind of lives we live and to an extent that does cushion us from the challenges that many face, but it does not make us immune.
When my life as a player and then coach at United came to an end last summer When my life as a player and then coach at United came to an end last summer When my life as a player and then coach at United came to an end last summer
There were little things too. I joined a gym for the first time in my life, and his simple suggestion that I join one half an hour from my home forced me to make a routine.
My whole life had been mapped out during my 28 years at United. From my schooling and then my life as a player, week after week, year after year, even the close-season summers. Then finally I had never been busier than the last two years as a coach under Louis Van Gaal.
I am grateful for everything the game gave me but I also realised that my career was ending at the age that a lot of people outside football achieve seniority and success in their own lives.
I was looking forward to watching my son play football at the weekend for the first time, and being able to do that has been fantastic. Spending time with my children these past 10 months has been a great pleasure, but they have their own school lives and the hours between drop-off and pick-up have to be filled too.
I knew that would be difficult psychologically and that I had to prepare for it, and for the most part it has been fine. I can still remember Steve Bruce and Bryan Robson telling me when I was a teenager that my career would go past in a flash and that suddenly I would be wondering what was next. I never paid them much attention, but they were right.
A s for the life of a footballer itself, I can say that it does come with stress of its own. I have to admit that I never really enjoyed the games. There was too much at stake playing for United. Unless you were 3-0 up with 10 minutes to go you learned that football had a habit of tripping you up. It was never wise to look around and relax and to enjoy the moment.
I did love training. Although it was always intense, there was not the pressure of matchday and you were with people you liked and respected playing the game you loved. We ate well, we were well looked after and that daily hit of endorphins from exercise has a big effect on your mood.
I do not know what has affected Aaron, but I always struggled in the periods I was out the team or playing badly. I had a feeling of worthlessness. As a footballer you wonder if your team-mates are looking at you and asking the questions you are asking of yourself. Why can’t he hit a decent pass? Why’s he always injured? What’s wrong with him?
I took defeat personally, and there were times after we lost a big game that - if we were not required at the training ground - I would not come out the house for two days. I know now that it is not helpful or normal – but it is hard to know what is normal when you are in that environment.
T here are people who do very stressful jobs – doctors, nurses, policemen, teachers, lawyers. I have nothing but respect for that. The one thing I felt was unique to a footballer’s stress was that every day when I left my house I never knew what I would encounter.
There might be 30 autograph requests over the course of the day, or 30 selfies. There might be none. There might just be nice things said. Or there might be aggro, and a harsh comment. It was the uncertainty about what the day held that got to me.
During my playing career I saw a psychiatrist once, when my hamstring injuries got bad. When I started playing no one did that. There was a mentality that you had to get on with it. That one bad result changed nothing, that the cream would always rise to the top. That was one way of dealing with the pressure I suppose, and then gradually speaking to psychiatrists or experts became more commonplace.
I have seen team-mates changed by their experiences: David Beckham after the 1998 World Cup, Phil Neville after Euro 2000. They had to distance themselves from events around them. They had to become stronger. At times you have to put on a face for the world. Fame – notoriety if you can call it that – is a strange thing, and you have to handle it as best you can.
I know that with some players, the end of their career has been a relief.
S tress is something I learned to take seriously as a player and I can say that I struggled with the pressure at times, just as I worried about what it would be like when I final stopped playing. And I guess, looking back, I have been one of the lucky ones.
Following on from just completing a very successful four-day corporate mindfulness event for a major branded corporation's, global leadership conference held near Heathrow, providing mindfulness sessions, from global CEO’s and vice presidents, to global managers, group and department managers, we would like to offer your company the same services.
We are a local small but effective therapy centre, with a wide range of experience and qualifications on mental and emotional health.
What we can offer:
Providing customised group mindfulness sessions for you and your employees, we can tailor make packages for? (the packages we offer):
· CEO and senior executives.
Our single session courses include:
· Advising your employees on stress and anxiety in the workplace.
· Teaching your employees how to reduce stress and anxiety in the workplace.
· Showing your employees some techniques that can reduce anxiety and stress in the workplace when it appears.
Benefits and outcomes of our courses:
· Ensures that employees have an understanding of what triggers anxiety and stress.
· Teaches employees how to deal with stress and anxiety in the workplace therefore increases the ability to deal with stress.
· Teaches employees the triggers that generate anxiety and stress in the workplace.
· Improves employees mental and emotional welfare.
· Improves employee morale and therefore productivity.
· Reduces employee absenteeism due to stress and anxiety related illnesses.
Our courses start from £100 per one hour session per group of employees.
· We can tailor make them for small groups of 10 – 20 employees.
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· We (offer) can arrange them for the early morning, lunchtime or early evening sessions.
· We can arrange them at your premises.
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For more information on how we may be able to help you. Please call Allan or Kate on 01784 392449 and we would be happy to discuss these sessions or other arrangements you may have of your own.
I am also a Reiki and Shamanic master specialising in panic disorders, stress, and anxiety. I am GHR and GHSC registered, following a strict code of ethics and practice (as part of membership conditions). I am fully insured with Public Liability and Professional Indemnity Insurance.
If you are looking for a professional hypnotherapist or psychotherapist, simply get in touch with me. Based in Ashford, my services are easily available to those across the London and Surrey regions.
Begin by feeling into your body lying here.
Feeling the areas of contact at this moment. Where your feet are touching the ground. The legs, your back, the arms, the head.
Noticing your breath, entering and leaving your body.
The intention of the this is to be present with our body without wanting anything at all. Not even relaxation. Of course, it’s nice to relax and its great if it happens, but that is not the goal of the body scan. The goal is to be checking in with each area of the body in a non-judgmental way. We simply feel what is there to feel. No need to stir up sensations by moving the body.
You will notice that there are a number of areas in the body that you might not be able to feel at all. And that is normal and ok. Just check into those areas as if you could feel something.
Starting with the feet, feeling into both feet right now.
Feeling into the areas where your feet are touching the ground or chair.
Maybe feeling your toes – or not. Maybe feeling tingling or temperature.
Now moving the attention to your ankles and lower legs. What is here to feel – if anything at all? Pressure of your calves against the mat? Perhaps the fabric against the skin?
And if you notice that your attention is suddenly somewhere else, just gently returning it to your legs. It’s not a problem at all, the mind likes to wander.
If you find it helpful you can imagine that you are breathing into your lower legs. As if your attention could ride on the breath. Or as if your attention would light up the area like it was a flash light.
Now letting go of the lower legs and moving the attention to your knees and thighs, what do you feel, again maybe pressure, temperature, the position of your legs, or nothing at all, numbness counts as a sensation in this practice.
Noticing that thinking about an area or picturing it in your mind’s eye is different from actually feeling it.
Now letting go of the thighs and moving the attention to the lower trunk. The pelvis and the tummy up to the tummy button. Noticing any sensations in this area. Maybe feeling the breath in the tummy or maybe not.
Then letting go and now feeling into the upper trunk … the stomach area… the chest, feeling the sensations of the breath here… with each inhalation and exhalation.
Feeling the spine against the floor, noticing any sensations that are here or the absence of sensations.
From here now moving the attention into your hands. Feeling your hands, you might notice how well you can feel your hands without having to see the, feeling individual fingers/position of hands.
When you are ready, moving the attention to the wrists/forearms. What is here to feel? Touch/ Pressure: Warmth?
Moving attention to your elbows and upper arms. Noticing any sensations here. And if your mind wanders off, just bringing It back to wherever we are. Just starting again.
From here, moving the attention to your shoulders, back of your neck and then your head. Feeling into your jaw, face, mouth nose, cheeks, eyes, forehead, your entire face.
Now opening the awareness to include the entire body again, being alive, breathing.
If you like, imagining to be breathing from the crown of your head all the way down into your toes and up and out again.
Noticing all the sensations of the body and allowing them to be just as they are in this moment.
Allowing some movement back into the body, like wiggling your fingers and toes. Stretching the body. Coming all the way back into the room.Just take a few moments to notice what sensations are present in your body right now observe the thoughts going through your mind and check in with the emotions of this moment.
Starting the Day
Starting your mindfulness right when you wake up requires taking stock of yourself. Hear the sounds outside, notice your breath, look around the room.
Dial your senses into the sensations you encounter as you shower, get dressed, and eat breakfast; all of the things that we do in the morning. Mindfulness incorporates a keen attention to the little details. Make your morning count, be present in it. Don’t think about that meeting at 11 or the presentation this afternoon. Taste the eggs and toast on your plate in front of you at this very moment. You are laying the groundwork for the rest of your day.
Arriving at Work
When you get to the office, don’t get distracted by the inevitable bombardment of information and distractions that are inherent in a workplace environment. Emails, files, voicemails, phone calls, your boss and co-workers, all of them provide continuous, multi-layered stimuli that can affect your mood from one minute to the next. Even the nature of the work that you’re tasked with completing can bring on large amounts of stress quickly.
But try not to get caught up in all of it. Stop periodically. Take a deep breath. Check in with all of your senses. Do some quiet meditations from time to time, it can take the form of a short walk to the break room, sitting upright quietly at your desk for a brief minute, or listening to a calming piece of music in a pair of earphones.
Remaining centered throughout the day will go a long way towards improving your mood and productivity.
Stop and Think First
The fast-paced nature of a successful workplace can threaten to overwhelm anyone into a stressed rhythm. This may cause undue amounts of pressure and force us to react hastily. How you respond to things is a large part of practicing mindfulness in your daily life. Being more conscious of your practice at work will probably take a greater commitment at first, but the more you remain aware of yourself and your surroundings the easier it will come.
Many of us tend to react quickly to stimuli, because we automatically feel that is the required action in certain situations. Instead, take pause and deal with the stimuli around you in measured answers. The same goes for solving difficult challenges and problems that might occur during the day. A crisis is not an excuse for you to stop being mindful, in fact it’s a call for you to focus on your training even harder.
The Little Things
Mindfulness comes at all times and in all things. It’s not only about staying in the present and focusing on your behavior when people or situations become intense, it’s also about noticing the minute details and remaining present in them constantly. The way you respond to stress starts in how you react to the little things.
Take pause and just notice the hum of the computer, the way the coffee tastes as you sip, re-read that email because you may have missed something the first time. Remain attentive in everything that you do. It will make the difference between having a good day at the office and one you’ll want to forget. Try it right now as you’re reading this article. Look around you. What do you see, hear, and feel?
These are the building blocks to becoming more mindful.
Research studies have found that people who practice mindfulness irrespective of whether they had practised meditation before or not reports:Feeling less stressed, anxious and depressed, happier, inspired, satisfied with life.