Why everyone needs a ‘Beckham Lego’ moment

Lego and games are more than child's play: they can help calm stress and anxiety

Lego and games are more than child’s play: they can help calm stress and anxiety

Footballer David Beckham’s admission that he plays with Lego to calm him down has received widespread coverage in the press. He finds it ‘therapeutic’ to do complicated builds, and it helps him cope with anxiety. He says it helps calm him down.

Anyone who has watched children playing with building bricks will see the look of concentration on their faces: they won’t be distracted from their creation until it is absolutely finished. They are committed and completely absorbed in what they are doing.

There is a school of thought that proves this kind of mind-absorbing, relaxing activity is not confined to children and ex-footballers.

Happiness experts and positive psychologists say that people can feel more fulfilled when they discover an activity through which they feel ‘flow’. Positive psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has posted a video on Ted contributing to the body of evidence that happiness comes from “a state of heightened focus and immersion in activities such as art, play and work”.

So, how can you achieve flow? I think it can depend on where you were as a child, and what helped you feel free, safe and exuberant. Or it can be an activity where you are so absorbed in the monotony or repetition of it that it makes you forget all your troubles. It uses another part of the brain that isn’t engaged in worrying, thinking or planning.

Examples? Cooking. DIY. Jigsaws. Painting (walls as well as canvases). Board games. Writing. Dancing. Gardening. Flower arranging. Knitting. Stitching. Golfing. Swimming. Reading.

The common denominator? As well as being a switch-off, these activities can be satisfying as well as creative. There can be an exciting and tangible outcome as a result of being in ‘flow’. And for anxiety management, anything that takes the mind off what is troubling you has to be of benefit to how you manage anxious or stressful thoughts and feelings.

What’s your secret pleasure – which you are perhaps not indulging currently – that helps transport you to more creative and fulfilling realms…?

Can managing your stress help you lose weight?

Research shows that stress management can be effective for weight loss. (pic: istockphoto.com/Pogonici)

Research shows that stress management can be effective for weight loss. (pic: istockphoto.com/Pogonici)

If you find yourself reaching for the biscuit tin when you’re stressed, or if you consider yourself an ’emotional eater’, then a new study on stress management may be of interest to you.

A researcher from the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, Food and Environment wanted to test and compare the effectiveness of two interventions that help people lose weight and keep it off. One was an intuitive-eating programme – where people pay attention to their bodies, only eating when they’re hungry, and stopping when they’re full. The other was a stress management intervention, which taught people better ways of dealing with their stress.

Associate professor Kelly Webber says: “With weight loss we know that if you count calories and exercise you will lose weight. However a large percentage of people tend to regain that weight.  “I wanted to explore a couple of new avenues for producing lasting weight loss.”

The study involved 26 participants split into an intuitive eating group and a stress management group, meeting for 75 minutes twice a week for seven weeks. People in the stress management group lost 17 pounds and saw a significant drop in their blood pressure during that period. People in the intuitive eating group did not lose a significant amount of weight or see a decline in blood pressure. The stress management group had kept the weight off 14 weeks later.

Ms Webber says: “So many people in my weight loss studies say ‘I’m a stress eater or I’m an emotional eater’. This stress management-based intervention seems to be getting at the root of the problem.” She says she is “encouraged” by the results and plans to explore them in further studies.

The link between stress and eating is an interesting one. To start exploring for yourself how you respond to stress, start keeping a food journal, noting down what you eat and when  – and paying attention to the triggers that prompt you to reach for comfort food.