The quest for clear skin is something of a holy grail for me. I’ve had eczema since childhood but that’s something that I’m used to. What frustrates me more is the fact that I’ve had more breakouts in the last 18 months than I ever had when going through puberty! This has made me look more closely at skincare and the importance of what we put on our skin and into our bodies. As many people know I’m an advocate of Neal’s Yard Remedies – the products are made from organic essential oils and free from synthetics and other nasties. You can read more about Neal’s Yard products here, but the focus of this post is to look at what we need to consume through our diet to achieve healthy skin.
We know antioxidants are good for us, but do we know why? Time for a quick GCSE science lesson. The body is made of molecules and when they do not contain the right amount of electrons, they become unstable and can turn into free radicals. Too many free radicals in the body can lead to illness and disease. However, the body also produces antioxidants – hurrah! Antioxidants ‘donate’ spare electrons to the unstable molecules, therefore neutralising and preventing them from becoming free radicals. Got it? It took me a while. We need a good balance of both free radicals and antioxidants, so it’s important to eat antioxidant-rich foods.1
Food sources include dark chocolate, blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, kale, red cabbage, beans and spinach.2
This mineral plays a vital role in the promotion of wound healing and healthy skin, especially for people with acne. It helps to control the production of sebum (oil) in the skin – too much of which can cause outbreaks. In some cases, acne is a sign of zinc deficiency.
Food sources include dairy products, eggs, cereal products including wheat germ, bread, meat, shellfish, pumpkin seeds, ginger, pecans and Brazil nuts.3
Essential fatty acids
These are required for maintaining optimum health, including skin repair and energy. We require many types of fatty acids but there are two ‘essential’ fatty acids, which cannot be synthesised by the body and have to be consumed through food. They are omega-3 fatty acid (alpha-linolenic acid) and omega-6 fatty acid (linoleic acid). Omega-3s are particularly important in balancing the moisture content of the skin, alleviating dry or inflamed skin and that which is prone to whiteheads or blackheads.
Food sources include oily fish, flaxseeds and linseeds. Top tip – if you’re not keen on fish, Aldi sells bags of milled linseed which is great for mixing into cereals and smoothies, or sprinkling over salad.
This antioxidant promotes tissue elasticity. It prevents cell damage from free radicals and it’s suggested to play a role in the prevention of skin cancer by acting as a defence against excessive exposure to UV light.
Food sources include tuna, salmon, garlic, Brazil nuts, whole-wheat bread, brown rice and eggs.4
Vitamin C provides a range of health benefits – it reduces the risk of chronic diseases, helps to lower high blood pressure, supports the immune system, etc. In terms of the skin, vitamin C reduces damage caused by free radicals that can compromise collagen and elastin – support structures within the skin – resulting in premature signs of ageing.5
Food sources include broccoli, kale, red and green peppers, leafy greens, spinach, parsley, tomatoes, lemons, oranges, strawberries and blackcurrants.6
This is another effective antioxidant known for reducing damage to the skin caused by overexposure. It prevents wrinkles and the signs of ageing and, when applied to the skin in creams and lotions, it softens and soothes dry skin.
Food sources include vegetable oils (including wheat germ and sunflower), sunflower seeds, nuts, spinach, broccoli, peaches, prunes, cabbage and avocados.7
Important in the repair and maintenance of the skin, an adequate level of vitamin A prevents dry and flaky skin. It is often found in treatments for acne and other skin conditions.
Food sources include chili peppers, liver, cheese, eggs, oily fish, spinach, carrots, sweet potatoes and yellow fruits, such as apricots.8
This golden oldie will not come as a surprise. With the average adult body composed of 60% water, its importance should never be overlooked. Water helps to remove toxins from the body (especially after a lovely massage once the lymphatic system has been given a boost!) and keeps the skin looking radiant, hydrated and smooth.
Word of warning – it’s always best to get the vitamins and minerals you need through a healthy diet. If you ever decide to take supplements, always get the advice of a pharmacist, nutritionist or your GP. On the recommendation of a ‘therapist’, I once took a range of supplements to rebuild my strength after illness. Within a matter of weeks I became very ill due to overdosing on magnesium! I only had myself to blame for not getting the correct advice in the first place, but rest assured it’s a mistake I will not make again!
Until next time. X
I’ve had eczema since childhood and it’s safe to say my skin is my Achilles' heel. As soon as I feel stressed or run down, my skin flares up and there’s no way of ever knowing how long it will last. I’ll always remember sitting my GCSEs on a really hot summer’s day, wearing a thick roll neck jumper. My eczema was so red and angry across my back and neck I couldn’t bear the thought of anyone seeing it. I’ve visited dermatologists and homeopaths, applied steroid and other topical creams, and tried pretty much anything else that claimed to relieve the condition. But nothing has ever given me long-lasting relief. Ironically, the only thing I can do to calm my skin down is to have a spray tan. Figure that one out?! But it genuinely calms everything down for a few months.
The more I’ve learnt about anatomy over the years, the more I’ve come to appreciate the major role our lifestyle plays in our health and wellbeing. Quite often, when we go to the GP regarding an ailment, any prescribed medication will usually treat the symptoms rather than the cause. This is because sometimes it simply isn’t possible to identify a definitive reason for the problem. This has certainly been my experience with eczema over the years.
So, my interest switched from trying to alleviate the external symptoms of eczema, to better understanding what’s going on inside my body and what I can do to alleviate the condition from within. My research identified a recurring theme – inflammation. Within the body there is good and bad inflammation. For example, when you sustain an injury, such as a cut to the hand, inflammation kicks in as part of the body’s immune system. The area becomes red and sometimes swells due to the increased blood flow to the site of injury. Inflammation is also the start of the healing process, with our white blood cells rushing to the area of injury to defend against infections, bacteria and viruses (1).
However, sometimes the inflammation process continues and the body remains on a high state of alert. This is known as chronic inflammation and it is suggested that it can contribute to the development of major diseases including cancer, arthritis, heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, and depression (2). With chronic inflammation, the symptoms are less obvious than those experienced during acute inflammation, such as when you cut your hand. This is because the inflammation takes place deep within the body. Symptoms of chronic inflammation can include (1):
There are a number of chronic conditions that will require anti-inflammatory medications, such as arthritis and polymyalgia rheumatica. Many believe it is also possible to reduce the level of inflammation within the body through nutrition.
One theory of explanation is that ‘leaky gut syndrome’ can contribute to ongoing inflammation (3). It is believed that due to a number of factors, such as poor diet and an overuse of antibiotics, the lining of the bowel becomes irritated and its function is compromised. Harmful toxins ‘leak’ through the bowel lining and into the bloodstream. This in turn prompts the immune system into action, resulting in inflammation throughout the body. It is claimed that such inflammation is linked to conditions including (3):
While there is some scepticism as to whether leaky gut syndrome exists, many studies have shown that certain foods do induce inflammation, while there are others that reduce it. Harvard Health Publishing (5) suggests that the following foods should be limited or removed from the diet to prevent inflammation:
According to the Arthritis Foundation (4), studies have shown that omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants provide anti-inflammatory benefits to the body. The Mediterranean diet, consisting largely of fish, olive oil, nuts, fruit and vegetables, is rich in such nutrients. In people with rheumatoid arthritis, following such a diet reduced symptoms of pain and morning stiffness (4).
Foods suggested to reduce inflammation include (1, 5, 6):
The foods listed above shouldn’t come as a great surprise, as they’re all generally known for their health benefits and disadvantages. It’s important to note, however, that an anti-inflammatory diet is not a replacement for prescribed anti-inflammatory medication.
We live in a fast-paced world with an array of ready-prepared foods available for our consumption. But if our health is paying the price for such quick and easy meals, perhaps they’re not so convenient after all?
As a self-proclaimed lover of spreadsheets, to-do lists and action points, and with a secret obsession of buying beautiful notepads to fill with never-ending tasks, it’s probably not surprising to hear that I love January and the chance to set more resolutions for the year ahead! It’s a time to reflect on the year gone by and the new beginnings that await in the coming months.
You might be wondering why I’m writing about this subject towards the end of January, but given that most people will by now have given up on their New Year’s resolutions, I think a bit of a pep talk is in order.
Where does the concept of New Year’s resolutions come from?
As with many traditions, New Year’s resolutions have religious origins. At the start of each year, the ancient Babylonians would promise their gods that they would return borrowed farm equipment and pay their debts. It is also believed that the month of January is named after the Roman god Janus – the god of beginnings, transitions and open doors. He is depicted with two faces, one looking to the future and one to the past. Ancient Romans would offer promises of good intentions to Janus in the hope of a positive and fortunate year. So, if the practice of making resolutions is so longstanding, why are they so hard to commit to?
Had I achieved mine from last year, by now I’d be a super bendy yogi and meditation master. Am I either of these things? Of course I’m not! I know I’m not alone when it comes to giving up on great intentions. You only have to look at your local gym – it will be rammed in January and deserted by the second week of February. In fact, research carried out by Bupa found that the most popular New Year’s resolutions are to exercise and lose weight (38% of all resolutions made by those in the study). However, 56% of all people in the study failed to maintain their resolutions; the main causes being loss of motivation and/or lack of commitment.
How can we stick to them?
According to behavioural psychologist BJ Fogg, we’re setting the bar too high. In order to adopt a new habit you have to focus on something small and specific, and attach it to something you already do.
This theory was expanded further by author James Clear, who discusses the 3 R’s of Habit Change. He believes we are the result of our habits – how we feel, what we do, etc. In order to change or create new habits he suggests we need to adhere to the following three-step pattern:
How to develop a lasting resolution
Harvard Medical School lecturer Dr Marcelo Campos recommends we should write down our goals as the process of doing so creates a sense of commitment. When writing our goals we should ask ourselves the following questions to steer us in the right direction:
It’s also worth sharing your goals with others, as according to Prof Neil Levy at the University of Oxford, we’re driven by “loss aversion”. Simply put, we are more concerned about retrieving something we’ve lost as opposed to gaining something we never had. For example, if you used to be a pianist but haven’t played for years, you’re more likely to reconnect with the piano than you are to take up a new instrument.
The ‘loss’ could also be something as simple as your reputation. Levy suggests that our reputations are a driving force to succeed: “We don't want to get a reputation as unreliable, so publicly announcing our plans can be motivating.”
Don’t give up
So, if like me you want to start again and set yourself some realistic goals for 2018, here are a few tips:
Most importantly, remember that the general purpose of New Year’s resolutions is to start doing something that will make you happy or benefit your life in some way. If your new behaviour leaves you feeling fed up or disappointed, start afresh with a new goal and refocus your efforts.
On that note, I’ll leave you with a quote from Jane Fonder:
“It’s never too late – never too late to start over, never too late to be happy.”
P.S. One of my New Year’s resolutions is to write more frequently on this blog! It will be pretty obvious in a few months’ time whether or not I’ve managed to stick to it…
I try to practise what I preach (most of the time), which is why once a month I have a deep tissue back massage. In the media we hear so much about the importance of following a good diet, maintaining a healthy weight, exercising, reducing (or eliminating) the amount we drink/smoke, etc. The yoga boom in recent years has brought more attention to the importance of correct body posture, but is enough being said about the consequences of neglecting our joints and muscles? It would be difficult to lose weight if you had a reoccurring back problem that made it difficult to get through the day, let alone an exercise class.
In day-to-day life we expect a lot of our bodies and it’s only when tested that we realise how resilient we are. However, we can never take our physical health for granted. It only takes one awkward twist or manoeuvre and you could end up with a niggle that might last months or even years. I didn’t appreciate this enough until last year when I was involved in a car accident. Someone drove into my car from behind (which was stationary in a queue of traffic), forcing it into the car in front. I knew instantly that I had jarred my neck and went to a walk-in centre. I was told that I had most probably sustained a whiplash injury, which might feel worse before it gets better. Two days later, the pain literally took my breath away. I couldn’t turn my head and was walking like a robot. I received ongoing treatment from a physiotherapist and as with most whiplash injuries, it all settled down in time. That said, I’ve now been left with a weak spot and if I don’t look after my neck/shoulder muscles with regular massage treatments, I soon know about it.
Given that it’s Back Care Awareness Week, now is as good a time as any to highlight why massage is so important in terms of maintaining and looking after your back. I’m going to do this by tackling some common misconceptions about massage.
1. I’m not in pain so I don’t need a massage. Wrong! I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, prevention is better than cure. By taking care of your back muscles you will have a better chance of recovering from an injury should you sustain one. More importantly, you can prevent an injury from happening in the first place. While some injuries result from a sudden impact or trauma, most of my clients are in need of treatment due to long-term incorrect muscle usage. Poor posture, wear and tear, and tightness can all contribute to back pain and discomfort. Regular massage treatments can help to keep muscles loose and limber, rectifying the daily stresses we place on them.
2. Massage is just for people who like to be pampered. I’m guilty for having once thought this but experience has taught me differently. While relaxation is an obvious and well known benefit, there are many other reasons why people need massage treatments. For example, massage can improve sleep by reducing the level of cortisol (the stress hormone), which if elevated at night can cause sleep disturbance. A leg treatment can be very beneficial for pregnant women who experience swelling in their feet and lower legs, as massage boosts the lymphatic system, which rids the body of excess fluid and waste (in addition to transporting infection-fighting cells around the body).
3. The benefits are short term. This is not necessarily the case. If you have back pain resulting from years of poor posture, or even a recent injury, one massage will not ‘fix’ you. There are no quick fixes when it comes to repairing muscle and soft tissue damage. However, regular massage treatments can encourage muscles to relearn their correct functionality and positioning.
4. No pain no gain. Some people enjoy being pummelled by a massage therapist and think that if they’re not reduced to tears, then it’s not really doing anything. Depending on the type of massage you receive, you might feel tenderness and discomfort. For example, receiving a sports massage can be far from relaxing. However, that does not mean that other forms of massage, such as Swedish and deep tissue, are not effective. All types of massage boost the circulatory system by bringing oxygen and nutrients to cells throughout the body. This aids healing but also promotes the health and functionality of muscles.
5. It’s expensive. I think this misconception comes from the belief that massage is more of a treat than a necessity. For me personally, massage wasn’t something that I used to spend money on as I didn’t think I needed it. It wasn’t until I sustained a few injuries that I realised I needed massage to not only undo the damage that had been done, but more importantly, to stay pain free afterwards. Think of massage as car maintenance. Each year you service and MOT your vehicle to ensure its safety and to prevent a potential breakdown. Your body is no different. Without maintenance, wear and tear will eventually take its toll. Why wait until you hit a bump in the road?
I hope the above has unravelled some of the most common massage misconceptions and made you consider massage and the importance of body maintenance in a different light.
For a full list of my treatments click here. If you'd like further information about the benefits of massage feel free to get in touch.
The human body is a fascinating organism. It constantly works hard to produce and repair cells, defend against illness and disease, remove waste, process the nutrients we put into it (and the not-so-nutritious content we consume), enables you to reproduce, and basically live each day to the best of your physical ability.
It isn’t until there’s a kink in the chain and something goes wrong that we really appreciate the value of our health. From personal experience, I was not prepared for the length of time my recovery would take after I had pleurisy. I tried thinking of all the things I could do to speed up the process and even pushed myself, thinking if I wanted it bad enough, recovery would happen that much faster. Sadly, while our bodies are remarkable works of art, they also work at their own pace and you just have to let your body mend one day at a time.
There isn’t anything we can do to ensure that we will never catch the most recent virus or bug that is doing the rounds, but we can give our bodies the best chance possible to defend themselves. The effectiveness of the immune system declines as we age, so getting into the habit of eating the right foods will benefit you in years to come. With approximately 70-80% of your immune system located in your digestive system, feeding it with the nutrients it needs will enable your body to work as efficiently as possible.
Top 10 immune-boosting foods
1. Almonds: almond skin has been found to aid white blood cells (our immune system cells) to identify viruses and stop them replicating and spreading throughout the body. If you buy almond products, make sure the skin is still intact on the nut as many almond products contain almonds that have been blanched to remove the skin.
2. Broccoli: contains phytochemicals that produce the colour, flavour and smell of vegetables. They have been found to boost the immune system. The healthiest way to eat vegetables is to steam them, as this helps to retain the nutrients, which can be lost when boiling.
3. Cinnamon: it is not just an easy way to flavour foods or drinks but it boosts the immune system and is believed to also regulate blood sugar levels.
4. Spinach: is packed with vitamin C, one of the main vitamins that support the body’s immunity and helps to protect healthy cells. Like broccoli, try not to boil or overcook it in order to retain the nutrients.
5. Citrus fruits: when eating a high-fat diet, unused fat is stored in the body’s cells, which can harm healthy cells. The immune system protects the healthy cells but if a high-fat diet continues for a long period of time, the immune system eventually becomes suppressed. Citrus fruit is high in antioxidants, reducing the risk of damage to healthy cells, therefore supporting the immune system.
6. Garlic: when the cloves are cut, chopped or crushed, allicin, an immune-stimulating nutrient, is released. Garlic has been recognised and used for thousands of years for its proven infection-fighting benefits.
7. Ginger: it contains an oily resin called gingerol, which is an antioxidant with anti-inflammatory properties. It also prevents the build-up of toxins in our organs and helps to clean the lymphatic system, which transports waste products away from cells throughout the whole body.
8. Sunflower seeds: contain the mineral selenium, which helps the immune system to protect against cell damage. They also promote healthy skin, hair and nails due to high levels of vitamin E.
9. Turmeric: with more than 6,000 studies referencing turmeric and its endless benefits, it’s safe to say this is one of the most well-known and used natural remedies to support the body.
10. Crushed red pepper: a 2010 study published in Nutrition and Practice found that the antioxidants contained in the fruit support the body's immune system in the fight against disease.
If you are in need of some inspiring recipes, visit EatingWell for a wide range of meals that you could try.
One of the most effective things you can do when you’re feeling stressed is to take control of your situation. It might sound easier said than done as it’s very easy to feel overwhelmed when you’re run down. However, only you can change your circumstances. Acknowledging and facing your stress will get you off on the right foot and empower you to bring about positive change.
Here are some stress management techniques that you could include in your daily routine to help promote your mental wellbeing.
This is one of the most natural activities humans can do to express themselves. Regardless of whether or not you can hold a tune, solo or group singing has been proven to benefit your mental wellbeing. A study published by Psychology of Music found that the anxiety levels of individuals who took part in a structured one-hour choir session had reduced anxiety levels at the end of the activity. When singing, the pituitary gland in the brain releases endorphins – the hormone responsible for relieving pain and inducing feelings of pleasure. This physiological effect leaves you feeling less stressed and more positive. With Christmas slowly approaching, why not join a local choir and start preparing for carol concerts? Choral singing also has social benefits and is a great way to meet new people.
There can be no better way to improve your wellbeing than by helping others. Volunteering helps individuals to build social ties and support systems, increasing confidence and reducing isolation. While developing a sense of purpose, helping others by volunteering also increases your levels of dopamine – another of the body’s main feel-good hormones.
This technique will be no surprise. Meditation has been practiced in the east for thousands of years but moved to the mainstream more recently. It is a technique used to quieten and calm the mind, resulting in emotional positivity and a sense of peace. Mindfulness is one type of meditation, where you focus the mind on the present moment and the ‘here and now’. Studies have shown that mindfulness meditation can improve emotional stresses including anxiety, depression and pain.
The aim of mindfulness meditation is observation. As you focus on your breathing, you acknowledge the thoughts that come into and out of your mind, without reacting to them. Mindfulness is based on the principle that thoughts come and go but you choose how you respond to them. By not physically and mentally acting on negative thoughts, you allow them to pass, giving you greater control over your thoughts and in turn, emotional wellbeing.
There are many meditation apps to introduce beginners to the practice and even as little as 10 minutes a day can have a positive effect. I have to admit that I’m not the most disciplined person and can go days without meditating. But I can honestly say I feel a lot calmer when I get into a good routine. I find it more beneficial to meditate when I get home from work, as it helps me to let go of anything that has bothered me during the day.
We all know the importance of exercise – it reduces blood pressure, cholesterol levels and reduces the risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes and many other lifestyle-related conditions. Exercise also stimulates the body to produce endorphins and lowers the levels of stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol. While it can be difficult to motivate yourself to go to the gym or an exercise class in the first place, most people would agree that they feel much better for doing so after they have worked out.
For some people the gym can be quite an intimidating environment to walk in to. I remember joining a local gym a few years ago and feeling really anxious just walking from the entrance to the changing room. My heart was beating so fast I didn’t need to do a cardiovascular workout after that! As the weeks passed it got a lot easier as I became relaxed seeing regular faces. However, there are plenty of other forms of exercise that you can do outside of a gym. My favourite form of exercise is walking. It’s free and being outside in the fresh air really lifts my spirits. Brisk walking offers all of the health benefits mentioned above, doesn’t hurt your bank balance and can be done on your own or with others.
5. Breathing techniques
Breathing techniques are considered to be one of the best methods to reduce stress levels. One of the most beneficial stress-management techniques that I was introduced to is the 4/9 breathing technique. After I had pleurisy I saw a counsellor to manage my health-related anxiety. He taught me this very simple technique that has become part of my everyday life. All you need to do is count to 4 as you breathe in and 9 as you breathe out. Do not purposely change the speed of your breathing, just focus on the counting. As you start to do it you will notice that your breathing will naturally fall into a relaxed rhythm.
Breathing techniques work by counteracting the symptoms of stress. When you feel agitated your pulse rate increases, blood pressure rises and you breathe quicker. By focusing on your breathing you are first and foremost distracting your mind from whatever it is that is causing your distress. As you deeply inhale in a calmer manner you enable more oxygen to circulate around the body and alleviate the symptoms of stress.
To feel the benefit of breathing techniques it is important to do them every day and not just when you’re feeling stressed. Regularly practising a breathing technique means that it will have a quicker effect when you need to calm your mind and body. I do my 4/9 breathing while sat at the computer, walking around the office and when driving. You can literally do it anywhere.
For more information about stress management, this How to Manage Stress PDF from Mind is a useful resource. Your GP can also advise you if your stress levels are having a negative impact on your wellbeing.
Next week I will explain how a strong immune system starts in the gut and which foods help to boost your body’s defence system. Have a good week!
There isn’t a day that goes by when you don’t hear about someone’s ailments. It seems that we are no longer prone to illness primarily during the winter months, but we’re vulnerable to sickness all year round.
I never knew of my grandparents, or even parents, to ever really be ill. It makes you wonder if we’re becoming more susceptible to illness with each generation, or if our modern lifestyle (and the consequences of it), plays a bigger role in our health than we’d like to admit? Personally, I’m more inclined to believe that our wonderful online world with 24/7 access to pretty much anything and everything might also be our downfall. Modern day developments have certainly brought us new opportunities and ways of doing things, but they have also brought with them unsustainable demands, higher expectations, less patience and almost no ‘down time’ to switch off.
Employment is often one of the most stressful areas of a person's life. Figures released by the Health and Safety Executive UK suggest that there were 488,000 cases of work-related stress, depression or anxiety in 2015/16 – that’s a rate of 1,510 per 100,000. This statistic only includes the recorded cases. I don’t doubt for a second that there are many more people who are ‘managing’ to live with high levels of stress due to work.
So, what does all this mean for our health? One thing you can be certain of is that excessive stress will always manifest itself and negatively impact on your physical and/or mental wellbeing. I don’t think I know of a single person who has not experienced the physical consequences of too much stress.
I noticed a change in my wellbeing when I was given a Blackberry by a company I used to work for in London. How fantastic, I thought, as I was told that I could now answer emails until 10pm at night from my US client. As for having weekends off, don’t be silly. And don’t think I wasn’t given a disapproving look for not checking my emails on my day off. The hindrance of being office-based during the standard working week (which was what I was paid to do) was now removed thanks to this palm-sized gadget, meaning I could work seven days a week. Perfect, just what I had always wanted. When my work-related stress levels were at their worst, I lost half a stone in a week and my entire back and chest were covered in eczema. As you can imagine, I felt pretty miserable.
Knowing the signs
In terms of knowing what to do to protect our health, the saying, “prevention is better than cure” springs to mind. Sadly, too many people let their stress levels get out of control to the point where they are forced to seek help. Early intervention helps to minimise the consequences of stress and reduce recovery time.
We all know the common signs of stress – anxiety, depression, migraines, high blood pressure, digestive issues such as diarrhoea or constipation, chest pains, insomnia, etc. But what about the more discreet symptoms? Here are five signs that might be telling you to take a break and reassess the state of your health.
1. Ongoing colds/illnesses
It might only be an annoying runny nose or tickly cough, but if a minor ailment continues for a prolonged period of time or reoccurs frequently, it could be a sign that your immune system is not as efficient as it could be. Our white blood cells (lymphocytes), which destroy harmful organisms that threaten the body, can become suppressed during periods of chronic (long term) stress, making us more prone to infection and disease.
2. Frequent urination
Have you ever emptied your bladder and then felt like you needed to do so again within minutes? There may be many reasons for this but stress can be one of them. When you’re stressed and the body senses a threat, you go into ‘fight or flight’ mode. In preparation for either response, the body tries to rid itself of waste to make you lighter and more prepared for either fighting or running away. Sometimes, the fight or flight response doesn’t switch off, and the body remains in a state of alert, causing the continuation of frequent urination.
Research published by the Ohio State University in 2016 found that chronic stress can result in forgetfulness. Research carried out on mice showed that when stressed, the immune system sent macrophages (immune cells) to the brain, causing inflammation. Fortunately, the mice recovered within 28 days once the stressor had been removed.
4. Slurred speech
When very stressed or anxious, your brain can struggle with coordination and cognitive processes. Slurred speech can be caused by poor memory recall – difficulty finding the words you want to say. Your brain has to work harder under stress, resulting in poor focus and execution.
Muscle spasms (twitching) can be caused by stress and is most noticeable around the eyes. It can last for short or long periods of time. If the cause of stress is identified and managed, the twitching should eventually stop on its own accord. I can personally relate to this symptom as sometimes my eyes will twitch uncontrollably when I’m feeling run down. It’s not helpful when you’re trying to concentrate!
Managing the symptoms of stress is achievable once the cause has been identified. It’s important to remember that any symptom of stress, as horrible as it is, is your body’s way of saying, “I can’t function properly in this current state.” Your body is remarkable in many ways and it’s important to tune in and listen to it.
Keep an eye out for my next post, which will feature stress-busting management techniques that you can incorporate into your daily life.
I grew up thinking that people who enjoyed massage were wealthy, had a lot of spare time on their hands and generally liked to pamper themselves. Obviously, this was a completely wrong assumption and why we are taught at an early age not to judge people! As I trained as a massage therapist, I soon discovered the many wellbeing benefits offered by holistic treatments.
One of the benefits of massage that excites me the most is the effect on the body’s nervous system. Now I know this will not sound very exciting to most people, but as I’m really passionate about promoting physical and mental wellbeing, this is something that I can easily do when massaging someone using the appropriate techniques in relation to their current health and needs.
Here is a brief overview of how the simple power of touch can help someone de-stress, feel calm and quite often, fall asleep on the massage couch!
What is the nervous system?
The nervous system is the communication and control hub of the body. It is made of nerve cells that send messages and instructions from the brain to all parts of the body, and vice versa. It comprises of the following:
The PNS features two systems of its own but I’ll only touch on the most important one – the autonomic nervous system (ANS). The ANS controls involuntary bodily functions that occur without us having to think about them – the beating of your heart, breathing, digestion, etc. It also has its own sub-divisions that generate opposite outcomes.
Now, in case this has all been a bit biology-heavy so far, I’ll introduce a term that most people are familiar with – the fight or flight response. No doubt you’ll have heard of it before but if you haven’t, you have certainly experienced it many times over. Here is an overview of how the two sub-divisions of the ANS work in relation to this physiological response.
1. Sympathetic system – get ready to rumble or do a runner.
This system takes over when the body prepares for a threatening or stressful situation, whether it’s a physical outburst (fight) or retreat (flight). By doing so the body produces stress hormones (adrenaline and noradrenaline), which cause the following:
2. Parasympathetic system – rest and digest.
The parasympathetic system does the complete opposite, balancing the nervous system by relaxing the body and maintaining bodily functions while it is at rest. When the
parasympathetic system is in control it’s responsible for:
Where does massage fit into all of this?
If you’re still with me, you’re probably wondering what all these systems have to do with massage. Well, we would like our parasympathetic system to be functioning the majority of the time, but due to the increasing number of stresses in day-to-day life (work, family, financial, etc.), sometimes our sympathetic system kicks in and remains ‘switched on’ for longer than we’d like. We can’t simply tell ourselves to calm down, but we can incorporate lifestyle choices to help restore balance to our nervous system.
In addition to giving you the opportunity to have peaceful and quiet time to yourself, massage stimulates the parasympathetic system, therefore bringing the above benefits to the client during their treatment. It is recommended that anyone booking a massage chooses a treatment that lasts one hour or longer, in order to really benefit from the relaxing effects. It is also beneficial to have an evening massage, as once the parasympathetic system has been engaged, it will promote a better night’s sleep – the most common feedback I receive from clients.
I find it extremely rewarding to be able to help a client’s body completely relax using simple yet effective massage techniques. I even take it as a compliment when a client falls asleep during a treatment, as it signals that their body is responding to the massage and they feel safe and calm enough to do so with me as their therapist.
This is my first ever blog post and I have rewritten it more times than I care to remember, as I’m somewhat of a perfectionist* and can overanalyse things. These characteristics aren’t necessarily a bad thing but they’re not always very helpful. What I was trying to put into words was the reason behind this blog and why I became a massage therapist. In a nutshell, it was to manage my anxiety.
I feel like I have been on a bizarre journey since I came home in 2012 after a year of travelling and it’s led to me finding my own calm sanctuary in massage. Through this blog, I not only want to highlight the benefits of massage but I also want to explore and discover other ways of living a healthy and positive life. I will share more of my own experiences and topics that will be of benefit to other people, who also seek to live a more holistic lifestyle.
A few years ago I became ill and spent a week in hospital. It was quite a distressing experience due to a variety of reasons, all of which could have been avoided. Consequently, I had quite severe anxiety for some time after. When I first started having symptoms of anxiety I didn’t even realise what it was. I thought I was just ‘weird’ and couldn’t understand why I felt the way I did. A month after being discharged from hospital I returned to work but I didn’t feel like me anymore – I was constantly on edge. I could feel my heart pumping in my chest and would regularly check my pulse (which annoyingly I still do to this day), which unsurprisingly would be beating at a fast rate. This in turn made me more anxious and made my heart beat faster. This was the start of a vicious cycle that continued for a long time. I was also overcome with fatigue. I would sit at my desk in the morning and dread the seven-hour wait for 5pm to come round. I felt like I couldn’t inhale enough air and generally felt rather shit. I couldn’t see any light at the end of the tunnel and the weeks and months of feeling like this felt like years. I watched the lives of my friends roll on but I felt like my life was on pause.
It took a year for me to regain my strength and energy levels. After feeling the way I did for such a long time I wanted to do something positive, which would not only help other people who had been through a similar experience, but also to help me focus my mind on something else. I’ve learnt that distraction is the key to managing anxious thoughts.
I threw myself into studying massage and qualified as a body and sports massage therapist. The courses were a lot more intense than I had imagined but as I’ve always had an interest in the human body, I thoroughly enjoyed learning about anatomy and physiology. It also helped me to understand better how the body reacts to stress and the physical consequences that can be experienced.
It might sound odd to say, but massaging other people helps me to relax and it’s why I love doing it. The only time I really relax is when I’m focused on helping someone else to unwind and switch off. The smell of essential oils, soft lighting, calming music and the slow, sweeping movements of massage almost send me into a trance-like state.
What started primarily as an activity to help me relax soon turned into a service needed by many people also seeking support with their overall wellbeing. As I started to massage more clients, I was taken aback by the number of people in need of support with their mental wellbeing. I thought my experience following illness was unique and isolating, but in fact stress and anxiety are widespread concerns. I think this is a sad reflection on the world we’re living in, but I do believe that through certain lifestyle choices we can all find ways to manage our challenges.
I’m thankful that I discovered a skill that I enjoy just as much as my clients. I believe I have started an ongoing journey in the discovery and understanding of wellness. There are endless methods and techniques that can help us all look after our physical and emotional wellbeing. I look forward to expanding my knowledge in the years to come and sharing all that I learn through Inner Wellness Massage.
*Perfection doesn’t exist. Having finally realised this, life has been much more enjoyable.
Inner Wellness Massage Blog
Welcome to my wellness blog! This is where I will share all things health and wellbeing. I hope to encourage others to prioritise their own health while I continuously work to better my own.
Disclaimer: the views and experiences shared are my own and information based on health-related topics has been researched. While this blog promotes and encourages a healthy lifestyle, I am not a doctor and the content is not intended as medical advice. Always seek help from a medical professional if you are concerned about your health.