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.