‘Stress’ tends to manifest itself in two ways in the body. We either have too much energy running around our system and feel ‘hyper’; with tense muscles, churning stomach and the inability to focus; or we feel a deep lack of energy, fatigued, withdrawn, and a lack of motivation.
Does this sound familiar? When dealing with the challenges of the past year you may have felt your own energy swing from one of the above examples to the other. Here are some suggestions of activities that will help to bring you back into that middle ground and feel more in balance
Our body is able to create a huge surge of energy to get us away from anything we consider threatening. In our daily lives, anxious thoughts trigger this same response, and while this energy remains circulating in our body, it will be more difficult for our nervous system to be able to shift out of the stress response and into a state where we feel calm. One of the most effective ways to release this ‘excess’ energy is exercise. Any form of exercise will be beneficial, so do whatever is possible within your range of fitness and ability. If you have a health condition that means you are not able to exercise, or you don’t have the space at home, then TRE or Tension Releasing Exercise is an effective alternative. A technique created by Dr David Berceli, who first used it to help heal traumatised communities in countries affected by violence and war, it is a technique that is now taught in classes and on a one-to-one basis. Online teaching may now also be on offer.
There is a strong connection between the body, mind and breath. Learning to breathe well is one of the most powerful ways of revitalising your mind, body and emotions, and when practised regularly the benefits of breathing exercises are far reaching. They help rid the body of waste products, increase a sense of vitality, and calm the mind and emotions during stressful times. If you are interested in trying this for yourself ‘The Power of Breath’ by Swami Saradananda is an easy to follow and inspiring book with many different breathing exercises. Conscious use of the breath is practised in hatha yoga which is an excellent way to deepen your connection to your body and another way to build good breathing habits. For local yoga classes in person and online I highly recommend Yoga Crow.
The vagus nerve is part of our parasympathetic nervous system and a great regulator of our body. It helps shift our body out of ‘fight or flight’ and into a calm balanced state. We are not able to consciously control the vagus but there are many activities that influence it indirectly. Breathing exercises mentioned above are one way and here are some more simple ones you can try;
Our digestive system has around 100 million neurons, which is why it is sometimes known as our ‘second brain’. Our gut does a lot more than just digest our food, it supports our immune system, reduces inflammation in the body and most relevant here, influences our mood and how anxious we feel. It does this by working very closely with our brain and our gut bacteria or gut microbiota. Our gut and the bacteria in it are able to produce natural mood regulating substances such a serotonin and dopamine. As you can see, having a healthy and diverse microbiome supports our overall health so if you are interested in learning more about the gut microbiome, Viola Sampson is a reliable source of information on this topic.
Full Body Presence
If you are lacking in energy, feel empty, or physically numb; or if you are recovering from an illness and have post viral fatigue; it can be difficult to find the energy and motivation to do anything at all. If this is how you are feeling right now then guided visualisations and meditations can be helpful, as they only require you to listen and can be done sitting or lying down. Suzanne Scurlock Durana a craniosacral therapist based in the USA has created her own visualisation called ‘Full Body Presence’ that will help you feel more energised and connected to your body. This audio is not free but you can hear a similar shorter version on Suzanne’s website for a taster. If you have a history of trauma, please be cautious when doing exercises that focus on body sensation. Remember you are in complete control throughout and can stop the audio at any time. You may find it helps to lighten your focus if you are struggling but do not continue if you feel at all uncomfortable.
Oils have been extracted from plants, seeds, and leaves for thousands of years. Plant oils have been used as food, in traditional forms of medicine like herbalism and of course in skin care too. Most natural skin care products harness the benefits of the huge array of plant oils available to keep skin healthy and looking good. I am often asked which plant oils I would recommend for skin care so here is a shortlist of some my favourite oils.
A light easily absorbed oil that contains trans-retinoic acid and vitamin C. Rosehip seed oil is very effective at promoting skin cell regeneration, and as a result is helpful for mature skin and in the healing of scars.
A lovely odourless golden coloured oil with the silkiest of textures. Jojoba oil has the ability to permeate the skin and to pool at the base of hair follicles. If the skins own oil is gathering here and blocking the pore Jojoba oil is able to help dissolve this build-up and as a result may help prevent spots. This makes Jojoba oil ideal for oily or combination skin, helping to keep it hydrated without making it greasy. Hazelnut oil is also a good alternative.
Evening Primrose and Borage
Both of these very light easily absorbed oils are rich in Gamma-linolenic-acid, a type of essential fatty acid needed for maintaining cell structure and function. If used in skin care they are anti-inflammatory and help establish and maintain normal skin function. This makes them ideal for sensitive or dry, scaly skin, and eczema, where the skin is not broken.
A beautiful copper coloured oil with a velvety texture and a nutty aroma, Argan oil contains vitamin E and is a powerful antioxidant that quenches free radicals. Ideal for dry, lacklustre skin and skin affected negatively by stress.
Avocado oil is thick and green and unless it is deodorised has a distinctive smell. This is one oil that will still retain its benefits if refined and does not need to be kept too cool as it will start to solidify. A very effective moisturiser, it contains vitamin E and A and is excellent for very dry skin.
Shea butter is actually a fat and not an oil but is well worth including in this list. Extracted from the Karite nut, Shea butter has anti-inflammatory properties, encourages cell regeneration and healing, which makes it ideal for dry chapped skin. It is a little heavy for the face but is very nourishing used as a hand or foot cream or body lotion.
Good quality oils can be costly so you might consider sharing some with a friend or you could try less expensive oils such as Apricot Kernel – great for sensitive skin or Sunflower seed a heavier oil which is good for use on the body.
All of these oils can be used on their own, but you might like to experiment by combining oils. A good combination for dry or mature skin would be to blend an active but readily absorbed oil like Rosehip with a heavier more emollient oil like Argan. This will provide the skin with regenerating nutrients whilst moisturising and nourishing. Apply by massaging into the skin after cleansing at night.
Some things to look out for when purchasing oils:
I am pleased to tell you that close contact services will be permitted in the Loughton area from the 2nd December 2020 so I will be able to do facials again with safety precautions in place. Unless there is a change to the local restrictions which mean I can't do treatments, these are the days I will be open during the festive period.
Monday 21 Tuesday 29 2 January 2021
Tuesday 22 Wednesday 30
Wednesday 23 Thursday 31
I will have all the usual safety precautions in place. Please wear a face covering or mask when you visit and remember all the usual rules apply so if you have had a high temperature, new continuous cough, have lost your sense of taste or smell or know you have been in contact with someone who has C-19 please cancel your appointment.
I think we will all agree that being told to stay indoors during ‘lockdown’ was something everyone found challenging. There has been a alot of research into how our bodies respond to being in nature. Intuitively we feel good when we are in a natural environment and we now have scientific evidence that shows being in a natural environment has a positive effect on our wellbeing.
If you live in West Essex where we have Epping Forest on our doorstep you may already enjoy a walk in the woods, however if you need encouragement to leave your comfy sofa keep reading as I have some facts that may convince you.
The Japanese, many of whom live in densely populated cities, have recognised the health benefits of being ‘in nature’ and taken this a step further by creating Shinrin-yoku or ‘forest bathing'. This term was first used in 1982 by the director of the Japanese Forestry Agency and refers to immersing oneself in a forest and connecting deeply to the environment through our senses. It is a very pleasurable exercise in immersing yourself in your sensory experience of the forest by paying close attention to the sights, sounds and smells of your natural surroundings.
Forest bathing does not involve strenuous activity so is accessible to anyone regardless of how fit they are. In fact it is best done slowly as the idea is to notice everything around you, both large and small. For example, the quality of light, the different types of plants and insects or wild animals, all of which might be missed if you are walking speedily by. It has been proven so effective at stress reduction that major corporations based in Tokyo regularly send their staff on Shinrin-yoku holidays.
Dr Yoshifumi Miyazaki pioneered studies over many years on the effect of forest bathing on the body and summarises the key results in a book he has written on the subject. The studies found that after two hours of ‘forest bathing’, cortisol, one of the hormones produced profusely when we are under stress, was reduced by 15.8%, pulse rate slowed by 3.9%, blood pressure dropped by 2.1% and parasympathetic nerve activity (the part of our nervous system that is more fully engaged when we feel calm) went up by 102%. (Miyazaki Y 2018). Of course, what cannot be measured is the pleasure and enjoyment we get from feeling so connected to our natural surroundings.
So why not try a little forest bathing yourself this season? Autumn is the time the forest puts on a huge show and the perfect chance for us to appreciate the beauty and wonder of the natural world. Learn more about forest bathing
I have implemented new hygiene measures:
I am very pleased to say I will be able to offer craniosacral therapy once again from 15th of July 2020. At present the government restrictions will not allow me to treat the face so unfortunately, I cannot offer facials. Please contact me if you would like to book a craniosacral therapy treatment. I look forward to seeing you soon.
You may be aware that beauty and complementary therapists have not been allowed to resume treatments on the 4th of July. As I fall into this category, unfortunately I am unable to take bookings at present.
I am obviously eager to return to the treatment room and will be doing so as soon as the Government says it is possible.
When a date has been confirmed concerning the lifting of restrictions, I will contact everyone on my mailing list but in the meantime please feel free to contact me if you have any queries.
I will post a blog with an opening date when I have permission to start treatments again.
Thank you and hope to see you soon.
The good news is that I will be able to return to the treatment room from 4th of July. However, as much as I would love to resume treatments as before, infection from COVID-19 is still a threat, so I have had to make changes to the way I work.
Your health and wellbeing is of the utmost importance to me. I am a member of the Federation of Holistic Therapists and Craniosacral Therapy Association and I have been guided by their advice on how I can carry out treatments safely, without putting your health at risk.
This means I will not be offering facial treatments when I start back initially. I will be reviewing this on a regular basis.
I will no longer charge a cancellation fee. If you feel unwell the day before, or on the day of your treatment, or know you have been in contact with someone who is infected with COVID-19, please cancel your appointment. I will obviously do the same.
All payments are to be made by card. I will no longer accept cash or cheques. Prices will remain the same with a low-cost clinic for craniosacral therapy twice a month.
Safety and Hygiene
I will be wearing a mask or face shield. Please do not be offended by this and feel free to do the same if you wish.
The treatment table will be covered with a disposable semi fabric cover and paper placed on top. The couch will be wiped down with disinfectant in between customers.
Hand sanitiser will be available for your use in the treatment room. Please use this when you arrive.
I will allocate time in between treatments to ventilate the treatment room, disinfect communal surfaces and replace disposable hygiene equipment.
If you prefer to limit your contact with other people, if you arrive on time you will not have to wait in the communal waiting area.
Water – Please bring your own water to drink as I will not be able to offer you water.
I hope you will bear with me and that I will be able to return to doing facials again soon.
As you know I practice craniosacral therapy. One of the reasons people seek out craniosacral therapy is for help with managing stress and anxiety. We need a little stress to thrive but if the load is too great it can have a negative effect on the way our body functions. We may not always be aware of it but when we are under stress our inner landscape changes from being balanced into a state of high alert. It is natural to feel a little anxious from time to time, but anxiety is a state of constant worrying and an excessive and persistent state of apprehension. There are many factors that contribute to anxiety, mostly centred around our unique personal history. However, stress creates the perfect environment in our bodies to generate anxious thoughts. When we are under stress the sympathetic part of our nervous system becomes activated and our bodies produce a combination of hormones and neurotransmitters, which all keep the body on the look-out for danger. It is impossible not to feel anxious if we sense an impending threat. It then follows that if we lower our stress levels we will be giving ourselves the best chance to feel less anxious.
Our stress response is in fact the incredible capacity of our body to get us out of a dangerous situation. It is programmed into us for our survival. You may have heard it called the fight or flight response. In human beings something as simple as being late for an important meeting can trigger our stress response. For the majority of us the things that trigger our fight or flight response in our daily lives are not life threatening at all. It is important to recognise how far along the fight or flight path we are, as once we have a sense of this we can seek to address it if needs be. However, this is not always a simple as it sounds. We only know what feels normal for us, so how do we know what a ‘balanced’ nervous system feels like? This is where having awareness of body sensation or interoception is invaluable. Interoception is the perception of the internal state of our bodies. For example, as you are sitting here how does your throat feel, or your chest or gut? This gives a true picture of how we are.
What is a panic attack?
A panic attack is a sudden episode of intense fear that triggers severe physical reactions when there is no real danger or apparent cause. You may experience your first panic attack during a period of chronic stress, after an accident, surgery, illness, trauma or emotionally overwhelming event.
What does it feel like to have a panic attack?
Panic attacks last on average from 5 to 20 minutes but can last longer.
Anyone who has ever experienced a panic attack will tell you that they are extremely unpleasant. There is an overwhelming feeling something terrible is about to happen, sometimes with an urgent need to get away from wherever you happen to be.
Please note do not self-diagnose, I recommend you check with your GP if you are experiencing symptoms you are concerned about.
Physical sensations of a panic attack may include:
Heart beating very hard and fast
Feeling nausea or wanting to vomit
Chills or hot sweat
Feeling like you are going to faint
Tightness in the throat
Shortness of breath
Dizziness or light headedness
Sense of unreality or detachment
A feeling that something terrible is going to happen
This is a link to a short You Tube film from Mind with a group of people discussing their own experience of panic attacks.
What happens during a panic attack?
Knowing what is going on in your body during a panic attack might help you understand some of the sensations you experience which can be intense and frightening;
Heart beating fast – pumping blood to big muscle groups to help you run fast.
Feeling or being sick – if you have a full stomach you cannot run as fast.
Shortness of breath, – adrenaline increases breathing rate to prepare for action.
Dry mouth – the digestive system shuts down as it is non-essential in a crisis, salivating is the first part of the digestive process.
Feeling faint/dizziness/light headedness/sense of unreality – if we are in a situation where we feel seriously under threat, we ‘space out’ or dissociate.
Preventing a panic attack
In the long-term, stress reduction is vital. This should take into account all aspects of your life and there is a lot of information available about how we can do this. However, there are some targeted stress reduction techniques which are very effective. For example, breathing exercises which are able to directly access the parasympathetic nervous system and take us out of a fight or flight state. Hatha yoga, and the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Programme created by Jon Kabat Zinn. All of these incorporate ‘interception’ mentioned earlier.
Try to avoid highs and lows and maintain balance in the body by cutting down or eliminating caffeine and alcohol. Eat regularly and avoid excess sugar to keep blood sugar levels even. If you know your panic attacks are generated by anxiety or events in your life, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy also known as CBT or counselling may helpful.
During a panic attack
Here are a few simple suggestions that you can try during a panic attack.
We suffer less stress if we feel we have some control over our situation. Knowing you can do a few simple things that help, might take away the dread of having an attack and even lessen them.
Become aware of your needs, wear comfortable clothes which are not too tight and allow you to breath. If you start to feel hot take off your coat, if you need fresh air move nearer to a window. Commuting on packed tube trains I have learned that standing in the aisle gives you more space and air but there is a cooling draft as the train moves if you are squashed against the door!
Remember to remind yourself the panic attack will last a short time and you will feel ‘normal’ again soon.
When you feel those familiar sensations that tell you, you are starting to feel panicky, try to ‘ride the wave’ rather than control the sensations. Trying to control tends to further escalate the attack.
If you can try to be a ‘witness’ to what you are experiencing, notice the body sensations rather than reacting with negative internal monologue which will escalate the feelings of panic.
Mentally reassure yourself ‘I sense danger/a threat but when I look around me, I see nothing dangerous – I feel safe.’ It is ironic that when we are in an activated state, we are less able to discern what might be a threat but obviously don’t lie to yourself here! If you are in a dangerous situation you don’t need to calm down, you need to get ready to run.
If you are with a friend or someone you trust ask them to reassure you, look at their face and ask them to tell you everything will be okay. This is an automatic and human response for most people, but research has shown the importance of social interaction between human beings in regulating their parasympathetic nervous system.
You can try ‘shuttling’. Find a part of your body that feels okay, feet are always a good place to start. Really try to feel all the sensations in your feet – the fabric of your socks, if your shoes are tight and their contact with the floor. Do this for a minute or so, take in all the sensations as best as you can, then give yourself a break for a few minutes, if the unpleasant sensations come rushing in try to stay with them for a minute then change your focus back to your feet. Keep repeating this shuttling back and forth. This may allow you to remain in a situation you can’t get out of until the attack passes.
When we are panicking our breathing speeds up, if you are able to slow your breathing down even a little it will help you get back to feeling okay. It also gives you something to focus on. I really like this animation app for breathing during a panic attack. Looking at the image of a face rather than counting adds to the therapeutic effect.
I hope you have found this helpful.