Currently viewing the tag: "stress"

Stress and Anxiety is a very common presentation, ranging from everyday life stress of crossing the road safely, or more serious worries like a life threatening illness, divorce or loss of a loved one. However for some even in the absence of notable stressful event there is still anxiety. There is no logical reason for the anxiety but every little event weighs them down physically and emotionally. Social events are an uphill struggle and going to work is equally challenging.

No matter the cause of the stress, instinctively the body reacts by initiating a “stress response” and your body is flooded with stress hormones. Your muscles tenses up, there is rapid breathing, and adrenaline increases your heart rate and elevates your blood pressure. Cortisol increases blood sugar (glucose) levels and increases its availability to the brain.

Challenging situations are part of daily life, and so there is a need to have the necessary capacity and ability to manage stress. Therefore developing more positive, healthier ways to respond to stress becomes paramount.

Invoking a “relaxation response” is a good way to counter act stress. There are many different ways of doing this, and you will need to find the one technique (or a few) that work best for you. Initially, it will feel strange, but with regular practice you will gain confidence and create a source of relaxation and calm that is free to use and available day or night. Practicing relaxation has many benefits including;

  • Slows down breathing rate
  • Lowering heart rate and blood pressure
  • Improves digestion, maintains normal blood sugar levels
  • Reduces production of stress hormones
  • Reduces muscle tension and improves blood flow to the muscles
  • Enhances confidence and calm, reduces anger and frustration,
  • Improves sleep and energy levels

Here are five relaxation techniques that help initiate a relaxation response.

1.  Conscious breathing. Breathing is a simple but very powerful tool. Research has confirmed a link between breathing to relaxation. Specialised brain cells constantly monitor our breathing sending signals to other parts of the brain. It can differentiate between sighing, yawning, gasping, sleeping, laughing and crying.

The 4-7-8 Breath technique is the perfect antidote to stress that can bring on relaxation in a very short period of time. It does not require any equipment and can be done anywhere and in any position, but start practicing by sitting with your back straight. This technique may not be suitable for people with breathing problems.

During the exercise the tip of your tongue should lie and just touch the upper front teeth. Then, before starting exhale completely through your mouth.

  1. Inhale quietly through your nose (closed mouth) to a mental count of four.
  2. Pause and hold your breath for a count of seven.
  3. Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound to a count of eight. This is one breath.

Now repeat the cycle three more times for a total of four breaths. The time spent on each breath cycle is not important, but the ratios of 4:7:8 is key to good practice. With practice the breaths can be slowed down with deeper inhalation and exhalation breaths.

 

2. Body scan.  Together with the breathing technique you start to become aware of your physical body. Starting from the top of your head you start to ‘feel’ each part of our body, becoming more aware of it thus enhancing your mind-body connection. Gradually you work all the way down the body. Becoming aware of the body helps to release muscle tension and enable relaxation. This technique may not be suitable for people who have difficulties with their own body image.

3. Visualization.  In this relaxation technique, you close your eyes sitting or lying down in a quite spot and create mental images of calming or peaceful places or experiences to focus on and take a visual journey there. You can be in the forest or at the seaside, imagining the sounds, touch and smell e.g. feeling the warmth of the sun or smelling the fresh countryside air.

4. Mindfulness meditation. Mindfulness meditation can help with anxiety, depression and pain control. It focuses on being in the present moment reminding us of its importance, rather than dwelling on past or future concerns. You will need to find a quite space, sitting comfortably focus on your breathing whilst concentrating in the ‘here and now’.

5. Prayer. If you are religious or spiritual repeating a silent short prayer or phrase along with focused breathing will help relaxation and calm.

Other relaxation techniques include; tai chi, qigong, yoga, music and art therapy, walking, biofeedback and sports. There are a number of home remedies you can also try. For additional help complementary therapies like; massage, acupuncture, and reiki may be helpful.

Learning relaxation techniques takes practice, but is an extremely useful skill. Be patient, practice daily for 10-15 min. If you are really short on time than even 5 (full) minutes every day will make a difference. Try different ones. Start with the breathing technique and once you are comfortable with it then expand into the other techniques.

 

Fibromyalgia  is a chronic conditions that causes widespread pain in the body. It is accompanied by increased pain sensitivity, extreme tiredness, muscle stiffness, sleep difficulties, headaches, functional impairment e.g. memory and concentration (known as “fibro-fog”) and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

The cause of fibromyalgia is not well understood, but genetic, automimmune factors,  traumatic events and stress are contributory. Treatment is limited to improving function using pain medication, antidepressants and antiepileptic, supported by physical and talk therapy.

Although there is no cure for fibromyalgia, acupuncture can provide respite from symptoms.  One study found that 1 in 5 people suffering with fibromyalgia use acupuncture within a period of 2 years after diagnosis. The WHO recommend acupuncture for treating fibromyalgia but conclude that more research is needed.

Pain intensity was noticeably reduced after 10 weeks using tailored acupuncture treatments at weekly intervals in a multicentre trial conducted in three primary care centres. Participants were randomly assigned to real acupuncture or placebo, whilst continuing their medical management.  A total of 153 participants completed the study. The acupuncture group reported a 41% reduction in pain, compared to 27% in the placebo group. The effects were still apparent at the end of 12 months, reporting 20% and 6% reduction respectively. Other measures of anxiety, fatigue and depression were also significantly reduced at 10 weeks.

A review of multiple small studies concluded that acupuncture was safe to use for fibromylgia. Electro acupuncture was more effective than manual acupuncture for pain and stiffness, well-being, sleep and fatigue. Effects lasted up to one month.

Acupuncture is well knows to be effective in reducing many types of chronic pain, including arthritic, rheumatic, headaches. It releases feel-good natural pain killers in our body called endorphins. These same chemicals are also released after orgasm, thus leave us with a relaxed warm afterglow.  Its ability to modify pain, reduce stress and enhance well being is ideal to tackle these fibromyalgia symptoms.  The insertion and twisting needle action also release adenosine, an anti-inflammatory chemical that lingers for up to an hour after the treatment.

It is unsurprising therefore that many people with fibromyalgia would be interested in trying acupuncture.  A  Personal story  from  one sufferer shows how acupuncture  can help change lives.  Despite the mixed results from studies, most suggest that it may have a beneficial role in treating fibromyalgia, which can be used without anxiety about its safety. It can be used on its own for symptom management, but often advocated in addition to other exercise or physical program.

 

Christmas is one of the most testing periods of the year. It can be stressful but also challenging for our digestive system. We are excited but also anxious about organising the festivities and celebrations, whilst at the same time agonise about what presents to get for our friends and family. Being the end of the year we are also preparing to ‘wind down’ and regenerate for the New Year.

 

‘Tis the season for Flu and Colds’

Changes from autumn to winter means that the period prior to Christmas is full of flu and colds. This can carry on well into the spring. Frequent travel both local and distant exposes us to different cold viruses. Minimise your risks by maintaining a healthy immune system so you are more able to fight off any viruses. Eating a healthy diet, getting enough sleep and not smoking will help. More about flu supplements.

 

 ‘All I want for Christmas is Food’ 

Food and drink is a large part of Christmas. We must remember to stuff the turkey, but not ourselves. Food is always plenty at Christmas, turkey, nuts, chocolates, cheese, pudding, mince pies and cheese straws.  One Christmas dinner can add up to 3000 calories, between 500 -1200 calories more than the average adult requirement.  This does not include what we eat the rest of the day. Slowing down the speed of eating and savouring each bite will help to make the meal more satisfying. Remember that it takes our brain 20 min to register that the stomach is full.  A huge meal will give us indigestion and make us tired, thus contributing to weight gain. Be mindful about what you eat, and decide if it is something you really want before popping it into your mouth. Don’t eat it just because it is there.

 

‘Keep calm and say Ho, Ho, Ho……’                                                         

Don’t stress about making sure Christmas is Stress-Free. Most of us will be working through long lists of shopping, cooking and cleaning and visitors, so try to keep things manageable. Plan ahead and try to be organised. Shopping online can make things easier and if you are terrible at wrapping presents use gift bags.  It’s not a disaster if everything is not perfect and the mashed potatoes were a bit lumpy, or that the top of the Christmas tree you bought is not perfect – it’s what makes Christmas memorable. You could think ahead and consider organising some therapeutic treatments in the New year. Complementary therapies work really well for stress relief.

 

Peace, love and Joy’ 

Catching up with family and friends is a big part of the Christmas spirit. Instead of the usual salutatory wishes in a festive card, consider instead a photo card or a few sentences updating them about you and the family.   We have little choice in who we are related to, so there will always be a critical mother-in-law or a disapproving relative.  Prepare yourself for what is to come, but remember it is only for one day and you still have the rest of the year without them.

 

‘Silent night’

Make sure you rest and renew with plenty of restful sleep. Despite the time off work, late night celebrations from Christmas to the New Year will disturb our normal sleep pattern. Sleep hugely influences our physical and mental wellbeing. It is when our body heals and recovers from our waking activities. Try to return to your normal sleep pattern as soon as possible. Further about the benefits of sleep here.

 

‘Don’t get Ho, Ho, Hammered!’ 

During Christmas, alcohol is free flowing, mulled wine, bucks fizz, brandy, wine and even alcoholic punch. Don’t just indulge, decide what your limits are and then keep tabs on how much you are drinking. Mix non-alcoholic drinks in between and it will make it much more enjoyable. Excess alcohol can affect others. Be aware that although it can lift your mood initially, it is also a depressant and in some people can bring out unsociable and aggressive behaviour.  There is a considerable rise in the number of assaults and drink driving over Christmas and New Year. Added to this is increased incidence of alcohol poisoning.

 

Happy New Year! 

Let’s be honest, most of us spend the entire year not thinking about our health. Review the past year and consider if your health needs some attention. If you have had more frequent flu and colds, developed an allergy or skin condition, tend to get tired more quickly, fatigued most of the time, bones and joints ache, have a brain fog or spend time feeling frustrated and depressed, then it is time to make a plan to do something about it. It is more important than ever to get out the vitamins and minerals, consider having some therapies or book a doctor’s appointment.

 

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year !

IVF (in vitro fertilization) is a modern miracle, responsible for 3% of babies born in the UK. However undergoing IVF treatment can be extremely stressful. For the women it is often a lonely road speckled with feelings of failure, guilt and desperation. This is made worse when seeing friends, family and colleagues enjoy the pleasures of having children.

The media are good at writing IVF success stories, but they fail to report those that have failed. Most people are unaware that two thirds of all IVF cycles fail. That even with seemingly perfect laboratory embryos something else can still unbalance the equation resulting in disappointment. Added to this is the financial burden, particularly when couples reach out to private clinics. Many will no doubt readily share their experience of huge roller coaster of emotional pain and anguish. Reasons for cycle failure are multiple, ranging from genetic, chromosomal, implantation problems, other gynaecological problems, general health, nutrition, age, stress and other nameless factors. For this reason it would make sense to maximise the success rate, but how would you do this?

Preparation is the key to success! It takes 3-4 mths for an egg to mature so the earlier you start the better. The more positive steps you take the greater benefit you will gain. Focus on preparing your body and mind for the journey ahead – “Creation of a baby”. Make improvements to your nutrition early. A good nutritious diet supported by vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and essential fatty acids will ensure that good quality eggs are produced. A nutritionist will be able to recommend the best supplements for your need.

Many IVF clinics recommend using acupuncture as an adjunct to maximise treatment success. Fertility enhancements provided by acupuncture apply to both natural conception and IVF patients. A study by Homerton University Hospital London, involved 160 couples experiencing fertility problems. Half were assigned to have four sessions of acupuncture during their IVF cycle. Of those who received acupuncture 46.2% successfully achieved pregnancy. Amongst those who did not pregnancy rate was 27.7%.

Acupuncture is a well know regulator of hormones and works by affecting the hypothalamic-pituitary-ovarian axis, which is central to the fertility process. Scientific data shows pregnancy rates can benefit by;

  • Regulating hormonal secretions and balance thus improving menstrual and ovulation regularity and normalising ovulation pattern.
  • Normalizes basal body temperature patterns
  • Improving the quality of eggs and sperm
  • Increases embryo survival and implantation
  • Improves blood flow to the uterus.
  • Enhance sense of well-being and relaxation, which reduces production of harmful stress chemicals.
  • Moderate immune function, which can cause implantation failure.

From my experience many women have emotional blockages which need to be cleared. The treatment is focused on supporting the yin and increasing blood circulation to the uterus and ovaries, whilst at the same time supporting the kidney energy to improve hormonal regulation. Acupuncture has long been used to improve fertility and help couples conceive, both naturally and supporting IVF. The more you do to help your mind and body, the better the chances of success.

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