Updated: Mar 26
How many times have you experienced that feeling of groundhog day – each day seems to melt into the next with nothing to motivate you or are you struggling with working from home, home schooling, cooking an evening meal AND doing the housework?
I’m probably feeling more of the former……yes even this Sports Massage Therapist and Yoga Teacher has found this most recent lockdown more challenging!
Many more people are working from home, juggling family life or those who are single by choice or their partner has died recently are feeling more isolated than ever. Those working from home are tending to work longer because the boundary between work and home no longer exists. We find ourselves in a heightened state of worry; family, friends, work our health, other people health and the list goes on. Our usual support network of meeting family and friends for coffee and chat or going out with colleagues to let off steam isn’t available to us.
Life has, for everyone, introduced so many stressors, the increase in mental health issues is staggering. The ONS have reported - ‘Personal well-being scores for life satisfaction, feeling that things done in life are worthwhile and happiness remained at some of the lowest levels recorded since this survey began in March 2020.’ Anxiety levels are higher today than they were pre-Covid-19.
When stress and anxiety form part of our daily life we struggle to switch off our brain, we turn to alcohol to relax, to aid sleep or junk food for comfort or sugar to provide 'energy' to sustain us during the day. Feelings of anxiety and stress can slowly creep upon us; not dissimilar to water leak....one minute we're completely unaware of it and then, seemingly out of nowhere, there is a damp patch and were left wondering how long the leak has been running! Stress and anxiety take a hold in a similar way partly because we are adept at managing low level stressors but the feelings of anxiety develop in response to the stressor(s).
When we are stressed or anxious our body steps up a gear, our fight / flight response is switched on. Our breathing rate increases, our heart might feel its pounding, our muscles stiffen and our senses sharpen. We need this level of stress should a child, cat of dog run out in front of you as you drive, you are about to sit an exam or attend a job interview. In these situations we need to react quickly or perform at our best! These experiences are generally short lived and have little long term impact on our body.
Have you ever stopped and wondered how often and for how long you might be instigating your fight / flight response? Do you notice another stressor?
How reactive are you, do you find yourself on high alert – like a Meerkat ready to take cover if there is danger? Do you find yourself losing patience very quickly, losing your temper more frequently? Shedding a tear ‘for apparently no reason at all’! Do you experience prolonged feelings of sadness, have a sense that the world is conspiring against you? Do you friends describe you as a worrier and when one worry is resolved another immediately takes its place? These are examples of emotional responses to stressors in your life.
Do you find yourself suffering persistent chronic pain conditions, such as joint pain, migraines, headaches, TMJ/TMD jaw pain, sleepless night, have you been diagnosed with Fibromyalgia, gained weight around the tummy, upper back and face? These are just some examples of physical stressors in your life.
All of the above elevate the sympathetic 'fight flight' part of the nervous system.
Maintaining a persistent state of chronic stress or anxiety has a negative effect on our mind and body. When we feel threaten or stressed our nervous system responds by releasing hormones cortisol and adrenaline to help us manage this threatening situation.
Unfortunately our nervous system cannot distinguish between an emotional or physical threat. When we instigate that fight / flight response our body release two stress hormones; adrenalin and cortisol. Adrenalin is a short term hormone and increases our heart rate, we breathe more rapidly, our ability to feel pain is reduced, our senses are increased and we sweat more; this helps us to run away from the stress or tiger! Cortisol is a long term hormone and it can cause weight gain, particularly around the middle of the body or upper back, skin can bruise more easily, we may develop type II diabetes, high BP, irritability, you might find yourself lacking in concentration and severe tiredness. These are negative changes to out lifestyle that can, if not addressed, shorten our life span.
So what can you do to help improve how you feel?
1. The why - Are you aware of the reasons why you might be feeling anxious? If so can you make changes to in your life to either reduce or remove the stressors? Talking therapies can often help in situations where you feel you are unable to make any head way on your own. Time to Talk is a good resource or talking to your GP if you feel particularly low.
2. Exercise – Not only changes the environment, particularly if you are working from home. Stress hormones are often stored in the body and a brisk walk can shake them off, in a similar way to how a dog shakes off water. Joining an online exercise class such Pilates or Yoga are great forms of exercise as they give you time to notice how your body feels, where you move with ease and where feels restricted and sore. Often when we are stressed or anxious we are stuck in our heads, listening to the chatter. Exercise is a great time to bring the mind and body together, movement is medicine and therefore can be healing.
Yoga in particular often includes breath work, see below.
3. Breathe – Breathing is automatic response, we all do it and it should be second nature shouldn’t it? Unfortunately many of us breathe through our mouth, using muscles in the chest and shoulders that are not designed for respiration. Mouth breathing initiates the sympathetic ‘fight flight’ response, perhaps observe when you next go for a walk how much of that walk are you mouth breathing? Do you feel out of breath, thirsty and tire easily?
In simple terms inhaling though the nose and exhaling through the nose has been found to be the most efficient mechanism for filtering out bugs and allergens but another key benefit is the down regulation or lowering the intensity of our sympathetic ‘fight/flight’ response because it heightens our parasympathetic ‘rest and digest’ response.
If you want to learn more about the breath I can highly recommend James Nestor’s book called Breath. He takes you through the science, his personal experiences of altering his own mouth breathing to nasal breathing AND he includes some very useful exercises at the back of the book.
A breathing exercise that I find most useful is called Coherent Breathing and you click the YouTube to practice.
4. Sleeping – Lack of sleep or poor quality of sleep is a key stressor and can make a significant difference to how we feel about our day. Below are some suggestions on how you can improve the quality and quantity of sleep.
i. Bright light – Avoid wearing sun glasses on a sunny day; this time of year it’s gloomy and the days are short. Natural bright light decreases or shakes off the melatonin that is produced whilst sleeping. So wakes up the bodies responses.
ii. Establish a routine – turn off your tech about 45mins before you plan to go to bed. Aim to be in bed around the same time each night and set the alarm for the same time each morning. Even at weekends. Our bodies like routine so creating a night time routine indicates to our body it’s now time to sleep.
iv. Avoid caffeine, alcohol, processed sugar an hour or so before bed, all are stimulants and liquid late at night might having needing the loo during the night!
v. Cool and dark – Overheating will cause us to toss and turn. I often open a bedroom window wide 20 mins before I go to bed and then keep a window partially open throughout the night.
vi. Eye masks and socks – I wear an eye mask, (and have blackout blinds!), the act of wearing the mask seems to mute the mental chatter. Other benefits can be found here. Socks, covering our feet draws heat towards the peripherals which helps lower our core temperature thus aiding sleep.
vii. Noise – If we are prone to ‘listening out’ then using foam or wax ear plugs will reduce the amount of back ground noise we hear. Again they can help reduce the mental chatter.
viii. Comfort – wearing clothes that are restrictive can disturb out sleep. Sleeping on a mattress where our large joints such as hips and shoulder can’t sink into the mattress can cause sleep disruption and pain on waking.
ix. White noise – can be a powerful tool to distract our minds whilst trying to get to sleep. Try the free Insight Timer is a great app that offers meditation for sleep and or background music that we can aid sleep.
There are many complementary therapies ranging from Acupuncture, Homeopathy, Remedial Massage, EMMETT Technique and CranialSacral Technique they all aid the release of stress and tension. Anxiety and stress can manifest as in the inability to take a deep breath, feeling that something is sat on your chest, whirring thoughts, inability to sleep well and an increase in blood pressure and pain.
As a Sports Massage Therapist I've had lots of success treating clients that suffer with fibromyalgia, anxiety or depression using CranialSacral Therapy and the EMMETT Technique; it reduces the agitation in the body and frequently reduces feelings of pain.
If you have any questions concerning the above please do email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Alternatively there are a number of resources that you may find yourself if you or a loved one is struggling.
Young Minds Org - great resource for teenagers, young adults and parents alike
Cruse - Grief counselling service; grief can be overwhelming at times and it can help to talk.
Mind - The A - Z for mental health.
No one is alone and yes sometimes it does feel that we are. The first step is to pick up the phone and talk to someone.