The HPL has already posted two previous articles on how to cope with stressful London life, from Dylan Ayaloo, yoga instructor and Helen Perkes, psychotherapist. Today, I asked Polly Essex, holistic therapist, to tell us how to recognise and deal with stress. I met Polly for a holistic massage last year – she used reflexology, massage and reiki to address concerns I had about stress and worries, and I ended up feeling incredibly relaxed and exhilarated. Must book in again soon! All photos were added by me and were taken from my travels to soothe you into Friday afternoon…
Polly Essex, Holistic Therapist at Tulip Yoga Studio, Clapham (0207 6227274 or 07801 565 234, firstname.lastname@example.org). (Polly also works as an art psychotherapist treating children with developmental difficulties. You can find out more about Polly at www.tulipyogastudio.com.)
- Causes of Stress
All sorts of things can cause stress. Financial worries, relationship problems, health problems, work pressures, time constraints, juggling busy lives with demanding commitments, feelings of not being good enough. All sorts of things can worry us or can feel demanding, and our ability to manage these things varies from person to person. Certain issues, people, or situations that arise may induce more stress, panic or fear that others. Feelings of helplessness can be often connected to the root cause of worry. This kind of stress can feel debilitating and can lead to addictive behaviours. Lance Dodes M.D., has written an excellent book on this called ‘The heart of addiction’.
Depression, mood swings, and aggressive behaviours can be the result of prolonged emotional stress. Other symptoms of emotional stress could be insomnia, hyperactivity, lethargy, migraines, digestive disorders, heart / circulatory conditions, fertility, colds, the list goes on. Physically, you may notice that you clench or grind your teeth, crave sugar, hunch your shoulders, have tense or aching body muscles, and feel generally tired or run down. You will also lose more hair when you’re stressed. When you are psychologically stressed, you may find it difficult to concentrate, think ‘clearly’ and may experience bouts of mental ‘numbness’ and confusion. Your memory can also be affected.
When a person becomes stressed, they release the hormone cortisol. This hormone is what gives us the flight or fight response. Small doses of cortisol is OK, and can necessary for our survival. Imagine being faced by a hungry angry lion (or boss!) it is this hormone that would be released to give you that adrenaline rush necessary to respond and act quickly! However, prolonged release of cortisol creates an unhealthy balance within our bodies. This can lead you to feel run down, and in turn develop all sorts of stress-related illnesses. When we are relaxed however and feeing physical or emotional pleasure, we release happy hormones such as serotonin, dopamine and oxytocin. These hormones are also known as pleasure hormones or endorphins.
- How to de-stress
There are all sorts of ways of releasing this hormone to help reduce your stress levels, lift your mood and feel good. If you cant get away for that relaxing sunny break, try a swedish massage, Reiki or a Reflexology treatment. Many reputable studies have recorded peoples Cortisol levels (stress hormone) before and after this massage, and have shown that cortisol levels decrease and serotonin and dopamine (endorphins) increase. Sex is also a great stress buster – as long as you are old enough, and can enjoy it! Meditation is also wonderful at calming the mind. People can find that if they are especially stressed, sitting still can be difficult for a while when they are new to it. They can also become irritable finding it too difficult trying to calm the ‘chatter’ inside their minds, and thus give up. Sitting for 5 minutes in the morning and evening is better than nothing at all and can still have very positive effects in reducing stress levels, increasing self awareness, concentration and memory. However, sometimes even 5 minutes can be tricky for people to find the time or patience for, so I recommend doing this in the bath, or even on the loo! Closing the eyes and focusing on the breath can be a good technique to help bring the mind inward and into balance. Yoga or 5 rhythm dance is great for those who are too restless to ‘sit‘ with the benefits being just as great, as well as giving exercise at the same time. Exercise has also been proven to release endorphins (feel good hormones) lower stress levels and lift depression. Certain vitamins and supplements can also be taken due to stress sapping the body from absorbing them effectively. Vitamin C is a major one. A nutritionalist can be the best person to advise on diet, and a kineasologist can test you for any deficiencies you may have and recommend which supplements and how many you should take.
- What a holistic therapist does
As a holistic therapist I look at the person’s overall health and will advise accordingly on what could be helpful actions for that person to take. I will then treat them with either Swedish massage, Reiki, or Reflexology, or a combination of these treatments – depending on their needs. Both reflexology and swedish massage are excellent for lowering stress levels, detoxifying the body, boosting the immune system, releasing endorphins, restoring energy levels and relieving insomnia. Swedish massage can be especially helpful in treating muscluar aches and pains, lymphatic drainage, improving circulation/ muscle tone and cellulite reduction. Relexology can be particularly helpful in treating hormone/ reproductive/ digestive and urinary disorders, migraines, skin disorders, asthma, and other such problems. Massage, Reflexology and Reiki are all deeply relaxing treatments, that alone helps to manage and reduce stress.
In reflexology, the feet represent a map of the body and ‘reflexes’ are treated with precise thumb, finger and hand pressure techniques. The feet hold over 7000 nerve endings making this a powerful and deeply relaxing treatment that relieves imbalances (symptoms) and restore a free flow of chi (energy) throughout your body. Reflexology works along similar meridians (energy lines) to those used in Acupuncture. By stimulating specific reflex points on the feet, the therapist not only works the corresponding organ (such as your lungs, heart, or brain), but will also be encouraging a free flow of energy in the rest of the ‘energy zone’ that particular organ is in. It is the build up of stagnant chi that leads to symptoms such as headaches, poor digestion, and so on.
Reiki is a gentle yet profound universal healing energy that heals physically and emotionally. The energy goes to where the body needs, and the Reiki practitioner channels the energy by placing their hands on the client’s body (who can either sit, or lie down). There is no need to get undressed. Special attention is paid to the chakras, which are specific areas on the body where the main energy centres are. Most people experience a wonderful feeling of well-being and peace, and may also feel warm or tingling sensations as the energy flows into them, or feel like they are floating, or that their limbs become heavy. It can work alone, or in conjunction with other therapies such as massage or reflexology. It also complements conventional medicine by accelerating recovery following illness and can help alleviate back problems, low energy levels, emotional problems, physical ailments, life challenges, stress management, coping with changes, fatigue syndromes, and high blood pressure. When you experience a treatment, your own natural healing ability is also enhanced.