Keeping Calm In The Storm

keep calm note with blue background and crumpled papers

For the vast majority of us, the corona virus pandemic is our first experience of being on what’s now referred to as ‘a war footing’. And rather like bombs dropping in the Blitz, we don’t know where, when and who the virus will hit next. So it makes sense that we’re anxious.

Like a ripple of stress, a bit of anxiety can be helpful in getting us to take sensible precautions. But this war zone is catapulting some of us into a degree of totally understandable anxiety that’s not helpful in getting through daily life – particularly because anxiety can suppress our immune system, which is our very best defence weapon in one-on-one combat against the virus.

This is not to minimise the potential effects of the pandemic but hopefully to give our minds some degree of calm so we can face the issues and manage them in the best way we’re able.

If you are used to working in an office environment, working from home can present its own challenges so there are tips on this too. Read More…

The Happiness Prescription

a few white tablets with happiness written on it on a dull grey foreground and a dull pink background.

GPs are recognising that at least half their patients need far more than a pill for every ill. For one woman, singing in a choir proved life-changing. Sarah Stacey reports.

Listening to the lightness and warmth in her voice, it’s hard to believe Arabella Tresilian, 44, has experienced such serious mental health problems that she once feared she was not well enough to look after her two young children. Treatment with medication and talking therapies was at best a BandAid. What finally transformed Arabella’s life was singing in a choir, a panacea enabled by the social prescribing initiative at her GP practice in Bath. GP Dr Michael Dixon describes social prescribing as ‘a radical rethink of medicine, planting health and healing in the heart of the community’..

Social prescribing aims to improve patients’ health holistically by referrals to link workers who spend time with them exploring different non-medical interventions, often provided by voluntary or charity organisations based in the local community. Activities might include music, art, sports, dancing, knitting, walking, group learning, yoga, fishing and cookery among many others. Link workers may also help patients address housing, legal and financial problems.

Read More…

The Molecule That Could Reduce Your Anxiety

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Ever heard of neurotrophin-3? We hadn’t either up until a couple of weeks ago. But, if you regularly battle with bouts of anxiety then it’s a molecule worth learning about. According to a new study neurotrophin-3, or a lack of it, plays a key role in how and if we respond to outside threats. Read More…

Addicted To Stress? That Could Be A Good Thing

Glass with die drop in water

Not everything about stress is bad – it’s basically a state of arousal which can give us the drive, focus and energy to get things done. The butterfly stomach we feel on a first date, the nervous excitement of the first day of a new job or the tight muscular tension before public speaking are all signs of stress, but these are positive life events and challenges we actively seek. Yet, according to a YouGove study* 74% of people in the UK have felt so overwhelmed with stress in the past year that they’re unable to cope. And it is a fact that many on-the-rise modern malaises from IBS and eczema to diabetes, obesity and heart disease are related to the pressure cooker of 24/7 life.

So what turns good stress into bad? First, it helps to understand a little bit about the cascade of chemicals and hormones involved in the stress response and their effects on our minds and bodies. It starts in a part of the brain called the amygdala which regulates the autonomic nervous system and controls the automatic responses in the body including breathing, heart rate, digestion and sleep. There are two sides to the autonomic nervous system: the sympathetic or ‘fight or flight’ which effectively revs us up and the para sympathetic or ‘rest and digest’ which slows us back down.

When we go into ‘fight or flight’ mode, our adrenal glands release adrenaline into the bloodstream which causes heart rate, blood pressure and pulse to quicken. Breathing gets faster, increasing oxygen in the brain for higher alertness, also, adrenaline triggers the release of blood sugar and fats to increase energy levels. Because it’s an automatic response, these physiological changes happen before we’re even aware. A second stage kicks in where cortisol, another stress hormone, is released to keep us revved up until the ‘threat’ passes and the ‘rest and digest’ phase comes in to dampen the stress response.

The trouble is, things which trigger the stress response are rarely life threatening situations – it could be the ping of an email, opening a bank statement, or the train being late. Even so, we are wired to have that bodily response and because we so often override the ‘rest and digest’ response we end up accumulating stress. We’re on the go all day, pushing through fuelled with stimulants such as sugar and caffeine, subtly self-medicating to unwind whether that’s with a glass of wine in front of the TV, or pounding out tension on the running machine or at a sweat inducing yoga class. This can seem normal until we start to realise these tactics don’t work any more; it’s increasingly difficult to slow down and relax; our minds full of thoughts making it harder to sleep, which can become a vicious circle leading to feelings of anxiety, worry and even depression. We literally become adrenaline junkies – hooked on the highs of stress.

This can manifest in so many ways that it’s not necessarily easy to identify in our own lives. For me, I hadn’t realised that this continual hyper stimulation of the nervous system was the energy I was feeding off. Now looking back at my 20s and 30s I can see that I was running on adrenaline. I was enjoying the highs of what scientists call eustress or the good ‘seize the day’ motivational stress. I loved my job and so it felt good to enjoy every moment of it – and even on holiday I would like to keep active – rarely did I stop and just do nothing. And I got away with it until my late thirties when gradually it seemed I couldn’t bounce back from late nights, I’d have niggling health issues – poor digestion, reactive skin, inflexible body. I instinctively knew I needed to slow down somehow and took up yoga. But in the beginning, I was taking the ‘push through’ mentality into my practice – I would rush from work to push myself through extreme hot yoga classes, which would relax me in the moment, but never completely.

It took years to gradually realise that I was living off the highs of stress fuelled energy because it was a subtle form of enjoyable drive which gradually threw my body and brain chemistry out of kilter over the years. What did surprise me was how, once I’d accepted I needed to slow down, it was a relief and I began to feel the benefits straight away. For me, the big catalyst was discovering meditation which allowed me to ‘not do’, although it’s not a magic bullet. Good support from friends, family, a nourishing work network, doing something creative, and to feel that we’re contributing something all matter. What’s great to know is that given the chance, our nervous system will naturally re-balance itself, and when that happens we’re no longer fire fighting through, and that impacts positively on our health all round: physically, mentally and emotionally.

Simple ways to break the stress cycle:

  • Ask yourself why you can’t allow yourself a lunch break/holiday/yoga class/massage when prioritising your own health and wellbeing will impact positively at work, and at home.
  • Think of not doing as making a choice to just be – it is an action.
  • Avoid multi-tasking as it has been proven to stimulate cortisol.
  • Know that sitting with your eyes closed is meditation and that cutting out visual stimulation will help bring about calm fast.
  • The out breath is associated with the para sympathetic nervous system, so whenever you feel anxious or stressed try to lengthen your out breath.
  • Spend quality time with like minded people – we are hard wired to release happy chemicals such as oxytocin when are face to face with those who support us.

Why You Should Press The Snooze Button

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For years we’ve been told that the key to a healthy sleep pattern is to stick to a routine. If you’re a 6.30am riser during the week, you should stick to the same clock at the weekend. New research this week suggests that using the extra time on your days off to catch up on lost sleep could be more beneficial in the long run. Read More…

Signs and Symptoms of Sleep Loss

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There are a number of life aspects that we all need to be careful about in order to stay healthy. Eating a healthy diet and incorporating some form of exercise are essential, but sleep is equally important. A good night’s rest has many implications beyond just making you feel refreshed. Insufficient sleep usually makes us irritable and more likely to suffer from anxiety. Additionally, a lack of sleep is implicated in heart disease and weight gain.

Summer can be a very difficult season for sleep. During the summer months, there is more light later in the day and your body rhythm needs to shift accordingly. Light signals your body what time of the day it is. If it is bright late at night, this can push your rhythm back. If you normally go to bed at 10 pm then due to brighter light during summer your body thinks it is earlier, thus it will take some time to adjust.

There are many other problems that can disturb sleep patterns during the summer months. Allergies can be a big problem because there are many sufferers of hay fever who simply cannot get sufficient sleep during the night time due to blocked noses and breathing difficulties. Read More…