When stress overwhelms your nervous system, your body is flooded with chemicals that prepare you for "fight or flight." This stress response can be lifesaving in emergency situations where you need to act quickly. But when it’s constantly activated by the stresses of everyday life, it can wear your body down and take a toll on your emotional health
For many of us, relaxation may mean vegging out in front of the TV at the end of a stressful day. But we probably know that this does little to help us feel better! No one can avoid all stress, but you can counteract its detrimental effects by learning a simple relaxation technique which puts the brakes on stress and brings your body and mind back into a state of equilibrium. Further, the exercises below can be fitted in in 10 minutes and almost anywhere. Try and do twice a day if you can, especially during tense times
What the relaxation technique delivers:
In addition to its calming physical effects, the relaxation response also increases energy and focus, combats illness, relieves aches and pains, heightens problem-solving abilities, and boosts motivation and productivity. Best of all, anyone can reap these benefits with regular practice
Quick relaxation: deep breathing This can be done quickly when you feel the pressure is rising. You also need to do this before you go into the longer progressive muscle relaxation technique
The key to deep breathing is to breathe deeply from the abdomen, getting as much fresh air as possible in your lungs. When you take deep breaths from the abdomen, rather than shallow breaths from your upper chest, you inhale more oxygen. The more oxygen you get, the less tense, short of breath, and anxious you feel
If you find it difficult breathing from your abdomen while sitting up, try lying down. Put a small book on your stomach, and breathe so that the book rises as you inhale and falls as you exhale.
watch this space for a podcast of me taking you through the exercises
Below is a classic relaxation exercise that has been used extensively as it works so well
All you really need is a few minutes and a place to stretch out. It is best not done just before going to sleep as if you are tired at the end of the day, you will just fall asleep still feeling tense!
Progressive muscle relaxation is a two-step process in which you systematically tense and relax different muscle groups in the body. With regular practice, it gives you an intimate familiarity with what tension—as well as complete relaxation—feels like in different parts of the body. This can help you to you react to the first signs of the muscular tension that accompanies stress. And as your body relaxes, so will your mind.
Consult with your doctor first if you have a history of muscle spasms, back problems, or other serious injuries that may be aggravated by tensing muscles. You can do it lying down or sat in a chair.
Start at your feet and work your way up to your face, trying to only tense those muscles intended.
If you have time, a deeper, more thorough technique involves clenching each muscle/muscle group as strong as you can, then let go and do the same but clench less strongly, then finally clench only just using your mind, feel the difference between tense and relaxed!
Many people want to change some aspect of their life, and for some it’s crucial for health reasons such as quitting smoking, reducing alcohol intake, losing weight or exercising more. Motivational Interviewing (MI) is a relatively new, yet growing, method used by professional therapists to enable clients make lifestyle changes. The emerging evidence is that MI works better than the traditional consultation and has long lasting results.
Evidence shows that just telling people what to do does not work well as a way of changing people’s behaviour. MI helps individuals overcome their negative views about changing by exploring the desire and ability to change that lies within them (it really is in most people!). In doing this it supports change in a manner that sits comfortably with a person’s own values and concerns.
What it MI?
MI works by tapping into your own goals, values, aspirations and dreams and draws them out. But it acknowledges your right to autonomy and your freedom not to change. Trying to force people to change usually drives them in the opposite direction!
MI evokes what is known as ‘change talk’ - the idea is that the more you hear yourself say something, the more likely you will be motivated to do it. MI is collaborative and allows for rapport and trust to develop between you and the practitioner; the practitioner does not take the role of knowing all or lording over you.
MI will focuses on the positive things you say about moving forward, however small, and this ‘change-talk’ will skilfully be used to help change your mind set and eventually lead to positive action.
How does an MI consultation differ to traditional one?
One of the biggest differences is that I will not be always trying to put right what I see as wrong in your life. Instead I will want to gain an understanding of your world through your eyes. You will not be marginalised or put in a box but receive positive regard and your autonomy respected.
I will do a lot of reflective listening and summarising/interpreting back to you what you’ve said; this should highlight the important elements of the discussion, especially talk that helps to move you along. This reflective listening is also a way of showing I amd listening and am interested in what you say and from my end it ensures I understanding things correctly. It also allows me to point out to you your existing strengths and abilities. It is the basis of MI
I ask mostly open questions, so that you can expand more. These questions help to gently draw out your motivation to change. Unsolicited advice won’t be given - but saying that, I may ask your permission to give you some advice or information on a range of options.
The four stages of an MI consultation
Your role in the process
MI is a partnership between you and me. Please air your viewpoint; you know most about yourself! Work with me understand your world. Remember, I won't be telling you what to do, but this doesn’t mean I wholeheartedly endorse your current behaviour, or your ideas about how to change it. It’s all about trust and reaching a mutual understanding about the way forward. Have a think about what you could realistically do to change; my role will be to draw out your motivations and skills for change and help you make some quite detailed plans
One of my case studies
Jane was overweight and it was putting a strain on her health and she was heading towards diabetes. She really didn’t want to become diabetic but weight loss was the only thing that would prevent this happening
She had been advised (she called it nagged) in the past by numerous health professionals, family and friends about what to do. None of it had helped
She came to see me and I listened to what had been going on in her life. She admitted to being very disorganised. After exploring the situation more, she mentioned that maybe trying to organise herself would help her with her diet. This was the start of ‘change talk’ and it gave us something we could work on together
Jane did go on to lose a significant amount of weight and avoided becoming diabetic. She said that she had found it really helpful that I did not ‘have a go’ at her for not losing weight, but just listened and advised only when she wanted it. She found that planning her shopping and meals were key to her following a sensible diet that lead to weight loss
In the UK the Chief Medical Officer’s issued physical activity guidelines covering early years; children and young people; adults; and older adults
EARLY YEARS (under 5s)
CHILDREN AND YOUNG PEOPLE (5-18 years)
ADULTS (19-64 years)
OLDER ADULTS (65+ years)
Some additional tips:
What to believe
Best not to believe
Recommendations which involve some effort on your part
Recommendations that promise a quick fix
When the claim falls within the realms of reality
When the claim seems too good to be true
When it is claimed that more work is needed to back the findings
When simplistic conclusions are drawn from a complex study
Recommendations made by pooling together all the reputable studies
Recommendations based on a single study
Recommendations done on sufficient number of people to be able to carry out proper statistics
Recommendations made from individual case studies only, or only a handful of people
When trials have been ‘placebo- controlled’ i.e. an effect is claimed over and above the effect which may be seen due to ‘placebo’.
Recommendations based on the effect only and not on the effect over and above the placebo effect (which can be 50% in some cases)
Statements that are backed up by reputable scientific organisations
Dramatic statements that are refuted by reputable scientific organisations
Studies which back up healthy eating guidelines
Studies which claim that a whole food group should not be eaten by large groups of people.
Healthy eating claims which do not involve cutting out whole lists of ‘forbidden’ foods
Lists of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ foods
Recommendations which are based on independent, unbiased scientific research
Recommendations made to help sell a product
Recommendations based on peer reviewed studies (i.e. those which have had the approval of renowned experts in the field)
Recommendations based on studies published without peer review
Recommendations which take into account the fact that different groups and individuals may respond differently
Recommendations from studies that ignore differences among individuals or groups
Recommendations which are based on appropriate human studies, not just animal ones
Recommendations based on animal studies only
Recommendations which are based on further backing up of epidemiological evidence (i.e. evidence which can be gleaned by studying large groups of people as a whole) by further more ‘controlled’ studies
Recommendations which are based on epidemiological studies only, e.g. the French have less heart disease and the French also eat more snails, therefore the French have less heart disease because they eat more snails!