Stop! Rest is NOT a luxury

Stop treating rest as a non-essential luxury.

‘Resting is not laziness, it’s medicine’Glenn Schwietzer

Why has rest become a luxury in modern life? Rest didn’t used to be a luxury, it was as much a part of normal life as breathing, food, shelter and sleep. Rest is an essential part of life!

In the context of this article, I use the term ‘rest’ to mean physical and mental relaxation, taking a break from the busy-ness of life. While sleep is a form of rest, is absolutely essential and something we also don’t get enough of, sleep is not the focus of this article. We cannot be constantly busy all day and consider sleep to be our only opportunity for rest. Equally, while exercise can be a fantastic way to give our brains a break from the busy-ness of daily life, and can be one way that we do rest, it is not the focus of this article.

Do you find yourself complaining either to others or in your own head that you are stressed? Exhausted? Drained? Fed up? Sick of the drudgery, relentlessness and the endless cycle of work and chores? Demotivated? Overwhelmed? If someone else described to you how they are feeling, using the same words that you have in your head, how would you respond? I’m guessing that you would be more compassionate to them than you are to yourself, that you might encourage them to rest and look after themselves better.

Nowadays, with the constant drive for more…more money, more achievements, more qualifications, more success, more activities, more busy-ness, more exercise, more medals, in addition to ‘doing our bit’ as volunteers, and caring for family members of all ages…….rest has become a synonymous with laziness. It has been exacerbated by the advent of smart phones, tablets, laptops etc as we are never beyond communication, never beyond reach, never beyond the ability to ‘do’ something.

Not so many years ago, once 5pm came around, and on Sundays, the shops were shut, travel agents were shut, estate agents were shut, and most people had left work. Evenings and weekends allowed time for rest.

Nowadays, there is no time at which we can’t pursue our goals….we can shop (for anything and everything), research and book holidays, look for our ideal home, continue to work, respond to the constant and relentless emails and messages via Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, WhatsApp, Instagram etc etc, we can network all evening, every evening. We can do all these things at any time of day or night. There are clubs and activities available at any time of day and gyms are open both early and late every day. A long-hours culture combined with technology has made it virtually impossible to rest as we constantly feel that we should be ‘doing’, ticking things off our never-ending ‘to-do’ lists until we drop into bed exhausted but too wired to sleep after hours of melatonin-blocking blue light has made it impossible for us to fall asleep.

We see celebrities and politicians seemingly working 18-hour days and, apparently, thriving on the buzz. We hear people we respect make comments like ‘rest is for whimps’.

Technology has made our lives better, and easier, in so many ways. But we have got the balance wrong. It is up to us as individuals and as families to reprioritise.

Without our own health, we are no use at all to ourselves; our families; our employers, businesses and clients; to our friends; and can’t meet our many and varied commitments. Our own health and well-being therefore has to be our highest priority. Resting when we are tired is not lazy, it’s basic, essential self-care. It is also essential that we model self-care for our children and the young people we are responsible for. The relentless pressure on young people nowadays makes it even more important that, at home, we teach them and show them how to prioritise self-care and their own well-being.

When we do rest and prioritise our well-being, the outcome is often that we are in fact more productive and achieve more the rest of the time as our bodies and brains are better able to function at their optimum level.

Resting when we are tired is essential for our physical, cognitive and psychological well-being. Benefits of regular rest include:

  • Reduced stress levels (and reduction in all the negative consequences that go with stress)
  • Muscle relaxation, which reduces pain and tension and improves muscle function
  • Improved digestion
  • Improved immunity
  • Improved cognition, allowing us to think clearly, plan and problem solve more effectively
  • Improved memory
  • Improved mood and sense of well-being
  • Increased enjoyment of life

So what is rest? Rest looks different to us all, but it is essentially anything that allows our bodies and minds to rest, relax and recover. It may mean sitting down with a cup of tea and a good book, watching some tv, enjoying a craft or hobby which gives you pleasure. It may mean having a cuppa and cake with a friend, going out for a meal, watching a film, theatre show or a comedian. You may like to sing, play an instrument, or sit down and listen to music. Maybe you like to meditate, the deep relaxation from meditation is incredibly good for our physical and psychological well-being; to build lego; draw, paint or colour; do a crossword or sudoku puzzle; or soak in a bath with candles and your favourite music. It may mean some form of exercise either gentle exercise like yoga or walking, something fun like climbing or paddle-boarding, a team sport such as tennis or football or something meditative like running.

As I was writing this article, I stumbled across a pdf document called ‘Rethinking Rest’ written by and published online by mentalhealth.org.uk. This document is very easy to read and the link is shared below. I would recommend taking a few minutes to read it. In the document they break rest down into 6 different areas:

  1. Rest your body
  2. Rest your mind
  3. Rest your ‘heart’
  4. Rest your ‘soul’
  5. Rest your connectivity
  6. Rest your senses.

I love this way of looking at rest as no one form of rest will rest all of these areas, so we need a variety of different forms of rest in our lives in order to meet all our needs. You can find the document at: https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/sites/default/files/ENGLISH.%20Rethinking%20Rest.pdf

Do you think you don’t have time to rest? Think about it this way, do you have time to be ill? Would you rather choose to take a few minutes each day to rest and do something you enjoy, or be forced, as a result of illness, to do nothing for days or even weeks on end? Maybe you could try making a list of different things you enjoy doing to rest, and schedule one into your diary each day, then, make it a priority, stop scrolling your newsfeed, put down your phone/tablet/laptop (put them in a different room if you can),  and do something you truly enjoy for a few minutes instead…you don’t have to do it alone, we can rest with our children, family, and friends as well as on our own.

Maybe, once you begin to realise how good it feels to prioritise your own well-being, how much better you feel, and how much more you actually get done, you can begin to find a little more time for yourself maybe once a month and enjoy the benefits of rest and deep relaxation offered by a massage, reflexology or reiki.

If you are struggling with stress and finding it hard to find time for yourself, hypnotherapy could help.

I’m a self-employed mum of 3 teens/pre-teens. Life is busy, but I do my best to make self-care a priority, I’ll be no use to my family or my clients if I’m unwell myself. I’m a hypnotherapist and holistic therapist with a mission to empower you to say goodbye to stress and anxiety and achieve your well-being goals, whatever they may be. Please get in touch if you are wondering if I may be able to help you. A conversation does not commit you to anything, but may be the beginning of something fantastic.

References and further reading:

https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/sites/default/files/ENGLISH.%20Rethinking%20Rest.pdf

https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/our-work

https://www.mhanational.org/rest-relaxation-and-exercise

The Power of Touch

I had intended to write this month on the subject of stress. However, October 2020 is Pro-Touch Awareness Month so the topic of touch was calling to me instead. It felt appropriate to take this sideways step as touch can be beneficial in helping to ease stress and anxiety anyway.

So, what does touch mean to you?

The kind of touch I want to talk about is the positive, caring, nurturing touch that is so important to human beings. Whether it is a hand placed on the arm or shoulder, holding someone’s hand, a hug, a shoulder or foot rub, or a form of touch therapy such as massage or reflexology. 

I am well aware that touch can also be unwanted, unpleasant, frightening or even dangerous. This is not the kind of touch I want to focus on here. In fact, teaching children and young people early in their lives about positive touch is very important in order to ensure that they have a natural understanding of appropriate, positive, consensual touch as they grow up.

Positive, caring touch is a basic human need, from birth all the way through our lives to the very last moments. Studies on both human infants and monkeys have shown that babies raised without touch do not live and thrive as well as babies raised with lots of loving touch. Equally extensive studies have shown that massage and other touch therapies are beneficial in cancer and palliative care, offering patients the benefit of non-clinical, caring touch at a point in their lives where touch is very limited. 

Research generally neglects to look at touch in childhood, teenage years, young adults, adults, middle and older age. Maybe it is assumed that at these points in our lives we can actively seek touch for ourselves and are less dependent on others. This is not always the case, however. Many people live alone or, even if they live with family, friends or a partner, they may still lack positive nurturing touch. Many others may experience only negative touch and the effects of that are serious and long lasting. Some people do not receive sufficient positive touch in their early years and are therefore ill prepared to give or receive positive touch later in life. Many older people have lived lives rich in family, friends and hugs, but find themselves, later in life, alone, missing that experience of touch.

Touch helps us to:

  • Make and enhance connections and relationships
  • Develop social skills
  • Communicate emotions
  • Offer support and empathy
  • Feel calm and reassured
  • Boost our immune systems
  • Reduce heart rate and blood pressure
  • Reduce our experience of pain
  • Feel comfort and happiness
  • Reduce feelings of anger or frustration
  • Reduce feelings of anxiety, depression or stress

In a year where we have been actively discouraged from touching anyone, not even a handshake, let alone a simple hug, the absence of touch has been all the more acute in so many people’s lives. An interesting article written in September 2019 looked at what it means to be ‘touch-starved’ and the serious health implications of lack of touch. This year I frequently see people on Facebook commenting on how much they miss a hug. So, if you are lucky enough to live with others, or to be in a support bubble with others, make sure that you do touch them, whether to hold their hand, touch their arm, a supportive gesture, or a hug. If that person is a teen or pre-teen who is a little less keen on hugs nowadays, they still need touch, maybe just sit a little closer on the sofa when you are watching tv, touch can be slight and short, just a touch on their arm, hand or shoulder is beneficial, even just being close to them can help.

For those you can’t touch at present, your presence in their lives is a form of non-physical touch. You can still touch their lives with a smile, a phone call, a helping hand, a chat in the street or over a cuppa (all-be-it over zoom), enjoying a walk together, or wrapped up warm with a hot drink.

If you are feeling ‘touch-starved’, there are simple things you can do to help yourself. Taking the time to really massage your scalp when you wash your hair, massaging in a body lotion each day, massaging your feet at the end of the day, giving yourself a manicure and/or pedicure, the feel of a warm bath, a hot mug of tea or of wrapping yourself in a cosy blanket or scarf can also help to give you the comforting benefits of touch. Stroking a pet is also beneficial as is having physical touch in nature, touching plants or trees, walking barefoot in the grass or feeling the sand between your toes on a beach.

Of course, going for a massage, reflexology or reiki treatment is also a fabulous way to enjoy the many benefits of positive touch.

References

https://stpauls.vxcommunity.com/Issue/us-experiment-on-infants-withholding-affection/13213#:~:text=In%20the%20United%20States%2C%201944,basic%20physiological%20needs%20without%20affection.&text=The%20caregivers%20had%20been%20instructed,necessary%2C%20never%20communicating%20with%20them.

PsychologicalScience.org  June 2018 [Accessed 5th October 2020] https://www.psychologicalscience.org/publications/observer/obsonline/harlows-classic-studies-revealed-the-importance-of-maternal-contact.html

Wikipedia [Accessed 5ht October 2020] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ren%C3%A9_Spitz

The Benefits of Touch Therapy for Cancer. Mpls St Paul [online] 23rd September 2020 [Accessed 5th October 2020] https://mspmag.com/health-and-fitness/the-benefits-of-touch-therapy-for-cancer/#:~:text=It’s%20common%20for%20people%20with,system%20through%20touch%2C%20Saldana%20says.

What does it mean to be touch starved? Sharkey, L. September 2019 [accessed online 5th October 2020] https://www.healthline.com/health/touch-starved

Making the Bank Holiday Different



Life in lock-down can mean that the days all begin to blur into one. If, like me, you already have absolutely no idea what day of the week it is, you may have only just realised that tomorrow is a bank holiday ! The start of the long Easter Weekend!

There have been numerous posts and blogs offering advice on how to survive lock-down and how to look after our mental health as well as posts advertising online resources for fun things to do or watch. I’m not going to tell you how to look after your mental health or the importance of routine, you’ve already heard and read about all that too many times. I am going to try to pull together a few of the resources and ideas that are available to help differentiate the weekend from the week. Maybe some of these ideas will help you to make the Bank Holiday Weekend feel a bit more like a holiday and less like just another 4 days in lock-down.

So, what would you normally do on a bank holiday weekend? A weekend away? Camping? Walking? Theatre or cinema? A meal out? See family and friends? With a bit of creativity and planning, many of these could be recreated at home.


We can’t have a weekend away, but if you are feeling hardy and have a tent you could have a garden camp-out, don’t forget the marshmallows and campfire songs (you may even be able to get your neighbours to join in….we did last weekend before the Queen’s speech, it was lovely to see everyone laughing and having some fun) !! If, like me, April is a bit too chilly for camping, you can save this one for the end of May bank holiday weekend instead..


Walking/cycling:…well, we may not be able to go far afield, but we can still go out for exercise once a day so make the most of the opportunity to get out of your house and explore your local area…most of us don’t know the area on our own doorstep as well as we know our favourite beauty spot, now’s your chance to get to know your local area too. While you are out, pop into your local shop for supplies for some of your other activities.


Theatre: You can’t go to the theatre, but the theatre has come home to us. Both musicals and stage plays can be watched on YouTube. Personally, I’m off to the theatre this afternoon to watch ‘One Man, Two Guvnors’ before it disappears at 7pm to be replaced with Jane Ayre. Don’t forget the chocolate/sweets/ice cream/prosecco. Try these links for more information:

https://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/nt-at-home
https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=the+shows+must+go+on


A meal out: Well, we may not be able to go out for a meal or a takeaway, but the meal can come to us. There are many pubs and restaurants trying to keep their businesses afloat and support their local communities by providing take-away meals. A quick search on the internet should help you find what is available in your local area. The closest to me in Copmanthorpe that I am aware of is Ye Old Sun Inn in Colton, where you can not only pick up a fabulous take-away but some essential groceries too (and some of Ashley’s amazing chocolate). You can place your order by phone, then, when you collect, ring them from the car park and they will bring your order out to you. Many other pubs and restaurants are also offering take away services, but , as I don’t know where you all live I’ll leave it to you to have a look online. Now is a great time to support your local businesses.


Your favourite takeaway: If you are set on your favourite Indian/Chinese/Thai/Burger/Pizza you could use the extra time that most of us have to make your own using a simple recipe, let’s face it there are a lot of fabulous recipes online. Alternatively you can see what your local supermarket can offer from their takeaway selection, picking up some marshmallows (for your camp fire), chocolates and ice cream (for the theatre) or popcorn (for your movie night) at the same time.


Movie night: This is one for NetFlix/Amazon prime/Now TV etc or maybe you could dig out some of your old favourite DVD’s and start to watch them again. Maybe you could swap DVD’s with some of your neighbours. Don’t forget the takeaway and popcorn (see above!)


BBQ: This is still possible so long as you have the gas/charcoal you need and can get some supplies. The supermarkets are well stocked again now, but if you don’t want to go to the big shops, your local butchers will be able to provide top quality meats and, again you will be supporting a small, local business. Your local greengrocers will be able to supply the vegetables for your kebabs and salad vegetables as well as fresh fruit to dip in melted chocolate for desert.


Family time: If you have the luxury of a garden, this is definitely the time to dig out those old garden games from the depths of the garage or garden shed, dust them off and start to play. Whether it is an ancient swing-ball set, hoop-la or a couple of tennis balls that you can throw at some tin cans, dig out what you have got and get creative to make some fun, silly games to play as a family. There are loads of ideas on the internet, here is one link (and a second one for card games), but a quick search will provide you with plenty of ideas.

https://www.wired.com/2009/08/simpleoutdoorplay/

Family time: To spend time with your wider family, and friends too, you can arrange a video call using WhatsApp/Zoom/Skype/Google hangouts etc. with a bit of planning you could organise a quiz, a bingo night or some silly games to play online.


And, of course, it’s Easter, there will be eggs to hide, eggs to hunt for, eggs to paint and decorate….and chocolate to eat…

So there’s a few ideas. What will you plan to do this weekend?

Personally, I’m off the the theatre this afternoon, racing around the world (on catch up) tomorrow, heading back to the theatre for Jesus Christ Superstar on Saturday or Sunday, enjoying a curry, catching up with family and friends via Zoom and playing games in the garden (swingball, football and badminton most likely). I’ll save the camping until it’s a bit warmer! Let me know what you get up to, it might give me some ideas for next weekend…

What actually is stress?

What does  ‘stress’ mean to you? What situations do you find stressful?

Stress means something different to us all. We all find different elements of our lives stressful. Something that causes me stress, you may take in your stride. There are those day to day stressors such as asking a child to get ready to leave the house when they are busy gaming, or the one-off sources of stress, such as giving a presentation to a roomful of people.  Many people, unlike me, take presenting in their stride, even finding it enjoyable. On the other hand, others may find entertaining family at Christmas very stressful, personally, I find that I can play to my strengths in that situation, using my organisational skills to ensure I am well prepared and, as I’m definitely not a perfectionist I can relax and ‘roll-with-the-punches’ when things don’t go quite to plan or I forget to cook the stuffing ( I always forget something).

Stress is our natural, biological, physiological response to a potentially threatening situation. It’s a response born out of our days as cave-man and cave-women when we had to deal with the very real threat of predators, or the collapse of the safe, warm shelter of our cave. The stress response is a survival instinct, designed to enable us to take one of a limited choice of actions, usually either flight (running away) or fight. Both of these responses require increased oxygen to our lungs and increased blood supply to our skeletal muscles to give us the strength and stamina needed. 

In order to achieve these goals, our brain releases stress hormones (such as adrenaline and cortisol) which stimulate physical changes to how our bodies work:

In the short term we don’t need to digest our food (except sugars for energy), digestion can wait until after the situation is over, so blood is diverted away from our digestive system. This explains the nausea we experience with stress.

‘Modern’ parts of the brain including memory and language skills are not required in the short term so blood supply to these regions of the brain is redirected elsewhere. This explains the ‘brain-fog’, memory problems (e.g. in exams) and difficulties we can have finding the right words (e.g. when we are about to give a presentation). This probably also explains why we can always think of the best, wittiest retort for that unbelievably rude individual we encountered, several hours after the event.

Blood is also diverted away from our skin, resulting in the cold, clammy sensations we experience.

Our breathing becomes faster and shallower in order to get more oxygen into the lungs for transportation to our muscles.

Our heart rate and blood pressure increases in order to get more oxygenated blood to the muscles as quickly as possible.

Blood supply to the skeletal muscles (arms and legs) is increased to give them strength and stamina. 

In addition our blood clotting ability increases, sensitivity to pain decreases and our immune system (which protects us from disease) is also decreased.

Of course, in modern life, this stress response is frequently inappropriate. I’ve never yet encountered a tiger in my village and my house hasn’t collapsed yet either (even the doors are withstanding the pre-teen door-slamming so far!). Fighting or running away won’t help with stubborn children, exams or presentations. This means that when we experience stress, we don’t usually burn off the physical aspects of the stress response and are left with the effects in our bodies for a long time. I’ll look more at the longer term consequences of stress and how to manage stress in our daily lives in a future blog. But for now I’ll just look at how we can manage our stress response at the time.

So, how can we reduce our stress response when we are in a situation that we find unpleasant and stressful? The easiest way to look at this is to look at aspects of the stress response.

Even as children we are told to take a few slow deep breaths. There is a good reason for this. If the stress response speeds up our breathing, taking a few slower, deeper breaths, can help to slow our breathing, helping us to regain control not only over our breathing but also over the rest of our body. As our breathing gets slower and deeper, our heart rate also slows down. Try it now. Take a few slow, deep breaths and notice how it makes you feel. Notice the rise and fall of your chest, notice your breathing rate and heart rate slowing down together, then notice your muscles begin to soften and relax.

Another way to slow and reduce our stress response is to force the language and memory regions of our brain to work. Reciting either in your head or out loud a poem; the lyrics of a song; girls names beginning with each letter of the alphabet; or anything else you can think of which requires both language and memory, helps to focus the mind, drawing attention back to language and memory, away from the primitive parts of our brain which focus only on survival rather than on reason and logic.

Awareness can help too. Sometimes, it can be helpful just to be aware of and understand your stress response. Understanding why you feel the way you do (nauseous; dizzy; cold and clammy; tense; rapid breathing and heartrate) can be enough to allow you to take a step back, observe your response objectively and allow it to dissipate while you focus simply on breathing slowly and steadily until the feelings pass and you are able to move forward with your day.

Physical activity can help us to feel better and ‘burn off’ that pent-up energy. The stress response is designed to enable a burst of strenuous physical activity. Therefore, physical activity can be very helpful in allowing our body to return to a state of rest and relaxation.

Complementary therapies such as massage, reflexology, and reiki can also help aid relaxation and reduce stress. Hypnotherapy and mindfulness are also widely and successfully used in stress management. Contact me today for more information about how I could help with any of these different therapies.