Tag Archives: physical health

female holding seated yoga pose

How yoga has totally transformed my life

Having recently discovered yoga, I’ve found far more benefits than I could have imagined. My mind, body and overall health have improved in layers.

1. Physical health—strength , flexibility and balance

Depending on the type of yoga practiced, incredible strength is needed to obtain some of the poses and movements. During vinyasa flow yoga practice, you’re encouraged to breath in a particularly way with each movement. Regular yoga practice builds strength and flexibility across your whole body. While holding the poses, even simple ones, your balance is improving each time.

Healthier blood flow around the body, in turn helps with blood flow to the brain which can help with clearer thinking. On a personal note, yoga can help with chronic conditions such as chronic pain—most (if not all) of the movements and poses can be modified if disability prevents the full posture being achieved. To start with I found, even, upward and downward facing dog difficult but I soon mastered a full sun salutation.

2. Mind-body connection

2 women, 1 with Down syndrome, doing yoga together

For all sorts of reasons, I struggle to understand the experiences of my body; I’m not sure what signals it’s giving me. It’s taken me a long time to understand hunger (for example) and when I experience pain, I’m not sure how to respond. Proprioception is the awareness of the body and its movement in space, yoga has really helped me be more aware of my body and to be more connected with it. A good yoga teacher will help you be aware of how far to push your body, to listen to its cues and to this has the huge benefit of having a better overall awareness of what your mind and body need.

3. You time—self compassion

As soon as you make the decision to do something for yourself, you’re showing yourself compassion. How many of us think we don’t have time to do something for ourselves? Think we’re too busy, have other priorities or put other people first? Carving out some you-time isn’t a bad thing, it’s not indulgent to look after yourself, after all, you can’t look after others if you in poor health… Treating yourself well has all sorts of knock on benefits, including: eating better, a calmer mood, more motivation, better confidence and self esteem, overall better mental health!

4. It’s not limited

A woman and young boy doing upward facing dog together

There are so many different types of yoga you’ll be able to find something that can work for you. You can do it with a child, in groups, on your own, while you’re pregnant, you can find work outs that make you sweat or that help you meditate, harder poses if you need something to motivate you to work harder over a period of months/years and there are simple movements if you body needs a break.

Yoga can help with specific issues such as bloating and digestion or headaches but it’s also great for overall fitness and health. You can do a 5 minutes routine in the morning or evening (to help you wake up or wind down) or a full blown intense hour long workout.

I would highly recommend finding a teacher who has the ability to modify postures and poses to individuals. Even online teachers can do this quite easily. It’s also important that they don’t make you feel as though you’re a failure for needing to do the modified moves, our bodies are all different and that’s ok.

During lockdown I started following YouTube videos daily and have found this to be incredibly beneficial for keeping a routine. My recommendation would be Boho Beautiful, she has a huge range of videos and has the option to join a community to get longer workshop video (I’ve never felt the need for this as her YouTube videos are enough for me!).

Therapist with client

How can counselling help physical health problems?

Sick female on sofa with paramedics and concerned friend

There are countless people suffering everyday with symptoms that are medically unexplained. They may have a label/diagnosis but insufficient explanation as to what is actually going on to fully manage it. These are often managed with medication such as painkillers or anti-inflammatories, or patients simply have to try and put up with them having received a half-hearted explanation from their primary care physician. Examples include non-cardiac chest pain, tension-type headaches, globus-syndrome, chronic fatigue syndrome, non-epileptic seizures, candidiasis hypersensitivity, chronic pain syndromes, irritable bowel syndrome.

When a patient goes to their primary care physician for a physical symptom they should, of course by investigated to see if the symptom is caused by a physical health problem. For example, if you have difficulty swallowing, the physician will first take a full history, then your throat will be examined and further tests/scans etc will be done to discover any pathophysiology . Differential diagnoses could be gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD), stroke, multiple sclerosis and various cancers. But if all of these are ruled out by the time the various tests are finished the most important thing is not to dismiss the patient’s symptom! How many of us with chronic symptoms have had various tests come back as “all clear” and thought—so what next?! I’m still suffering…how do I manage my symptom(s)?!

Female on floor with blanket blowing her nose

Research has shown that 52% of adult referrals to rheumatology, cardiology, gastroenterology, neurology and gynaecology have no known pathology linked to that speciality and are therefore discharged from that speciality without a management plan. This happened to me when I was referred to rheumatology—I received a half-hearted diagnosis of fibromyalgia, was told there might be a leaflet in the waiting room I could pick up on my way out and that was that. No treatment options, no plan, no hope.

It can be very difficult to see how a very physical symptoms can have any psychological component but the mind is an incredibly powerful organ. It controls everything that happens in your body. Day-in-day-out, unconsciously, your mind controls digestion, metabolism, your heart rate and respiration. You don’t consciously think “breath-in…breath-out…” but your body just does it. However, you can choose to slow down or speed up your breathing, take a deep breath or hold your breath if you want to. It’s also been shown that being aware of your heart beat can be effective during times of anxiety when you need to calm yourself down, you can consciously slow it down.

If you want to manage physical symptoms, a helpful exercise can be to think about where you feel emotions. For example, most people feel, at least a little workplace stress—where do you feel this? Do your shoulders feel tense? Does your chest feel heavy? Do you feel a knot in your abdomen? Noticing how your emotions impact your body is an important start on the road to getting your mind and body re-connected.

Another helpful processes is to think about when you first started noticing your physical symptoms. For example, did you experience a bereavement, a period of work stress, bullying, car accident or other trauma? Once identified, considering how you managed this event is key—do you think you’ve fully processed it? Don’t compare yourself to others, everyone deals with life’s events differently. Do you think there’s a pattern to how you deal with things? Are you a stiff-upper-lip type? Or do you busy yourself with helping others? Perhaps some things feel too painful to process? Noticing these patterns and considering what impact this could be having is important. If we don’t process stressful events, the stress needs to go somewhere; the tissues in your body will hold onto it until your consciously choose to release it.

Male on side of bed with head in hand

Not processing events fully can lead to shame and guilt. Holding onto these feelings becomes a negative cycle that can impact every area of life.

You may feel that your physical symptoms come and go randomly with no connection to anything and despite trying to find triggers. The body is amazing at holding onto stress and releasing it at a later date. For other people the body provides an early warning signal that your under stress. Counselling can help you become more aware of your emotions and how you process them. It can also help you becomes more in tune with your body, which, in turn, will improve your physical health.

If you’re not yet convinced that the brain-body connection is important, take a look at this study (Suzanne C. Segerstrom, Ph.D., et al.), it shows that law students who were confident had more and better functioning immune cells than worried students. This systemic review and meta-analysis (Alan Rozanski, MD, et al.) also showed that optimism was associated with lower risk of cardiovascular events.

During these difficult times, people are struggling with all sorts of unusual experiences and are dealing with untold pressures, don’t downplay how hard you’re finding it! It’s been shown that talking is one of the most important things we can do, whether this is to a trusted friend or to a professional counsellor, making the first step will be the hardest but it will benefit every aspect of your life.

How to survive Blue Monday and thrive this year

The 3rd Monday of the year has been found to be “Blue Monday”, the day when people most depressed, uncertain if the future and even hopeless. It may be pseudoscience but I think people are feeling pretty down this year. Some people find themselves in debt after Christmas, struggling towards the next payday, weather in the northern hemisphere is pretty bleak and this year in particularly, the Covid-19 pandemic has been dragging on just a bit!

I just had to respond with a blog about how we can manage this period of the year and learn some coping strategies that will benefit us for the rest of the year!

Person tiring their shoe laces

5 top tips:

  • Move everyday—some form of exercise whether it’s yoga or walk or a HIIT workout, moving your body is awesome for all sorts of reasons. It can be a good distraction, a time to think, or a time for mindfulness. It releases endorphins, the feel good hormone. You can get the whole family involved too!
  • Creativity—whether it’s poetry, pottery or a building a shed, being able to say “I made this” with a sense of accomplishment boosts even the lowest mood. Turning your hand to something new or picking up an old skill taps into a part of the brain that we don’t use everyday. Something we can all do is listen to music, while it’s not building or making anything it taps into an expressive part of the brain and can be incredibly powerful.
  • Writing—it’s been found that even just writing about what you’ve been doing each day can help build memories. For some people, writing can be a way of expressing themselves if they find it difficult to talk about how they’re feeling. If you pick up and pen and don’t know what to write, perhaps start with things you’ve done or things you can see, hear or smell, then try writing some about how you feel, it doesn’t have to make sense initially but you’ll soon get the hang of it!handwriting
  • Talking—this is an incredibly beneficial coping strategy. From talk to your a pet to choosing to take up personal therapy or anything in between. It’s important if you live alone to keep in contact—we’re incredibly fortunate with the range of technology (text, email, various video call options or good old fashioned phone call) these days we just need to use it!
  • Help others—looking after a pet or even a plant can really improve your mood and help your self esteem. Feeling depressed can make all your thoughts turn inward but making yourself look outward can bring a different perspective to your problems. It doesn’t have to be huge but once you start you might feel you want to do more and more!

A few simply dos and don’ts

  • Do express your emotions in a health way—have a good cry if you need to, punch a cushion, scream if it helps, these are all fine. Make sure you can differentiate between healthy and unhealth expressions of emotion.
  • Don’t turn to addictive behaviours—alcohol may be “socially acceptable” and may “feel nice” but it’s just a way of numbing your feelings and it’s ultimately helpful. Equally, turning to food or anything else you know is your usual coping habit is a way of pushing away your feelings. A more healthy way of coping is to find ways of being able to manage your feelings in the moment such as breathing techniques, talking or writing about them or try mindfulness. (It’s fine to have a drink but just ask yourself if you’re drinking to escape stress/feelings etc?)woman holding a glass of wine
  • Do limit time spent reading/watching news about Covid-19—make sure you know the pertinent information but beyond that don’t get sucked into the unhealthy political mud slinging that the media seem to enjoy.
  • Don’t compare your life to other people’s! You don’t see what goes on behind closed doors. Don’t endlessly scroll through social media, limit your time on social media if you can. Remember that what other people post is a highly edited version of their life and doesn’t reflect their reality. Try to only follow people or pages that bring you happiness (hide, mute or unfollow everything else—it really is that simple!).
  • Do remember you’re mental, physical and spiritual health are all linked, if you don’t look after one, the others will suffer. Doing something physical, like going for a walk or having a bath will do just as good for your mental health as it will for your physical health. If you didn’t think you had a faith but this pandemic has got you asking questions like “why would God do such a cruel thing?” perhaps it’s time to find an Alpha or Puzzling Questions course (or similar) and ask these questions. It’s ok to get angry at God, he can take it. Ask someone you know goes to church or contact your local church (or other faith community) online, they’re all doing far more online than they used to!

If you think your low mood is more than feeling a bit blue and these tips are not going to be enough, please seek professional support. It’s important to get support early.