It’s fantastic that Auckland is now at Level three. We hope that in two weeks…
As physiotherapists, most our work is helping patients to fix very specific issues – for example reducing knee pain after an injury or building up muscle strength after a broken bone.
We learn early on in our training is that the site of the injury might not always be the cause. Lower back pain could be the result of restricted or weak hamstrings; a stiff and restricted knee can sometimes be improved by deep tissue massage of the calves or glutes.
It’s one of the most fascinating things about the human body: just how inter-related everything is . (If you’ve ever done a deep hip stretch in a yoga class and felt your jaw relax you’ll know what we mean!). Seeing the body in this way – as an intricate web of connected elements – rather than as a lot of separate parts, is essential to providing effective treatment. ‘Zooming out’ allows us to identify issues that we may not have considered if we’d only focused on the site of the pain.
But what about zooming out a little further? Beyond the realm of physical injury, there are a many other factors that contribute to health. Like the various parts of the body are deeply interconnected, so are the areas of physical, mental, and even spiritual health. Seeing these different areas of our lives as interrelated is sometimes referred to as a ‘holistic’ approach to health – considering the whole person rather than just the symptoms they present with to treat an issue.
There is much scientific evidence to back this up. Stress is believed to play a part in around 70% of diseases, including cancer, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes. Prolonged stress may lower the immune system and even increase recovery time from injury.
So with the prospect of a Covid and lockdowns leaving many of us feeling a little more anxious than usual, we thought we’d present a few ways to take care of your health in a more holistic way.
Get More Active!
There’s almost no better way to combat anxiety and stress than with physical exercise. The endorphin boost that follows a good workout is one of the most powerful relaxants known to science. A good brisk walk, jogging or other repetitive exercises are also great for helping the mind drift into a more relaxed state, akin to meditation, where conscious and subconscious minds connect to work out problems. Ball sports, extreme sports and martial arts all require a high level of focus that takes your mind off any worries you may have. And more gentle activities such as yoga, tai chi or Pilates often have this holistic philosophy of linking body and mind at their core. In short – whatever your sport, get out and do it!
Give Yourself a Break
We don’t mean booking that batch in the Coromandel (though that would be nice too!). Simply trying to achieve less can have a significant impact on your stress and anxiety levels. If you’re the type of person who says yes to everything, try starting to say no and taking on less. A massive to-do list is one of the most cited causes of stress. It is better to do a few things well than doing a lot but making mistakes or going around in circles with too much to do.
Remember – we are all our own worst critics. Having high standards is important, but perfectionism can be a curse. Let yourself be ‘just good enough’ occasionally.
You Are What You Eat
It’s very easy to reach for chocolate, junk food, caffeine, or alcohol when we are feeling tired or stressed out, but while these may provide a short-term boost to our mood they can come with a cost of depleted energy reserves, poor health, and weight gain. As much as possible, try and remain disciplined with what you eat: we know how important it is to eat well for our health and the effect our diet has on our immunity, but mounting scientific evidence shows that our diet has a direct impact on our mood as well. Studies have shown that a Mediterranean diet – high in fruit, veg and nuts, moderate in dairy and white meat, and low in red meat – is associated with a reduced risk of depression and anxiety. So the next time you prepare food, think about mainly vegetables, a little protein (fish or chicken) and small amount of carbohydrates.
There are not many thangs that are more important for our wellbeing than quality sleep. This is when our minds solve problems and process what might be going on in our lives and the time when our bodies do their physical healing. When we are feeling stressed or anxious, sleep can be disturbed. If this is the case for you, try building a bedtime routine that starts at least half an hour before you want to sleep. Avoid stimulation such as television or the internet, and definitely don’t spend time scrolling down your phone. A warm bath or shower, gentle stretching, or even a guided relaxation exercise such as a yoga nidra can help you relax. (A quick Google search will bring up plenty of guided pre-recorded pre-sleep meditations). Avoid high intensity exercises and caffeine. Don’t have afternoon naps longer than 40 minutes.
If you do find yourself tossing and turning, get out of bed and do something like read a book or meditate. Staying in bed will only result in rising adrenaline, stress, and further lack of sleep.
Worrying about the future, going over events in the past or focusing on negative thoughts are significant causes of stress and suffering. We can accept these thoughts however, not focus on them and change our attention to the present moment by focussing on our breathing or our bodies and how we are sitting or moving. This is the idea behind mindfulness and with a little practice most people can manage to do this for at least a minute or so and thus avoiding to acting out or reacting to uncomfortable thoughts and feelings. Mindful practice, sometimes referred to as focussed attention, can involve anything from meditation, to simply taking a moment to appreciate the taste of the food in your mouth or the feeling of the air on your face. How you do it doesn’t matter, but it can be very helpful to take time in every day to practice. As we relax our overactive minds, the frequency of our brain waves decreases, the result of which is everything from better problem solving to increased feelings of wellbeing.
An increasing amount of evidence suggests that the simple act of taking a moment each day to show gratitude can have a positive impact on our wellbeing. Studies of the benefits of keeping a gratitude diary have shown improved sleep, reduced illness, and increased mood in the participants. The practice is simple- at the end of each day, write down a three to five things for which you feel grateful. They can be big or small like great feedback from your boss, or simply the sound of the birds in the morning when you wake. Taking time to focus our thoughts on the positives in our life alters our brain chemistry over time improving our happiness and wellbeing.
Want to find out more about nurturing your wellbeing?
Based on the latest research into holistic health, these guides contain simple, practical steps to help boost your mood and feel great.