Ann Foley Holistic Therapies*
Dedicated to your physical and emotional wellbeing - based in Brixworth, Northamptonshire
An ongoing series of informative entries to help us through lockdown
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What's in a smile? - 8 May 2021
“Let us always meet each other with a smile, for the smile is the beginning of love.” – Mother Teresa
Ok, we may not all love the people we smile at; we may not even know them BUT, especially in the current situation, a smile can feel like a massive hug!
I was out on one of my walks the other day and passed another couple, they both smiled at me and I started to feel a bit warm and fuzzy inside. It also started me thinking - I always smile at people that I pass, so maybe they’re getting the warm and fuzzy feeling as well!
I also got to thinking about people that I pass that don’t return my smile, it seems such a small thing to do, so why don’t they? Well, how do I know what is going on in their life? They may have had some bad news or are out walking to try and figure out some obstacle in their work or home life.
But just because they haven’t responded it doesn’t mean that they haven’t been affected by the smile, having that positive interaction with someone, no matter how fleeting, may help them if they’re on a difficult journey.
Science has proven that positive physical touch can improve your immune system and may contribute towards lower heart rates and blood pressure. So, in the absence of touch, let’s all pass on a smile, it doesn’t cost anything and they’re infectious – your smile could set off a chain reaction and give lots and lots of people that warm fuzzy feeling.
“A simple smile. That’s the start of opening your heart and being compassionate to others.” – Dalai Lama
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A good night's sleep - 20 March 2021
I love the Irish proverb - “A good laugh and a long sleep are the two best cures for anything!” Ensuring that we have plenty of both is great for our self-care.
Sleep is one of the most important parts of our day.
Did you sleep well last night? Unfortunately, many of us don’t, but in this blog we take a look at some ways we can help ourselves.
Did you know that the average person spends 36% of their life asleep? That means that by the time you’re 90 you will have spent 32 years of your life asleep! But sleep problems are very common, 1 in 3 people in the UK find it difficult to fall asleep or stay asleep.
And there is now scientific evidence that links poor sleep to various health issues such as obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease to name a few.
So how do we make sure we have a good night’s sleep?
Well, first it might help to understand how our body works.
We all have four internal biological rhythms. These are 24-hour cycles that are part of the body’s internal clock, they run in the background to carry out essential functions and processes. One of the most important and well-known is the circadian rhythm which controls the sleep-wake cycle.
The circadian rhythm is directly influenced by environmental cues, especially light, which is why these rhythms are tied to the cycle of day and night. The circadian rhythm also controls appetite, body temperature, hormone levels, alertness, daily performance, blood pressure and reaction times.
Why do we sleep? Scientists have lots of different ideas about this, but the three main reasons are:
Restoration - during sleep our bodies and brains restore and repair themselves. Taking to your bed for a couple of days when you are ill will heal you much quicker than taking pills and soldiering on.
Energy conservation - sleeping saves calories. Very handy when we were cavemen!
Brain function - during sleep our brains process information dealt with during the day and lays down long term memories. Have you ever had a light bulb moment after a good night’s sleep?
Having regular quality sleep increases our concentration, attention, decision making, creativity, social skills and health. It decreases our mood changes, stress, feelings of anger, impulsiveness, drinking and smoking.
So, are you having trouble getting to sleep or staying asleep? There are things you can do to help both.
Keep regular sleeping hours, this will programme your brain and internal body clock into a regular routine. Most adults need 6 to 9 hours of sleep every night. Count backwards from the time you need to get up and you can set a regular bedtime schedule.
Wake up the same time every day. As tempting as it is to catch up after a bad night’s sleep, doing so on a regular basis can be very disruptive.
Wind down and relax. There are lots of ways you can relax:
* Have a warm bath.
* Do some light, slow yoga stretches to help relax your muscles.
* Listen to a relaxation CD or download an app, the NHS website has a few apps that you can download.
* Read a good book or listen to the radio.
Avoid using electronic devices such as your smartphone, tablets, or other electronic devices (even the tv) for an hour or so before you go to bed.
Remember your circadian rhythm responds to light and the light from your devices can have a negative effect on you falling asleep.
What else can you do to help you have a good night’s sleep?
Make your bedroom sleep friendly!
The temperature of your bedroom can really affect your sleep, an ideal bedroom temperature is between 16 – 18oC. Temperatures over 24oC may make you restless and below 16oC can make it difficult to drop off. Children and the elderly may need their rooms to be warmer than 16 -18oC .
Your bedroom is your sanctuary. In an ideal world it should not be an extension of your living room. So, remove the electronic devices. Get rid of the tv and don’t take your laptop to bed to answer that last minute email! Create a calm, safe haven devoted to sleep.
Add layers to your bedding, this way you can take off a layer if you get too warm.
Make sure your bedroom is dark when you go to bed or wear an eye mask. When it’s dark our bodies release melatonin, which is the hormone that helps regulate our circadian rhythm and helps us relax in to sleep.
Busy day ahead? Write everything down before you go to bed, then you don’t need to worry about forgetting anything and you can just enjoy your sleep.
If you use your mobile phone as an alarm clock – put it on aeroplane mode, that way you can’t be interrupted by notifications and late-night texts from your friends that can’t sleep!
If you wake up and can’t get back to sleep, after 25 minutes or so do something different. Have a walk around – don’t start to look at your computer or mobile phone though! If you’ve got thoughts running through your head, write them down. I’m lucky enough to have a spare bed, so I go in there and listen to the radio – there are some interesting programmes on the BBC World Service at 4am!!
Monitor alcohol and caffeine intake. Avoid caffeinated drinks in the afternoon and evening. Also, be aware that some medicines contain caffeine.
Make sure you have enough room in your bed and that your mattress and pillows are comfortable.
Open your curtains as soon as your alarm goes off. The daylight will help you wake up.
Did you know that what we eat, and drink can also have an affect on our sleep? A healthy diet can help you fall asleep faster, enhance your sleep quality and sleep duration.
When we are feeling really tired, we can make poor food choices, that’s why you shouldn’t do your food shop when you are really hungry!
Have you ever come home from work feeling exhausted and you can’t decide what you’d like to eat or whether you can be bothered to cook?
It’s so much easier then to reach for the chocolate, crisps or biscuits and before you know it, you’re full of junk food and wishing that you’d taken something healthy out of the freezer before you went to work.
Unfortunately, high sugar, high carbohydrate and overly processed foods tend to have a negative impact on sleep quality. Eating these foods throughout the day causes pronounced changes in your blood sugar - which can cause fatigue that may alter your daily routine - which can then impact on your sleep patterns at night.
Eating big heavy meals close to bedtime interferes with the body’s process of winding down for sleep - as the stomach and the intestines are still hard at work breaking down the food. This can cause indigestion or heartburn at night-time.
Did you know you are also more likely to snore after you’ve drunk alcohol? And that can impact on your sleep quality and worsens conditions like sleep apnoea. It also negatively impacts the sleep quality for your bed partner! Oh dear, that’s not good for a harmonious relationship!
We all have times when we can’t get to sleep or wake up in the middle of the night - but if you are experiencing this on a regular basis and you feel that the lack of sleep is negatively affecting you, please speak to your GP.
There’s a lot of advice out there about how to get a good night’s sleep, some of the sites I’ve used are listed below.
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this, maybe it’s cured your insomnia!!
Many thanks to Melissa Trenfield, who is an Occupational Health Advisor, for all her help and here are the links to some very useful sleep information sites …..
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Working from home - 4 February 2021
Since the first lockdown I have seen more people than normal who have neck and shoulder pain. This is partly due to stress and partly because they are slumped on the sofa whilst working on laptops. So, let’s have a look at the ideal office setup – you may not be able to make all the changes but let’s see if we can get you off the sofa.
According to WebMD you should first look at your seat. When you sit on your chair, your legs should be level or slightly lower than your seat and both feet flat on the floor – not up in front of you on the pouffe! If you can’t get your feet on the floor because the chair is too high and isn’t adjustable, put a block of some kind under your feet.
Your spine should be in line with the back of your chair, at about 110-degree angle – not the 160-degree that you have when you are sat-laid in bed or on the sofa!
Right, so now you’ve got your seat sorted, let’s have a look at monitors. Using your laptop on your lap for long periods of time puts pressure on the cervical vertebrae at the top your neck, this can trigger headaches and pain in your back and neck.
If you are using a laptop invest in a separate keyboard and mouse, this then allows you to raise the laptop up. You can buy a laptop stand to lift the screen, or you can do what I do and get a couple of rather thick books and stand it on there. There’s probably a good reason I shouldn’t do this (please feel free to let me know) but I’m from Yorkshire and don’t like spending unnecessary money, although I have got a separate keyboard and mouse!!
Try to have the monitor centred in front of you and an arm’s length away, this will help with neck and eye strain. The top of the monitor should be around 2 to 3 inches above your eye level.
Typing with your arms at the right height is important. With a separate keyboard and mouse this is easier to achieve. If you’ve been experiencing any numbness and/or pain in your wrists, arms and/or shoulders it could be that your keyboard is too high, and you are creating stress on your joints. Ideally your keyboard should be slightly lower than your elbows allowing your arms to be slightly angled downwards.
So that’s your quick overview of the ideal workstation. And remember, even though you’re working from home, your employer still has a duty of care. The Health and Safety Executive has some excellent resources for you to find out more information.
But positioning isn’t the full story. A lot of clients tell me that they are spending more hours on their laptops at home than they would in the office. Why’s this? Well, they’re not getting up to consult with colleagues or having a ‘water cooler’ moment on the way back from the loo.
I know how easy it is to get sucked into your work and the next time you look at the clock three hours have passed - but you have to move regularly!
Take shorter breaks more regularly – 5/10 minutes every hour rather than 20 minutes every couple of hours. Set a reminder on your phone to go off at regular intervals – then you’ve got no excuse for forgetting to move.
What should you do during your break? Well, you can walk to the sink and top up your glass of water because you do not want to become dehydrated!
You can walk up and down stairs a couple of times or have a dance around your room.
Stand and stretch, stretching feels so good, that’s why cats and dogs do it every time they get up.
But do you know how to stretch? Most of us just do a quick movement but for an effective static stretch you should hold the position for at least 20 seconds AND you should never overstretch and cause yourself pain.
When I’m working with clients or sat at the computer, I like to do simple shoulder rolls - slowly bring your shoulders up towards your ears, take your shoulders backwards and down and then forwards and back up - basically big circles to the count of 10. Do a couple of rounds clockwise and then reverse.
Also shoulder shrugs – they’re very easy and relaxing - squeeze your shoulders up to your ears, count to five and let your shoulders drop back down.
The Chartered Society of Physiotherapy (CSP) has some great exercises on their website for homeworkers, including downloadable screensavers to remind you how to do them! Just remember, do them all slowly, hold for a least 20 seconds and don’t hurt yourself by overstretching.
And my training school, Jing Massage, have some fab self-care resources – from meditation and mindfulness to stretches for all the parts that hurt!
I hope this has all been helpful and remember, you don’t have to be working at home to do the exercises. A lot of us (me included) are spending longer than normal sat reading or watching tv, so it’s just as important that we also keep moving. Until the next time – keeeep moving!
If you’d like to look at the resources I’ve used, these are the links:
Our Second Blog Entry
Are you keeping hydrated? - 27 January 2021
Water, water everywhere….. but are you drinking enough?
All my clients know that I am passionate about drinking water. It usually comes up at least once during an appointment with me, poor things they probably feel like they are being battered over the head with a water hammer! And I’m sure most of them only drink the water I give them at the end of an appointment to keep me quiet.
There is a reason for my nagging though, many of my clients have muscle and joint pain. Many of those with muscle and joint pain are not keeping hydrated, they may only have a couple of drinks of tea or coffee a day.
This is NOT enough fluid to maintain balance in your body, but there is an important caveat - if you have been told by a medical professional that you need to be careful with your fluid intake then you should stick with their guidelines.
It’s normal to feel extra thirsty after spicy food or exercising BUT if your thirst is stronger than usual or doesn’t go away when you’ve had your drinks, it can be a sign of an underlying health condition and you should speak to your GP. In fact, if you have any concerns about your health, if you have a symptom or symptoms that you are anxious about, get an appointment with your GP as soon as you can.
So why is drinking water good for you?
Over half of your body is made up of water, this varies with age, sex, health, and weight but the average adult female is approximately 52-55% water, the average male is 60-63% water.
So, it makes sense to keep hydrated, especially when you consider that water is necessary to support your immune system, which in turn helps you fight off infection.
Water aids your digestion, keeping hydrated will help your bowels and is particularly important if you suffer from constipation.
Water is important for our heart and blood circulation. Just think, keeping hydrated will help the blood carry nutrients and oxygen around your body. Great for your joints and muscles and for your brain to work well. Have you ever had brain fog, or a headache and it has cleared after a non-alcoholic drink?
Brain-fog? Yes, you menopausal ladies, keeping hydrated can help. A lot of things change during menopause and you may need to reconsider your diet and fluid intake. Think about it, if like me you are warmer than normal and having hot flushes, your body is expelling more fluid, you need to keep it topped up. Another symptom of menopause can also be joint pain!
Why is water good for joint pain?
Well, between the bones that make up your joint is cartilage. Cartilage is a connective tissue; it lines the surface of the joints, reduces friction, and acts as a cushion between the bones. Cartilage is your shock absorber! Cartilage is kept lubricated by synovial fluid, which is a gel-like liquid secreted by the synovial membrane. Synovial fluid is the oil that keeps your pistons and levers moving freely.
Since approximately 60% of joint cartilage is made of water, it is particularly important that you keep hydrated, otherwise the production of synovial fluid will reduce and the risk of cartilage deterioration and joint pain increases.
Would you forget to put oil in your car engine or on your bike chain? No? Well, likewise you need to keep your own pistons and levers lubricated.
It’s ok if you don’t like water, in the UK it is suggested that you aim to drink 6-8 glasses of water and other liquids each day. This is about 1.2 to 1.5 litres of fluid on average and can include water, low fat milk and sugar-free drinks, including tea and coffee.
But bear in mind, whilst caffeinated tea and coffee do contribute to your fluid intake, they may also make you pee a bit more. And if it’s a warm day, you have been exercising or you’re sat inside with the central heating on, you may need to increase your fluid intake.
You can always add something tasty to your water, but you also need to keep in mind your sugar intake, which can contribute to weight gain. So try adding a herbal tea bag or slice of lemon (other fruits are available!)
I’ve got to be honest; I drink a lot of water and I rarely drink it with anything added, I prefer it either straight out of the tap or when it has been sat around in my glass and aired. My top tip is to keep a glass by the kitchen sink and every time you pass by have a drink and top it up. If you’re at work, keep a glass on your desk and have a drink every time you have a stretch break (which you should be doing regularly). There are some great water bottles with hourly markings on so you can keep a track on how you are doing.
So how will you know if you’re dehydrated?
Well, probably the first sign you’ll be aware of is feeling thirsty, and when you go to the loo your urine might be a dark colour. You may also feel lethargic or dizzy.
Checking the colour of your urine is an easy way to assess if you are hydrated, the colour you are aiming for is yellowish to amber. If your pee is very clear you may be drinking too much which can rob your body of essential electrolytes. The colour of your urine can also differ depending on meds you’re taking or what food you eat. I always remember going into an absolute panic because my urine was red – I thought I was internally bleeding until I remembered I’d eaten quite a lot of beetroot at lunch!!
Some people hold off on drinking because it makes them go to the toilet more. Yup, this will happen but it’s generally a good thing. Your body will release the water it does not need to hold on to but if you are ever worried that you are going to the toilet too much please speak to a medical professional.
And if you suffer from water retention it really is important that you drink more. It’s a strange fact but the better hydrated you are, the happier your body is to let go of the fluid it’s holding on to.
So, there you have it, why keeping hydrated is good for you. I hope you’ve found this informative (not too dry) and it hasn’t made you want to rush off to the loo!
Until the next time - keep well, keep safe and keep hydrated. Cheers!
If you’re interested, my research took me to the following sites:
Our First Blog Entry
Be kind to yourself - 19 January 2021
As a massage therapist and reflexologist, I believe that self-care and being kind to yourself should be at the top of everyone’s list.
These last few months have been hard for us all in one way or another. Whether that is because you’ve had to work at home AND teach children (I take my hat off to you if you fall into this category), you’ve not been able to see loved ones for a kiss and a hug or maybe you’ve not been able to work during the lockdowns or you’ve lost your job. If you come under one of these headings, or are having a different experience, the time has come to look at your self-care.
Self-care can take many forms; cooking yourself a gorgeous meal, having a regular massage, having your nails done, losing yourself in a book, having a well-deserved sleep in or ensuring you have time to exercise regularly.
My usual self-care routine would be to have a regular massage (at least once a month), reflexology treatments and a facial every couple of months, that has all gone out of the window – I’ve not even had my hair cut for 13 months!! - if you see a woman with very big hair walking down the street, that’s probably me!
BE KIND TO YOURSELF!
But that’s not to say I haven’t been kind to myself, first of all I’ve turned the notifications off on my phone. This is a BIGGY, especially if you’re constantly being bombarded with news about Covid-19 or you’re always seeing posts about your friends and their kids making the tastiest cakes ever and having THE best time. This is when your anxiety levels are going to start soaring and self-doubt will become a regular visitor.
Most people see me as a positive person but when we went into Lockdown 3, although I was expecting it to happen and I thought I was mentally prepared, it really threw me. I’d made a long list of things I wanted to do, including cleaning the house, studying and painting the bathroom but I really could not motivate myself to do anything.
At first, I was quite harsh with myself but then realized I was grieving: I couldn’t work, and I couldn’t help my lovely clients, so I decided to help myself by giving myself permission to sit and read or watch tv (which is something I rarely do during the day) or just sit and do nothing, it was very liberating.
Taking the pressure of myself worked. I can’t say I’m making fabulous cakes and I haven’t painted the bathroom yet, but I have cleaned the house (more than once!), I’ve started my studying and I’m making time to exercise – with occasional online Pilates and yoga sessions, gentle stretching and walking every day.
I love walking! It’s free and makes you feel fab. And you never know who you might meet for a socially distanced chat.
Yesterday I walked 6 miles out across the fields but today, well today I’ll be walking around the village. That’s the great thing about walking, you can go as near or as far as you want and Brixworth is a lovely village to discover.
I love the view across the fields from Woodsfield and Froghall and whilst you are down in the old village, have a wander around the outside of our gorgeous church and spend some time reading the old gravestones, there’s so much history there.
If you don’t fancy walking for walking’s sake, why not follow the Brixworth Heritage Trail and find out more about our old village. Who knew we used to have so many pubs?
I particularly like a blue plaque on Northampton Road, it makes me smile every time I read it, although I’m pretty sure it’s not part of the official trail!
Why am I advocating walking as your self-care? Well, it is something most of us can do, it doesn’t cost the earth (environmentally or financially) and getting out in the fresh air will clear away your cobwebs and bring a little peace to your mind.
I’ll be back with some more (hopefully helpful) tips but in the meantime get on your shoes, boots or trainers, grab your coat and give your body and soul a little self-love.