Are you holding your breath?

amy-treasure
Photo by Amy Treasure on Unsplash

Have you ever found yourself holding your breath when you are feeling overwhelmed or frustrated?

When we are stressed, our breathing becomes short and shallow, and we may hold our breath. This reinforces our “fight or flight” stress response. When we come back to our breath and take slow, steady breaths, we trigger our body’s parasympathetic nervous system, and we “rest and digest.” It signals our bodies that it’s okay to calm down and relax.

Let’s face it, when you’re in the moment, completely overwhelmed and stressed, it’s hard to think about anything else. But practicing a simple breathing technique can act as a reset.

Next time you catch yourself holding your breath or feeling overwhelmed, try simply bringing your awareness to the sensations your breath creates as it moves in and out of your body.

You can also try the following practice:

  • Inhale slowly for the count of 4
  • Exhale slowly for the count of 8
  • Notice the space in between the inhalation and exhalation
  • Repeat until you begin to calm down

Breathing happens so naturally it’s something we don’t even think about. How about you? Do you ever catch yourself holding your breath?

Always Busy?

Busy city street
Photo by mauro mora on Unsplash

You’re constantly stressed.

Crunched for time. 

Your to-do list is never-ending. 

Always thinking ‘when my kids are older, when this big project at work is over, or when they hire more help at the office, then I can actually take care of myself.’

You know there’s got to be more to life than feeling exhausted and overwhelmed all the time. You probably even have ideas on how to deal with your burnout. But you never have time or energy to follow through on your good intentions.

Our culture values Busy. We multi-task like our life’s at stake, all in the name of getting everything done. Like, if we do enough things, we’ll prove we’re good enough. Then we’ll deserve to take a break, spend quality time with our loved ones, or follow our dreams. 

Your life is at stake.

As Annie Dillard has said: “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”

Most folks unconsciously default to Being Busy.

Day after day.

Year after year.

Living on autopilot.

Racing around trying to get all the things done. And what do you get for all that effort? Exhaustion. Burnout. You work hard all day only to come home and collapse on your couch and mindlessly stare at your phone or your TV, only to get up and do it all again tomorrow!

Is that how you want to spend your time, your life?

What if you consciously chose how to spend your time?

What if instead of getting stuck in the drudgery, you chose something different?

Busy is not a badge of honor. Your being “good enough” is not dependent on you doing all-the-things for all-the-people.

It’s okay to not be Busy.

I realize some folks don’t have many choices in life. But many others are living their life like they’re trapped by their circumstances when they actually do have a choice. If you’re reading this, you’re likely lucky enough to be in the position to make choices.

So now you have a choice to make: You can choose to continue being buried under Busy or you can choose Ease.

It’s a choice you get to make each and every day.

It’s a simple shift, but not easy.

I know it sounds crazy to actually take time for yourself when it feels like you don’t have a moment to spare. But when you step up and take the time, this weird time warp thing happens where you actually get more done and it feels like you have more time.

I know. I used to be Queen of Busy. But when I started to show up for myself and made taking care of me non-negotiable (not something I’d do “if I had time”), things started to shift. I’ll share some of my favorite tools and tips in the coming weeks.

But for now, start to take note of how you’re spending your time.

Are you on autopilot? Or are you living your life with intention?


Keep Reading: The Secret to Finding Time

Zentangle: An Alternative to Meditation? Ask the Expert.

Zentangle

You’ve probably heard a meditation practice can help you manage stress. But it can feel like a Herculean task to sit in silence and focus on your breath. All those thoughts buzzing around! Enter Zentangle. It’s basically a method of drawing that can promote a meditative state. I recently took a beginner’s class and I’m in love! I’ve been tangling every day and I feel more focused, relaxed, and creative. Plus I have some cool art! I interviewed local artist Leslie Barr to tell us a bit more about Zentangle.  She’s a Certified Zentangle Teacher and teaches classes here in Champaign. 

What is the most common reason folks come to your classes?

Zentangle is increasing in popularity, but I’m still trying to get the word out. Zentangle is a meditative drawing method. The designs created might look complicated or like they require a lot of artistic talent, but it really is surprisingly easy to do, once you know the steps. And while the art you create is beautiful, you also get the wonderful benefit of relaxation and mindfulness.

Is there a common misconception about Zentangle that you would like to clear up?

Probably that it looks complicated or difficult to do. Actually, the patterns can all be broken down into easy to learn steps.

What are the benefits of practicing Zentangle?

Zentangle is a great way to meditate. By focusing completely on drawing the repetitive lines, your mind tunes out all stress and distraction. It can help reduce anxiety, grief, and depression. It can increase ones ability to focus and help with problem solving and team building.

How long have to been teaching here in Champaign, IL?

I have been practicing Zentangle since the end of 2012. I became a Certified Zentangle Teacher in November 2013 and began teaching then.

Where do you teach Zentangle classes?

I have taught classes in coffee shops, in people’s homes, and at churches. Lately, I have been teaching at a the Marm Studio Gallery. This lovely art gallery is in the home of a terrific local artist, Mary Ciaccio. She has her own working studio as well as a teaching studio in her lower level.

Who can learn Zentangle?

If you can write or print your name, you can create Zentangle artwork. I am hoping to schedule a parent-child class soon.

What do you love about the community here?

I have lived in Champaign since coming to the University in 1980. I love Champaign. The people here are friendly and support one another. There is such a great variety of things to do here. Whether you love sports (you name it, we’ve got it!), performing arts, visual arts, community service, places of worship, there is something for everyone!

What’s your favorite local lunch place?

These days I’m enjoying Sun Singer. Currently they are showing the beautiful artwork of local artist, Mary Ciaccio

About Leslie

“Creativity rescued me from dark places and has brought me a great sense of peace and serenity. It brought me closer to God and helped me find new ways to meditate and pray. I have loved teaching and sharing this passion. So, here I am, searching for more ways to share art and how it can bring peace and love into the lives of others.”

LeslieLeslie has always loved arts and crafts. Throughout her childhood years and into adulthood, she always enjoyed ceramics, photography, creating her own Christmas cards and gifts for family and friends, etc. Yet it wasn’t until she was 50, art became something even more profound for her. When her sister died suddenly on her 53rd birthday, grief hit Leslie hard. Less than a month later, while attempting to do some Christmas shopping, she stumbled upon One Zentangle a Day – a book by Beckah Krahula. She bought the book, planning to give it as a gift, but once she got it home and began reading it, she decided it was something she needed to try. It turned out to be truly a godsend.

She absorbed as much information as she could about Zentangle over the next few months and then decided to take the leap and become a CZT (Certified Zentangle Teacher). You can learn more about Leslie and her classes on her website, A Line at a Time. She tangles daily and posts her work on Facebook and Instagram.

Stress, Anxiety, and Massage

Why get a massage? According to a survey conducted by the American Massage Therapy Association, 28% of Americans who get a massage do so for relaxation and stress reduction. That’s a lot of people in the US who feel strongly enough about their own experiences with massage for stress reduction to put their money on it. But aside from individual feelings, what exactly do we know about massage and how it relates to stress and anxiety? And what does the research have to say about that?

What is stress? What is anxiety?

Stress is your body’s response to demanding circumstances. Working late hours? You’ll experience stress. Prepping for a big competition? Definitely stressful. Toddler throwing a tantrum? That’s no doubt stressful for both of you. When you’re stressed, your blood pressure goes up, your breathing and heart rate quicken, and you feel jittery and distracted. All this is useful if your stress is a result of the big race you’re running, when you can put that energy to good use. It’s less helpful if your stressor is a friend in need of patience and comfort.

People who regularly put themselves into stressful circumstances on purpose (public speakers, for example) often learn how to channel that stress response for their own benefit, but it takes practice. When stress goes from being an occasional experience to a chronic condition, health problems result.

Anxiety (not to be confused with anxiety disorders, see below), on the other hand, isn’t necessarily a reaction to circumstances. Most often, it’s related to anticipated future or potential stress. As with stress, anxiety isn’t necessarily an immediate health problem, although it’s unpleasant. Feeling a bit anxious about an upcoming exam, the imminent birth of a baby, or the quality of a presentation can give you a push to prepare as best you can. But anxiety becomes unhelpful when it is overwhelming, requiring you to focus all your energy on surviving your immediate feelings rather than addressing their roots. Pacing, nail biting, trembling, and vomiting are signs that anxiety is veering into unhelpful territory. Test anxiety, social anxiety, and decision anxiety are all common forms of anxiety.

Anxiety disorder is the general name given to chronic, excessive anxiety in response to everyday situations. Anxiety disorders include

  • Generalized anxiety disorder: excessive anxiety in general.
  • Social anxiety disorder: anxiety disorder related to interacting with others.
  • Separation anxiety disorder: anxiety disorder related to separation from specific people, often parents or caregivers.
  • Phobias: subset of anxiety disorders characterized by persistent fear of a specific thing.
  • Panic disorder: anxiety disorder characterized by reoccurring panic attacks.

Many people discover that they have more than one type of anxiety disorder, or deal with anxiety combined with depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, eating disorders, alcoholism, or substance abuse. While stress and anxiety are more general terms that you can probably identify in yourself, anxiety disorders can only be diagnosed by a physician.

What kinds of studies have been done on massage for anxiety and stress?

Stress:

While stress levels are largely subjective, studies focused on pain, sleep, and other outcomes often find that patients report decreased stress levels as one of the major benefits they receive from massage therapy treatments. In one study on pain in acute care settings, more than half of the patients mentioned relaxation in their survey responses. One described the experience of receiving massage as “very helpful, soothing, comforting, and relaxing,” which is notable considering how stressful being hospitalized is. Improved emotional well-being and sleep were also mentioned by many patients and nurses, both of which are good indicators of stress reduction.

Anxiety:

Most studies done on massage and anxiety have focused on specific populations. One study found significant improvement in both state (long term) and trait (immediate) anxiety in children with cancer and blood diseases who received Swedish massage. Another measured the physiological responses to stress (blood pressure and pulse) in hospitalized children and found similar results. Cardiac care patients were the focus of another study. Again, massage was shown to be helpful at reducing anxiety. Still, larger and broader studies on the matter still need to be done.

Anxiety disorders:

There have been relatively few studies on massage therapy for anxiety disorders specifically, and those that have been done have been small and generally lacking good control groups. One randomized controlled trial found that massage therapy was significantly helpful for people with generalized anxiety disorder, but no more so than thermotherapy (relaxing with hot towels placed in different locations on the body) or being in a special relaxation room with no additional treatment. This study only measured improvement over multiple weeks, and not feelings of anxiety in the short term, before and after treatments. Because this study didn’t have a no-treatment control group, they weren’t able to state whether all three were equally effective or equally ineffective.

What does all this mean?

People regularly feel that massage helps reduce their stress and anxiety. There are also other techniques that seem to be helpful to varying degrees, depending on the situation and the person. This is helpful to know, because not everyone enjoys massage. For some, touch itself can be a source of stress and anxiety, so it’s helpful to know that there are other complementary therapies available that also create positive results.

Stress and anxiety are closely tied to pain, sleep, and other factors. Reducing pain reduces stress levels. Reducing stress levels can also reduce pain. Improving sleep can impact both pain and stress, and vice versa. Does massage therapy work primarily through either pain or stress reduction, or does it impact both equally? This is an area for further study.

Massage therapy is a fairly safe way to manage stress and anxiety. With relatively few drug interactions and a very low chance for injury, massage therapy can be helpful to a wide variety of people dealing with stress and anxiety in different situations. From infants to athletes to people in hospice, there are few who could not benefit from massage therapy.

There is a lot more to learn. While there is a lot of research on massage for pain, massage for anxiety (and especially massage for anxiety disorders) has less research to back it up. It will take time and money before a large body of knowledge has been built up.

If you’re feeling stressed or anxious, massage therapy is worth trying. The evidence is still rolling in, but what we have is promising. Are you ready to give it a try? Book your next massage today.

Massage and Anxiety

Massage and Anxiety

Everybody has experienced stress and anxiety at some point in their lives, right?  Stress is a normal part of life, but for some people it can become excessive. Anxiety disorders affect 18 percent of the US population. They involve excessive worry and irrational fears that can interfere with your ability to live your life.

Generalized anxiety disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), and phobias are types of anxiety disorders. While there are varying symptoms with each, many physiological responses overlap with the different disorders. Some disorders manifest with physical symptoms like sleeping problems, shortness of breath, heart palpitations, nausea, sweating, or dry mouth. Others are purely emotional, denoted by  excessive, unrealistic worry or feelings of panic, fear, and uneasiness. Usually, there’s a combination of physical and emotional symptoms.

How do you know if you are just stressed or if it’s something else?

Most people experience symptoms of anxiety at one time or another, but for those with a disorder, normal daily life is often interrupted and limited. Many people are able to function with symptoms while others are unable cope with them. Stressed out? Constantly worried? Having trouble coping? Just like with any health problem that is interfering with your ability to live your life, talking to your doctor is the first step. They will be able to discuss what treatment options are best for you. Ranging from medication to therapy to stress-management techniques, like meditation and massage.

Massage for Anxiety?

Yep! Research suggests that massage therapy can help with anxiety.

Massage Therapy, along with medication and lifestyle changes have helped me get my anxiety under control. I’ve found it to be a great way to just forget about my worries for an hour. It’s also helped with physical symptoms, like tense muscles.

Nervous about giving massage a try? Give me a call and ask questions. Check with your doctor or counselor. If you are ready to schedule an appointment, Book Now