• Sophie Williams

Reflexology - a natural way to support stress relief

Updated: May 11

Stress doesn’t just make you feel bad, it can be bad for your health too.

Stress is an issue facing many and increasingly, we may notice people around us feeling overwhelmed because of pressures faced as part of our modern-day life. Anyone can be affected by stress – male, female, adult or child.

For most, our bodies usually cope with short term pressures (acute stress). In fact, a small amount of stress in our everyday lives can be positive, so long as it is short-lived. Excessive or prolonged stress (chronic stress) is very different. It can result in many longer-term health problems if left unmanaged. It can affect our thoughts, feelings, behaviour as well as our physical body.

So, what is stress?

Stress is the degree to which you feel overwhelmed or unable to cope as a result of pressures that are unmanageable (mentalhealth.org.uk).


During a stressful situation, our body creates a stress response. This is an automatic and immediate response to perceived threat – either physical, emotional or psychological. These threats can be real or imagined and it’s the perception of threat that triggers our stress response. A situation that feels stressful to one person such as a pending work deadline, may be motivating to someone else. We all have different triggers (stressors).


A stressful situation triggers our sympathetic nervous system – the accelerator – which leads to the release of stress hormones including cortisol and adrenaline. This leads to physiological changes such as increased heart rate, increased blood pressure, quickened breathing, muscle tension and sweating. This combination of reactions to stress is also known as the fight-or-flight response. Once the threat has passed, our cortisol levels fall and our parasympathetic nervous system – the brakes – kicks in and dulls our stress response, our bodies attempting to regain balance including hormonal.


The fight-or-flight response plays a vital role in how we deal with stress and danger. It can be very useful and necessary in readying our bodies for action so that we are better prepared to perform (and push through) under pressure e.g. delivering a presentation, taking a test or even getting on a plane. Acute stress is easier to manage – it happens and then it’s gone.


With chronic stress, however, it is quite different. This is where our body’s stress response is constantly triggered – like keeping your car engine running too high for too long. Prolonged activation of this survival mechanism harms our health and leaves our whole body out of balance. Over-time, the constant build-up of stress hormones and the changes they produce can be very damaging to our health. When our hormones are out of balance, our bodies don’t function normally. Chronic stress is one of the main causes of hormonal imbalance and many people struggle to find ways to put the brakes on.

What is the health impact of chronic stress?

People often mistakenly think that illness is the cause of their headache, fatigue, insomnia or decreased productivity and so on. Frequently however, stress may be the cause. Chronic stress can have a very sneaky way of building up in you, becoming a very real and serious problem before you know it.


Researchers have concluded that the more stress a person experiences, the less able their body is to respond effectively and can even go beyond its capacity to recover and regain homeostasis (balance).


Stress can affect how you think, feel and behave and how your body works. Whatever your triggers, ignoring stress won’t work. Be kind to yourself, listen closely to what your body is telling you, and take action to tackle stress.


Signs of chronic stress can include:

  • Emotional signs such as depression or anxiety, mood changes e.g. increased anger and irritability, feeling overwhelmed, unmotivated and unfocused

  • Increased restlessness and sleeping difficulties – too much or too little

  • Constant worry or racing thoughts, inability to cope with normal daily events

  • Poor decision making, poor memory and concentration

  • Weight gain around the waistline (increased cortisol enhances our appetite and promotes storage of unused nutrients as fat).

  • Weakened immune system

  • Back pain and muscle tightness (as a result of stress hormones tightening muscles)

  • Stomach aches, severe cramps, digestive issues and missed periods

  • High blood pressure, hormonal imbalance, and much more.

Managing stress for the long term

One of the first steps towards managing stress better is to realise and accept that things are getting on top of you. The next is to identify your specific stress triggers.


Once you are aware of your triggers, you can start to review your lifestyle and look for ways to achieve greater calm and balance. Identifying ways to relax more physically, mentally and emotionally is going to help. Eating well, sleeping well, self-care and talking (asking for help if you feel able to) are also important.


There are many ways to start to relax more physically, mentally and emotionally including receiving reflexology.

Reflexology and stress reduction

Reflexology is one way to counter the effects of stress on our overall health. Reflexology can provide a safe space to relax, receive care, and focus on yourself. One of the key benefits of reflexology is its ability to induce immense relaxation. Through relaxation, the body is better able to deal with the stresses placed on it.


Reflexology is a touch therapy (used for over 5000 years) based on the theory that all systems and organs of the body are mirrored or reflected in our feet, hands, face and ears. Reflexologists work these points and areas to bring them back into balance, therefore aiding the body to work as well as it can.


Reflexology works with the whole body, and in doing so aims to bring about balance across every aspect including hormonal. Through reflexology, we can access all endocrine reflex points on the feet (or hands) with the aim of bringing about hormonal balance.


Reflexology may not eliminate all your symptoms; however, it should help to alleviate a significant amount of the pressure. This will allow you the space to figure out the best way forward.


Additional ways to manage and reduce stress

There are a whole host of other daily habits you might adopt to further support you. These might include:

  • Deep abdominal (belly) breathing – the foundation for many relaxation techniques – great for lowering stress, blood pressure and benefits your entire body.

  • Visualisation and visualisation meditation - picturing the outcome of something before it's happened / focusing the mind instead, on a different (happier) image.

  • Meditation – techniques for focusing the mind to encourage clarity, calm and emotional positivity.

  • Practising mindfulness - paying attention to the present moment and knowing what is going on inside and outside of us.

  • Physical activity such as a brisk walk to deepen your breathing and relieve muscle tension and movement therapies such as Tai Chi or yoga.

  • Identify and undo your cognitive distortions, for example: changing negative self-talk (our inner critic), Reframing your thoughts - creating different ways of looking at your stressful situations and changing their meaning, and working to develop more optimism.

  • Social support - re-connecting or starting to develop a social network that will enhance your life. This doesn’t need to be a big net of people, just the right size for you. Be very clear that isolation is a friend to stress. Hiding ourselves away won’t alleviate our stress.


If you would like to find out more about reflexology, book a treatment / a free taster or just have a friendly person to talk to, please contact me on 07968984344, or email sophiewilliams@comtorevive.co.uk.


References



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