April is Stress Awareness Month, and with community as this year’s theme, the Feel Good Norfolk Collective – a community of wellbeing practitioners and businesses – have offered some insight into stress and how to relieve it so that we can live more fulfilled and connected lives.
Sarah Groves, founder and director of Feel Good Norfolk, says: “Our whole being must be considered when addressing stress.
"Within our collective we have practitioners who help guide the physical body to feel good, as well as our hearts and minds to feel good."
Being in a community has hugely positive impacts on our health and wellbeing.
But, says Sarah, we have lost our traditional way of living interdependently in our tribes and villages and instead live much more in isolation.
Humans evolved as a social species; we thrive on the company of others.
So, our overall wellbeing benefits from having a sense of connection, belonging, togetherness, and purpose.
Says Sarah: “Within our collective we encourage less competition and more collaboration. We believe that, by sharing our knowledge, resources, and experiences we can learn, grow, and thrive together.
"Working and living side by side, reduces our stress and enhances our wellbeing, individually and collectively."
Feel Good - heart and mind
Andie McPherson, counsellor and psychotherapist, says: “There are different ways of examining stress and exploring how this is showing up in a person’s life and what change it may be calling for.
"We might look at this in terms of cognitions (thoughts) and behavioural patterns and in terms of a person’s relationship to stress and the stressors in their life.
"We may work practically and short-term (generally set sessions of between six–20 weeks) where we can look at ways of experimenting with thoughts and strategies to alleviate stress. The counselling session then becomes a protected and non-judgemental space to identify what works and find solutions.
"At a deeper level ‘stress’ can signal the invitation to heal old emotional wounds or examine our relationship with ourselves.
"Many people find themselves experiencing an inner tension, hyper-vigilance, or lack of easement even at times when the pressure appears to be off. In which case we can think of ‘chronic stress’ in terms of a spiritual discontentment or unprocessed psychological pain that has been locked out of conscious awareness.
"Whilst this is universally part of our human experience, the causes and solutions are unique to everyone. In longer-term counselling and psychotherapy, the process is dedicated to exploring a person’s life experience at their pace and with a professional trained to create the safety that is required to repair deeply held hurt - something that’s often entirely impossible in other relationships in our life.
"Working with a counsellor who can receive the difficulties that are often too hard to face alone, it is very possible to find a fundamental easement in life.”
Stress can often be caused by grief and Hayley Bedington, integrated therapist at The Stable Space, explains that “grief can be more than the loss of a significant other or relationship, for example it may be a loss of career or sense of self.
"Grief can unleash a set of complex emotions, including stress, anxiety and loneliness that take us into unfamiliar and overwhelming territory and leave us there without a way to reconnect to life.
"Somehow we’re supposed to figure out how to progress whilst going through one of the hardest things we’ve experienced. Loss can impact on many areas in life, and events we once took in our stride initiate a stress response that makes us feel like we’re not coping, eliciting more stress leaving us in a state of overwhelm. It’s important to know there is no appropriate or timely reaction to grief. It doesn’t work that way.
"Feeling alienated from community, family, and friends during trauma, can be massively detrimental. If any of this resonates, know that asking for help is a good first step.”
Hypnotherapist Kerry Dolan explains that “our thoughts cause tangible shifts in our bodies.
"Like shrewd PAs, they are constantly listening for clues on how to prepare us for our day. If your thoughts are stressful, they push you into the fight or flight response.
"Hypnotherapy is a fantastic way of accessing the relaxation response, the lesser-known counterpart to the fight or flight response.
"Whilst the fight or flight response rallies the body to fuel a rapid retreat or a physical attack (rarely the most appropriate response in a world where your stressor is more likely to be a long to do list than a raging tiger), the relaxation response utilises those valuable resources for general repairs and ‘house-keeping’ in the body. "
You can manage your stressors by asking yourself these simple questions, says Kerry:
1. What are my thoughts about this situation?
2. How am I feeling?
3. How am I acting/responding?
4. How would I like to feel?
5. What thoughts would support those feelings?
6. What actions would support those feelings?
Tammy Parnell, Founder of Tara Hills Therapy tells us how “stress, anxiety, fear and feeling unhappy with your life can come from feeling and believing and knowing that at the core of you that you are not enough, that there is something broken. There is a story you are telling yourself and it feels true. But when we re-write the story, we transform your experience of life, to one of joy, love, and excitement instead.
"This is the underlying philosophy of Rapid Transformational Therapy (RTT), a hypnotherapy method developed by Marisa Peer. Our unconscious beliefs formed in early life are controlling us as adults, but they can be changed, and life can be fearless and happy."
Crystals… they’re just pretty rocks, right? Laura, who runs her business Rock + Realm, a boutique décor and crystal shop, explains: “Well, yes, they’re definitely pretty and I’d highly recommend placing them around your home. They’re so much more than just a pretty face though! How can crystals help with stress? It’s all about the vibes…
"We are a collection of atoms vibrating at specific frequencies. When you’re healthy your atoms vibrate harmoniously, but when you’re ill or unhappy these vibrations become unbalanced. The highly organised structure of crystals creates balanced energetic vibrations that help return your natural energy field to a healthy vibrational frequency. Different crystals vibrate at different frequencies and so their benefits vary.
"You can tap into these healing vibes by incorporating crystals into your home, wardrobe, and wellbeing practices. For stress relief, try adding an amethyst cluster to your bedside, wearing a smoky quartz bracelet or meditating with howlite.”
Feel Good Body - yoga, movement and breath
Marie Williams is a yoga teacher and trainee yoga therapist.
She explains: “Yoga Therapy is concerned with balance in the body and mind to improve both physical and mental health and wellbeing.
"The major disruption to this balance that Yoga Therapy is concerned with when it comes to stress is the release of the hormone cortisol and the cascading response of the sympathetic nervous system (SNS).
"While important for survival, hyper-activation of this branch of the nervous system uses a lot of energy and quite often leaves the body depleted.
"The role of Yoga Therapy here is to reduce activation of the SNS and increase the ability to restore dominant parasympathetic drive once the SNS has been activated. To do this effectively, we need to be ‘flexible’ and, luckily, this flexibility has nothing to do with our hamstrings! Rather, it refers to the flexibility of the nervous system.
"Flexibility of the nervous system can be measured by heart rate variability’ (HRV) and greater HRV means we are more psychologically and physically flexible and reliant. It’s an important biomarker of health that decreases with age, due to poor mental health and lack of exercise.
"Increasing HRV can be done effectively, by oneself over time and with continued practice and is free of dangers and cost! However, working with a Yoga Therapist initially will provide you with the necessary education and tools. These tools include yoga asana (movement and postures), pranayama (breath exercises) and relaxation.”
Lou Kitchener from Yoga Happy says: “One of the most useful practises in yoga for alleviating stress is how we breathe. Our breath and our mood are intimately linked! When we take a deep breath in with a relaxed tummy, our diaphragm can move effectively.
"A magical nerve (called the vagus) then gets stimulated, sending a message to our brain to say that we are safe: cue a state of ease and relaxation. Conversely, a restricted short breath with our tummy held tight will have the opposite effect of telling our brain something is 'wrong': cue a sense of unease and tension in both our breath and mood.
"This, on repeat, can have a huge impact on the nervous system long-term. As we're (hopefully) always breathing - it's a free and accessible practice for everyone to explore.”
Breathworker, Shani Bella, believes “your breath is your gateway to healing.”
"You come into this world and take your first breath. You leave this world and take your last breath. And in between, you’re forgetting to breathe!
"The simple and profound practice of actively using conscious connected breathing to fill yourself with oxygen and move stuck energy out of your body, can feel like the most beautiful meditation, a trip across the universe, defying time and space, with wonderful emotional releases and blissful night’s sleep often experienced.
"Learning about birth trauma on my doula course has never convinced me more that the first breath you ever take energetically creates your blueprint for how you navigate this world!"
Liz Naven, vinyasa yoga teacher, writer and holistic masseuse at Movement and Words says: “For me, to practice yoga is to be here now. When we feel stressed, or worried, or sad it's often that our mind is ruminating on the past or what might occur in the future. So, a practice that allows us to be here now, to exist as we are in this very moment - that's worth, well, practicing. If time allows only for five full, considered breaths, do that. It's enough.
"But if you have more, my go-to is intuitive movement that feels like joy in your body. Yoga without the rules, no strict alignment. Yoga that allows for play and self-expression.
"Listen to your favourite music, listen to your body, your breath. Forget about the boundaries of your mat and move yourself through space and time. When you're done, notice what's left behind. Did you come back to yourself more fully? Are you here, now? What effect has this had on your feelings of stress? Over time, this will become something you can always return to, a practice that'll leave you better prepared to face challenges, grounded in yourself and the present moment.”
Emma Stevens from MovES says: “The modern-day quest to have it all and the idea of non-stop production goes against our natural rhythms.
"Failure to listen to these internal rhythms has an impact on our stress response. We need adequate rest, nutrition, sunlight, and movement to allow us to function and cope with the stresses both physically and mentally that come our way.
"Exercise is well documented for reducing stress hormones and increases endorphins and Pilates is no exception. It is a whole-body resistance workout that builds strength, mobility and co-ordination. Taking part in a class or private session can build confidence, improve self-esteem, promote mindfulness, and provide some much-needed fun and social interaction."
Amy Woods, certified Groove facilitator, says that in the book Burnout: How to Complete the Stress Cycle, sisters and doctors Emily and Amelia Nagoski "share their research and experience about the biological stress cycle, how to help our body complete it and return our body to a state of relaxation.
"The first step being using the muscles in the body in any sort of movement or physical activity. Getting the heart pumping, blood flowing and enhancing our breathing.
"The second part being practicing some form of connection with ourselves and/ or with community, through meditation, through stillness, through a heart-to-heart conversation, a hug or even a deepened exhale.
"Through dancing and grooving to all different kinds of music, we dynamically and creatively use all the muscles in the body, which helps stress hormones to move through and be used up instead of staying in the blood stream. It also creates a huge boost of all the feel good hormones which increases a sense of confidence and wellbeing.
"Together we meet each other on the dance floor exactly as we are, we shake it out, jiggle, strut, skip, float, and play! It's a beautiful balance of uniting in community and celebrating our unique expression.
"It's a wonderful way to de-stress, feel refreshed and feel connected to a community of dance loving humans!”
Feel Good Body – touch therapies
Acupuncturist Nicola Rycroft of Three Treasures Clinic says: “Over half of the people who book into my acupuncture clinic come to address their emotional needs. This may seem surprising, given that the benefits of using acupuncture to treat muscular and skeletal disorders are more widely recognised.
"Published research studies discuss how acupuncture positively impacts upon the sympathetic nervous system. Stress can build up through the release of neurochemicals, especially when people are over-worked or feel overwhelmed. Acupuncture can inhibit the release of these chemicals, as well as releasing feel-good hormones that in turn calm the body and mind.
"Chinese medicine doesn’t typically separate the physical from the emotional, and in my clinic I always adopt this holistic approach. Some of my patients feel off-balance but haven’t received a medical diagnosis of ‘depression’ or ‘anxiety’, whilst others are on long-term medication. Traditional acupuncture is safe and works very well alongside western medicine."
Sarah Groves, wellbeing practitioner of Feel Good Therapies says: “Reflexology is one of my absolute favourites for managing stress levels. With the feet having over 7,000 nerve endings, a reflexology treatment is a fantastic way to soothe the nervous system and encourage better blood flow.
"Offering a sense of calm and relieving pain regular reflexology can support the body to function in a more optimum way, keeping us grounded and steady.”
Sister-duo, Izzy and Lisa Webster and the community of professionals they work alongside at wellbeing centre The Space in Burston are passionate about helping people to find a healthy balance between body and mind.
Izzy explains: “It’s our community as well as what’s on offer that is so valuable for everyone that enjoys The Space, whether they are working or attending a session. We know that being together and supporting each other is an important part of all our wellbeing”
To find out more about the Feel Good Norfolk collective visit feelgoodnorfolk.co.uk