Category Archives: Health

12Nov/17
Overcome stress and pain to live well

The worried world and what we can do

Overcome stress and pain to live well

A recent article by Oliver Burkeman entitled ‘Anxiety bites. How to keep calm when world events are freaking you out’ highlighted the impact of Brexit and Trump upon people’s life perspectives. He states that levels of anxiety and being troubled have gone up, quoting the American Psychological Association as finding 57% of those surveyed to feel stressed by the political climate. There has also been a rise on the UK. We are, it seems, as a society, worrying about life and the future. Are we in a worried world?

We can argue that anxiety, like all perceptions, are inferred states as we try to make sense of the possible and most likely causes of the sensory information. After all, we are a bag of chemicals, and depending upon where they are and what they are doing, our brain has to make a best guess as to what they could mean based upon what we already know (priors). It is interesting that the ‘feeling’, the ‘what it is like’ of anxiety is similar to excitement. The key is the interpretation and what you tell yourself: I am excited or I am anxious. Try it.

Burkeman raises some good points. He mentions the contagion of anxiety as we are tacitly capable of sharing our emotions with others whereby both you and I feel anxious together despite being distinct organisms. Consider how quickly the atmosphere changes in an office or the mood of a football crowd. We are supposed to do something about the problems we perceive, but what should that action be? A feeling of outrage, powerlessness, isolation, and despair can prevail when we become over-focused on problems. This is some protective biology at play that results in us drifting into that state and maintaining it by continuing to attend to certain thought patterns. Burkeman also picks up on the notion of fear, with one of the therapists he interviewed mentioning the deep rooted and basic fear in life that stems from childhood. Without the safety of reliable parents, a child is destined to fend for herself, making the world appear to be a very dangerous place. Of course this can be hugely amplified if suffering or having suffered abuse when the protect systems are deeply provoked and remain active.

This is a serious issue. We have progressed remarkably as a species and the momentum is building, yet we appear to be falling behind when it comes to the so-called mental health. Regular readers and followers will know that I have an issue with this term, which I feel implies a dualist approach to the human experience. Experience is embodied (Varela et al. 2017). Everything we think and do is embodied, meaning that suffering depression and anxiety, the common and increasing problems previously identified, emerge in the bodily self. Where do you feel anxious? Most people will say in their stomach or chest.

Consistently being in a state of protect has health consequences as our resources divert towards defence rather than nourishment. This in turn raises the chance that the person will suffer a plethora of conditions, including those of an inflammatory and auto-immune nature. In my view a serious consideration for society (and policy makers), this is likely one of the reasons for the uptick in chronic pain, remembering that pain is also a mode of defence inferred from the existing circumstances.

what can we do?

This all seems a bit grim as we quickly forget the possibilities in life and the beauty that we are surrounded by in nature and human beings. So what can we do? Certainly knowing what we can control and focusing upon this rather than what we cannot control is a good start point together with a picture of what we actually want. This is the basic model of success. In terms of chronic pain, this is the first step we take when addressing the problem(s) before coming up with the principles to follow in order to achieve wins and overcome pain.

Here are a few simple tips, beginning with the creation of inner calm. Why is this so important? Because it gives us a perspective, making contact with our reality, allowing us to see things for what they are instead of being caught up in emotions that are the fabric of thoughts past and future. We learn to sense that inner calm, a feeling in the body akin to a deep peace and knowing. I would argue that this is a natural state, and one we can learn to access routinely each day, through the day, as well as when we need to be calm, clear and to see things as they really are. Biologically speaking, when we know and live this calmness, we are in parasympathetic mode, the branch of the autonomic nervous system that nourishes us.

Two simple ways to create inner calm: (1) take 3 breaths and slowly breathe out, paying attention to the breathe all the way in and all the way out. (2) take 10 breaths, following your breathing from the entry into your nose or mouth into your body and then letting go naturally, not trying to control or change your breathing at all. Note how you feel.

Further practices that can be integrated and implelemented into daily living include the practice of gratitude (Mccullough et al. 2002) and acts of generosity or kindness (Layous et al. 2014). Both are now known to be distinctly healthy and easily practiced each day, much like learning a musical instrument. We are not only considering the healthy effects, but also buffering against life’s challenges and the approach that the person takes to life–how do you do life? Possibility our problem?

Two easy ways to practice gratitude and generosity: (1) each day write down 5 things that you are grateful for in your life. (2) choosing to do something for someone else, including people you do not know, such as giving up your seat or letting someone go first. There are many opportunities through the day, however we must be aware and take note of how we feel, noticing the positive emotions as they arise. The more we notice, the more we notice, establishing the build and broaden effect (Kok et al. 2013).

Despite the world events and those closer to us in our days to day lives, it is our perception that is key–my own unique interpretation. As Shakespeare wrote: ‘there is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so’. These words highlight the importance of how you choose to approach life and the situations within your life. The practice of daily skills such as those outlined above are simple habits we can create to develop our thinking and our style of ‘doing’ life. Like other habits they become part of what we do with greater and greater ease, building our wellness that does not simple happen without effort and persistence.


The skills of being well are an intrical part of The Pain Coach Programme that is not only about overcoming pain, but living well, the best you can.

 

27Aug/16

Busy

BusyEveryone is busy. We are busy doing all sorts of things: working, cleaning, gardening, studying, exercising, reading, watching TV, listening to music. In fact, when we are occupied, we are busy doing whatever is occupying us, even if this is lying on the sofa; ‘I am busy lying on the sofa’. So it is a given that we are all busy, even if someone else deems us to be doing nothing, because I am still busy; busy doing nothing. When I am asked if I am busy, I always think about how to answer because in essence it is like being asked whether you are breathing. We are always breathing, we are always occupied with something.

Naturally, some occupations require more energy that others. The exertion of exercise or the concentration upon a piece of work would be deemed effortful, utilising our finite energy resource that is built from our intake of nutrients and rest, including sleep. Good sleep is fundamental for health so it seems — we know what it feels like the day after a bad night’s sleep. Building up our energy reservoir is important for engaging effectively with life: moving, thinking, focus, performance, communication. What fills our consciousness is impacted upon by how much energy we have in that moment. Tiredness tends to cause our attentions to drift towards the negative. How do children react when they are tired? Adults are not necessarily very different!

Sleeping well does not come easily to many people. Crafting a good sleep habit takes time and perseverance, and not just on the way to bed, through the day. With so many people suffering the effects of stress, which switches their biology to survive instead of thrive, night time continues to be a period of alertness, on the lookout for danger. Of course there is no danger, except thoughts that pass through the embodied mind as past is re-lived and future anticipated. Being present is the antidote, and there are simple practices to achieve this (next blog: simple skills).

Sleeping at night is not the only time we need to refresh and renew. We also benefit from regular bouts of relaxation during the day that allow us to recharge. Recharging underpins performance, as to perform optimally we must engage and focus, which we can only maximise if we have energy. Every 90 minutes, taking a break and refreshing with simple practices is a good start point, diarising if necessary. Additionally, each day a period of 10-20 minutes of deeper relaxation is important. Some people will have a longer bout of rest between 12pm and 3pm — the siesta is a great idea. You may be thinking that you don’t have time for all this rest, however, the gains in energy allow you to perform with greater efficiency. Multi-tasking is a red herring; it simply means we are doing several things without our full focus. In summary, without refreshing and renewing, energy levels dwindle and performance fades so in fact we cannot afford not to factor this into our day.

Athletes periodise their training. This is a habit we can adopt day to day to optimise performance as individuals: e.g./ work, relationships, activities, communication. It is easy creating a new habit. It just needs practice. So, be busy, but make sure you have enough energy.

Pain Coach Programme to overcome pain problems and to optimise performance | t. 07518 445493

08Feb/16

Lingering colds

Cold shower by Thomas8047 | https://flic.kr/p/oi7RaM

Cold shower by Thomas8047 | https://flic.kr/p/oi7RaM

A number of people have described their lingering colds, which have been persisting for a few weeks. This is longer than anticipated, and of course rather annoying and inconvenient. Daytime sniffling and night time disturbance whilst low on the list of ailments in terms of seriousness, they do impact upon life: tiredness, aches and pain, disrupted appetite, reduced concentration for example.

Beyond the normal symptoms, someone who has a degree of sensitivity at play, in other words a pre-existing painful problem, will frequently endure an amplification of their pain. It is common for the body to ache when we have a cold, and when we have an existing painful body area, it will typically hurt more during this period as the immune system pumps out pro-inflammatory cytokines (messengers) that increase sensitivity. A further noteworthy observation is that of prolonged symptoms when the person tries to exercise, discovering that their usual post-gym or post-run soreness is worse and continues for a few days. The overall symptoms of the cold can persist for longer as well unless the conditions for recovery are met, and this means meeting basic needs: what we eat, what we drink, enough rest and recuperation, enough sleep and dealing with situations that cause stress and anxiety.

Some people believe that we catch a cold by being cold. As far as I know this has never been the case. The feelings and sensations of having a cold are the body’s responses to a virus (no need for antibiotics then) or bacteria (may need antibiotics but not always — judiscious reasoning needed by your doctor). You cannot feel a cold, only the emergent experiences of the body that are mortivators for action to rest, recuperate, hibernate, protect etc etc. If you ignore these clear motivators, you are probably going to prolong the cold and your suffering as well as all those around you at home, at work and on the tube (ever had someone with a cold next to you on the tube? And when I say next to you, I mean squeezed right up to you).

So, loPain Coach Programmeok after your basic needs. In fact, this is vital anyway and will reduce the risk of catching a cold in the first place! And from suffering the effects of survive rather than thrive. Wouldn’t you rather flourish, engage and perform? Be wise. Be health wise.

Pain Coach Programme to overcome chronic pain and live a healthy & meaningful life

t. 07518 445493

 

16May/15

Blue genes | more pain in winter?

A new study has shown that our immune system increases its pro-inflammatory status in the winter months — blue genes! We are naturally more inflammatory at certain times of the day (early hours of the morning; one reason for morning stiffness), but with an overall increase in pro-inflammatory messengers there is a greater likelihood of sensitivity and pain. Recall that pain is a whole body response to a perceived threat, and with more inflammatory molecules floating around the body, sensitising nerve endings, and thereby raising the chances of nociception (nociception does not necessarily result in pain).

How often do you hear people blame the weather for their pain, especially joint pain? This could go some way to explaining this phenomena, as well as the idea that an association develops between cold, damp weather and stiff, painful joints. In winter, the reactive immune system sets the scene for these experiences, perhaps as a way to motivate hibernation.

As a consequence of these findings, we should think about how we both explain people’s experiences of pain and conditions with an inflammatory character: e.g./ coughs, colds, heart disease and autoimmune diseases, and what we do to promote health. This could also explain mood as there is good data that depression could be an inflammatory condition as well as affect diabetes, also thought to have an inflammatory basis.

Read the full article here.

Pain Coach Programme to overcome chronic pain – call us on 07518 445493

02Apr/15

My tips for healthy revision

Easter holidays are here! Bunnies, chocolate eggs, Easter bonnets, spring and…..revision. Chatting to my younger patients, they all tell me that this holiday will be dominated by revision. So it is not so much a holiday but instead, 2-3 weeks of homework. Perhaps Easter Sunday will be a day off.

This appears to be the way of school life in the modern world. The demands increase, the pressures increase, the stress and anxiety increase, and the pains increase. Is this right? 1:5 children reporting chronic pain. Chronic pain is the number one global health burden and depression is at number two — and frequently they come as a pair.

Body systems are on alert. They are working hard for survival instead of orchestrating the biology of health. In adults we used to call the effects ‘burn out’. These systems that protect us can only function at that level for a finite period of time.

Of course there is nothing wrong with hard, conscientious work. But, we need to regularly put the heavy bags down and take a break.

If you or your kids are entering the revision season, here are some handy tips for them to reduce the risk of ill-health, persisting stress responses, and flare-ups of existing aches and pains. We not only need to be physically fit, we also need to be emotionally fit. The two are not exclusive but instead come together to form the whole person. The whole person is not in isolation to their environment, beliefs or what has been before. Dwelling on negative events in the past and anticipating an unpleasant future both create suffering, until you realise that both are in our minds. The problem is that we play these out in our body, e.g. tension, pain, anxiety. It is not the situation that is important, but rather how we respond.

There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so. Shakespeare (Hamlet)

My Tips for Healthy Revision

  1. Make a timetable that incorporates your best time of day for learning, chunks of 40 minutes, exercise, movement.
  2. Motion is lotion: change your posture every 15-20 minutes; stand up and move around every 40 minutes
  3. Take 3 breaths every 20-30 minutes (when you breathe out, muscle tension naturally relaxes, which you will notice if you pay attention). The breaths can be slightly deeper than normal. Of course you can do this for longer and more often if you wish. Focusing on breathing anchors you to the present moment which means that you are putting down the heavy bags of ‘past’ and ‘future’. The bonus is clarity of thought and hence performance, memory and learning can improve as you become more efficient.
  4. Exercise before you start working; e.g. a walk, a jog. And a little more later as well; 20-30 minutes is good.
  5. Test yourself on the material you are learning — many people tell me that they copy their notes out again and again. You will have a nice pile of notes, but how much do you know?

** BONUS tip 1: set up the right environment — your desk space, the lighting, odours (don’t under-estimate the effects of smell; e.g./ use an infuser for a fresh ambience).

** BONUS tip 2: dress for work and sit for work — this will put you in the right mindset. We respond to our body language as much as our body language communicates how we are feeling. Keep moving (motion is lotion) but concentrate and engage more by sitting up.

** BONUS tip 3: make sure you have enough sleep — minimum 8 hours, and if you are tired, have a power nap between 1pm and 3pm for 20-30 minutes. You need to refresh and renew and you need sleep to learn.

Pain CoachFor more information about Pain Coach programmes and wellbeing programmes for health and performance, call us today 07518 445493

30Sep/13

‘Gentle’ exercise is good for the brain | #performance #health

We know only too well how important it is to be physically active. This may mean formal exercise or sports, but equally we can be on the move and using our bodies when undertaking day-to-day tasks.

Researchers have previously found that exercise affects the brain in positive ways, including enhancing learning and memory. How to go about exercising is yet to be defined, the reality being that it is likely to be influenced by our genetic make-up, i.e. ‘personal training programmes’. It has been thought that the benefits come from vigorous exercise, however this may not only be the case.

A recent study by Michelle McDonnell and her team has found that gentle exercise affects the brain in very good ways. Low to moderate physical activity for 30 minutes stimulated neuroplastic activity. This is the basis for how we learn.

This is also excellent news for chronic pain sufferers who are trying to become more active. It shows that we can use low intensity exercise to affect the brain positively. Many people in pain describe a loss of energy, resources, focus, concentration, memory and resilience. To improve this situation, exercise is needed yet often feared. By creating a baseline and reducing the threat of being active by developing understanding of pain, you can gradually build tolerance and confidence as well as improve brain function. This usually takes the focus away from the pain as you are able to engage in more meaningful activities.

For those seeking to improve their performance at work there are a number of strategies that can be used. Developing improved focus and attention using mindfulness training, taking refreshers and renewal breaks to sustain energy levels, cultivating skills of resilience and clear thinking to deal with situations and regular exercise to sharpen the brain and maintain physical fitness.

For details on programmes that incorporate these techniques for chronic pain, injury and developing performance, contact us on 07932 689081.

See the article below:

A single bout of aerobic exercise promotes motor cortical neuroplasticity.

J Appl Physiol (1985). 2013 May;114(9):1174-82. doi: 10.1152/japplphysiol.01378.2012. Epub 2013 Mar 14.

McDonnell MN, Buckley JD, Opie GM, Ridding MC, Semmler JG.

Source

International Centre for Allied Health Evidence, University of South Australia, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia. [email protected]

Abstract

Regular physical activity is associated with enhanced plasticity in the motor cortex, but the effect of a single session of aerobic exercise on neuroplasticity is unknown. The aim of this study was to compare corticospinal excitability and plasticity in the upper limb cortical representation following a single session of lower limb cycling at either low or moderate intensity, or a control condition. We recruited 25 healthy adults to take part in three experimental sessions. Cortical excitability was examined using transcranial magnetic stimulation to elicit motor-evoked potentials in the right first dorsal interosseus muscle. Levels of serum brain-derived neurotrophic factor and cortisol were assessed throughout the experiments. Following baseline testing, participants cycled on a stationary bike at a workload equivalent to 57% (low intensity, 30 min) or 77% age-predicted maximal heart rate (moderate intensity, 15 min), or a seated control condition. Neuroplasticity within the primary motor cortex was then examined using a continuous theta burst stimulation (cTBS) paradigm. We found that exercise did not alter cortical excitability. Following cTBS, there was a transient inhibition of first dorsal interosseus motor-evoked potentials during control and low-intensity conditions, but this was only significantly different following the low-intensity state. Moderate-intensity exercise alone increased serum cortisol levels, but brain-derived neurotrophic factor levels did not increase across any condition. In summary, low-intensity cycling promoted the neuroplastic response to cTBS within the motor cortex of healthy adults. These findings suggest that light exercise has the potential to enhance the effectiveness of motor learning or recovery following brain damage.

04Sep/13

Can diet fight chronic pain? | Guest blog by Kaitlin Colucci, Student Dietitian @kaitlincolucci

Thanks to Kaitlin for writing this guest blog on diet. @kaitlincolucci

As a current student at the University of Nottingham studying a Masters in Nutrition and Dietetics, I have an interest in all fields of work to do with nutrition and diet. I aim to lead a healthy lifestyle and promote fitness and nutrition in all forms. I want to be able to inform the public and make them more aware of how diet is tied into every aspect of life. My blog aims to get people to think about how diet can influence men and women in new ways, and in ways that they would have never thought of before.

The internet and popular health magazines nowadays are littered with all sorts of nutritional advice on how some foods or supplements can help with chronic pain – arthritis, headaches, osteoporosis to name a few.

There are many foods that have anti-inflammatory properties, of which many are scientifically proven. Plans like the Mediterranean diet are built on the principles of the anti-inflammatory theory. When you talk about a diet that emphasises foods that are said to have an anti-inflammatory effect, the diets are going to look very similar. Each diet emphasises slightly different things but there is a main focus on antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables, whole grains, little to no processed or refined foods, and an emphasis on omega-3 fatty acids like those found in fish oils.

For example, red grapes contain a powerful compound, Resveratrol, which blocks the enzymes that contribute to tissue degeneration. There is evidence that resveratrol is particularly useful in the prevention of osteoporosis, especially in women who do not benefit from hormone replacement therapy. The compound of resveratrol also found in red wine, which is popular in the Mediterranean, is more easily absorbed due to the form it is in.

Olive oil is another popular food used in the Mediterranean diet that due to its high content of mono-unsaturated fatty acids (the good fats) has favourable properties of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. This is due to the compound known as olive oil phenols that have been shown to reduce the rate of cell death.

One thing we must be aware of is that the majority of studies linking diet to disease are either too small or not reliable in the information they are receiving from the participants, such as an inaccurate recall of the foods they consumed. But this doesn’t mean anti-inflammatory diets are all bad. However, patients shouldn’t expect a miracle cure.

When it comes to pain caused by arthritis, which much of the ageing population is suffering from, it is evident that a bigger contributor to the worsening of this condition is body weight rather than diet. Physical activity has been shown to be significantly more effective at improving tiredness and pain caused by arthritis than any other diet including omega-3 supplementation, the Mediterranean diet and herbal medicine.

For decades old Chinese remedies and herbal medicines have been said to help with pain throughout the entire body. This is something that interests me more and more as old herbal doctors have sworn by these passed down family traditions, and they seem to work without fail. Proper clinical studies to date that have delved into this topic further have shown that herbs like turmeric work the same way in the body as ibuprofen to reduce inflammation and pain. Similar effects have also been found in ginger, long known as a digestive aid. In a recent study, ginger was proved to significantly help women with severe menstrual pain and also reduce muscle soreness after exercise. 

Experts warn that diet is meant to enhance, not replace treatments that have been shown to work for eliminating chronic pain. However, following the advice that is out there won’t hurt, and most evidence leads people towards following a healthy and balanced diet, encouraging them to have a healthier lifestyle.