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Relaxation, Self-care, and Emotional Well-being

Written by: Robin Skidmore, RMT

Emotional distress – the obstacle to your well-being

Getting through the day-to-day is demanding more and more energy and determination these days. There are stressors around every corner. Stress at work, at home, in between the two when you’re commuting, bills – the list goes on.

When you don’t set aside designated time for self-care, relaxation, and de-stressing, this continuous exposure of your body and mind to stress causes mental and physical repercussions - namely, increased blood pressure, heart and breathing rate, and increased stress hormones such as cortisol, adrenaline, and norepinephrine.

Cortisol – The Stress Hormone

Sometimes, stress is a good thing! Sometimes, in the right amounts, it can save our lives in a pinch by actually maintaining blood pressure and the balance of fluids in our bodies, as well as regulating other physiological functions. However, with the continuous engagement of cortisol in the body, it can start to have negative effects on your blood pressure, blood sugar, sleep, digestion, skin, weight, immune system, reproductive health, and that’s just a few. Cortisol is a prominent factor when coping with anxiety and depression, among other mental health challenges.

Relaxation and Self-care Techniques

1. Progressive muscle relaxation: Find a comfortable position, and then starting at the head or feet, slowly tense and relax each group of muscles. For example, start with slowly curling your toes and holding it for a moment, then relax, breathe, and spread the toes apart. Hold, and relax. Continue as you move up the body. This increases your awareness of where you’re holding on to tension in your body without realizing it.

2. Diaphragmatic breathing: Find a comfortable position, preferably lying down face up with your hands resting over your navel. With your eyes closed, take one big breath in and completely fill your lungs, hold for a moment, and then completely empty the breath. Then begin a breathing pattern following 4 seconds of inhale, 1 second of holding, and 6 seconds of exhale. Repeat. Bring your attention to the rise and fall of your stomach. Try to shift the engagement from your chest, shoulders, and neck to your belly during your inhale. Your stomach should inflate first before your chest starts to rise. This breathing pattern closely mimics the average person’s natural breathing during sleep, hence its relaxing effects. It decreases your breathing and heart rates, increases your serotonin and dopamine (the ‘happy hormones’) and decreases your cortisol, increases digestion, gets more oxygen to your brain and bodily tissues to promote healing, and promotes relaxation. Try not to get frustrated with yourself if your mind wanders. Just come back to counting out your breaths and give yourself time.

3. Hydrotherapy: Have a bath! Plain, or with bubbles, oils, Epsom salts…wine – it’s your bath, do what feels good. Maybe play some music in the background, or an audiobook or podcast you like, or enjoy some good old quiet time. Get the water to a comfortable temperature that will maintain its heat for 15-20 minutes. Soak! Submerge as much as you can and enjoy being weightless while the heat releases your muscle and joint tension, relieves your pain, and increases your circulation. Just. Be.

4. Musical therapy: If you’re having a hard time reducing your stress and improving your mood, try to put a word to what you’re feeling. Now think of a song in which the musician expresses that feeling. Have a listen. Even sing and/or dance along if you feel like it. Keep listening to similar songs that pop into your head. Listening to songs about anger, frustration, sadness, loneliness, hopelessness, or any other feeling that’s difficult to process can help us work through it, be in the moment, and understand where it’s coming from. It’s like making that musician our best friend or counsellor that can relate to what we’re going through. I personally find singing whatever it is at the top of my lungs or dancing until I’m tired to be extra cathartic, but, to each their own of course.

Massage Therapy and Emotional Wellness

More than a dozen studies showed that massage improves anxiety and depression by impacting the biochemistry within the body. It can reduce cortisol in the body by up to 53% and can also increase serotonin and dopamine. Not to mention, therapeutic massage reduces pain, muscle tension, joint stiffness, while increasing circulation, mobility, and relaxation. In addition, massage just feels good, and physical touch is beneficial to mental and physical health.

The Importance of Self-Care

Despite how challenging it is to find time for ourselves in the day, or even week, it is integral to our health. Just like they say you should do at least 45 minutes of exercise every day, why wouldn’t you also hold emotional and mental exercises as an equally high priority? Whenever possible, remember that it’s okay to reschedule something if it means taking some time for self-care when you need it. Running on fumes is only going to cause you and your body more stress. Massage, or any form of self-care, isn’t spoiling yourself, it’s taking care of yourself. If you don’t do so regularly, you can’t be the best version of you for yourself or for others.

Feeling motivated to focus on your self-care? Book a massage with Robin today!


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