The Truth About Stress

Next Thursday the BBC will launch a new programme 'The Truth About Stress'.  In this programme Fiona Phillips will explore some of the very latest scientific research behind stress and demonstrate a number of techniques designed to decrease common stress factors.  They will ask the question "is stress inherently bad for us?", and will explore the notion that stress in small doses can actually be quite good for us.  This has certainly piqued our interest.  We have taken the opportunity to also consider how stress affects us by looking at how our bodies respond to stress, where we can learn from this and turn it into an advantage.

It is true that stress can take its toll on the body in many ways.  Cortisol is a stress hormone which plays an important and beneficial role in the immune system, maintaining blood pressure and improving mood. When stress levels are increased, cortisol is produced in excess which can lead to raised blood sugar and weakened immunity, leaving us vulnerable to colds, flu and their immune related disorders. It also promotes poor gut health as digestion remains perpetually low on the to do list when the sympathetic arm of the autonomic nervous system kicks in.

Going into the Lion's Den!

Stressors, however, are a normal component of life and can be a positive influence on the body when appropriate mechanisms function well.

  1. It keeps us safe.  During a stressful situation adrenaline and noradrenaline are released to prepare us for “fight or flight”. Blood sugar levels rise as stored glycogen is converted to glucose, the heart pumps faster to get more oxygen and nutrients to the muscles, respiratory passageways dilate to increase the airflow and even blood clotting agents are mobilised in case we are wounded. Blood is directed away from our gut and if a lion were to enter the room right now, digesting that quinoa salad we had for lunch would be pretty low on the agenda! Nowadays the lion is more likely to be an angry boss or an unrelenting deadline but the physiology remains the same now as it did in the Stone Age. This highly sophisticated stress response is actually protective, not harmful, and is designed to keep us safe
  2. It improves our brains.  Stressors may stimulate growth and strengthen neural connections in the brain and can actually improve memory. If an animal encounters a predator and manages to escape, it’s important to remember where and when that encounter happened, to avoid a similar scenario occurring in the future. If you’re walking down an alley and somebody threatens you, it’s important to remember exactly where this occurred in order to avoid that alley in the future. The brain is constantly responding to stress. Extreme or chronic stress can have a negative effect but stress in moderate doses - like an upcoming exam or a public speech - improves cognitive performance and memory.
  3. It boosts immunity.  Stress provides the body with a temporary immunity boost. When the body responds to stress, it prepares itself for the possibility of injury or infection. One way it does this is by producing extra interleukins - chemicals that help regulate the immune system - providing at least a temporary defensive boost.
  4. It helps us to focus.  Stress improves focus and heightens our sense of awareness driving us to success. If we are working towards a deadline at work or preparing for a match point serve in tennis, those extra levels of adrenaline and cortisol that are released make sure we stay focused.
  5. Boosts confidence.  If you have experienced and overcome adversity, you know you are capable of dealing with other stressful situations when they arise. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger as they say!
  6. It can enhance child development.  Studies have shown that mild maternal stress might help children to mature quicker. Of those tested, children of mothers who were anxious during pregnancy showed greater motor and developmental skills as two-year-olds than those of entirely relaxed mums-to-be.

It can be said then, that our bodies are built to deal with stress and can even benefit from it. However, when we no longer feel in control of a situation, stress can have a negative impact on our health and wellbeing and it is at this point that the introduction and maintenance of personal coping mechanisms is essential.

There is light at the end of the tunnel!

Here are some of our tips for when the stress levels start to creep up beyond a comfortable level:

  1. Laugh out loud!  A good belly laugh doesn't just lighten the load mentally, it lowers cortisol and boost our endorphins making us instantly feel alive.
  2. Tune in!  Lighten up mentally by tuning into your favourite TV programme, read something funny or make a call to a friend you can guarantee will make you smile.
  3. Decompress.  Place a warm wheat or cherry stone pillow around your neck and shoulders for 10 minutes.  Close your eyes and relax your face.  Remove the pillow and use a tennis ball or foam roller to massage away any tension in these areas.
  4. Reaching out.  Your social network is one of your best tools for handling stress.  Talk to others, preferably face to face or at least on the phone.  Share what's going on.  You can get a fresh perspective while keeping your connection with your friends and relatives.  You may also consider reaching out and stepping into a talking therapy such as life coaching to help you explore the foundations of your self-limiting beliefs and move though the fears which are causing your stress in the first instance. 
  5. Relaxing treatments.  Book yourself in for a relaxing treatment.  Treatments such as massage, reflexology, facial therapy and reiki are all proven to reduce tension in your mind and body.  We recommend a minimum of one treatment every month will give you the opportunity to take time out of your busy and hectic schedule to strengthen and reconnect.
  6. Become inspired.  Blow the stress away by turning the stressful energy into mindful action.  Make a to-do list starting with one action that will move you away from your current negative thought process.  Maybe that action is to make more time for yourself or book a holiday you have been meaning to do for a while.
  7. Step outside into nature.  This also lowers cortisol and regulates heart rate and rhythm.
  8. Practice mindfulness focusing on the here and now. We can't be stressed in the present moment, it's physically not possible. Walk bare foot to ground self back to the present moment.
  9. Consciously breathe. We are a society of shallow breathers, starving our body of replenishing oxygen. With each breath fill from our bellies up towards our hearts. Use other breathing techniques to calm and centre the mind and body but also to draw in energy to fire up our systems and get going.
  10. Use colour. Different colours represent different emotions. Become aware of when choosing dull, lifeless colours and ask… Why? Make a change and add in a splash of colour to your outfit and notice how your mood changes. Use colours like pink and green to give yourself some loving, balancing heart energy; visualise standing in a shower of colour and as it falls over you and infuses every cell of your being; calming, revitalising etc. Powerful colours like red and orange can be used to ground self, helping you feel confident in your choices and actions to move forwards.
  11. Take time intentionally to be still and embracing that fully. Being still and consciously surrendering to all that IS and equally importantly all that ISN'T in your current reality and observing and checking in with yourself regularly. That dialogue within yourself is wholly important. Checking in with your perception of things and feeling the response inside. Stillness can be the biggest shift and movement where you become the prime mover of your life rather than being moved which can slow things down. Then you feel strongly when it's time to physically move and take action.
  12. Be creative. Painting soothes the mind and helps to clear negative thoughts.

Rebecca, Sarah, Karenanne, Sam, Indiana and Jo xx

Raynaud’s Syndrome Follow Up

We would like to say a big thank you to all our lovely friends who responded to our recent article on Raynaud’s Syndrome. We were overwhelmed with the level of interaction and want to thank you sincerely for sharing your experiences on our Facebook page. Like many of you, we have been surprised by the prevalence of Raynaud’s and whilst there may not be a ‘cure’, we hope it brings some comfort to learn that others too, are experiencing associated difficulties and to know that you are not alone in living with this condition.

My aim was to consolidate some hints and tips in a bid to help alleviate some of the symptoms for those living with Raynaud’s. However, my findings proffered that, as individuals, we are all affected in different ways and that there is no one size fits all solution.

For example: for some, weight gain relieves symptoms; for most, weight fluctuation makes no difference whatsoever. For others, exercise exacerbates symptoms; for some, it is cited as an alleviant.

Similarly, thick gloves and socks seem to help some sufferers but for others, simply make the symptoms worse. Naomi Bunker says, “I used to think layers of thick gloves and socks would help but realised that only made my fingers and toes worse.”

Thin Gloves can be purchased from the charitable retailer, Scleroderma and Raynaud’s UK:

“I now have a pair in the pocket of every coat and find they are quite effective. You can even use your phone with them on!”

It is clear from your comments, however, that you are united in citing the main antagonist of this very painful phenomenon as the cold. Chilly, damp conditions seem to trigger symptoms for all and whilst we might like to think that the warmer months of spring and summer offer some respite, patients can still be exposed, for example: in the chilled aisles of the supermarket.

There is some medical treatment associated with the treatment of Raynaud’s but there is little evidence that symptoms can be helped. T. Levien in her text, Advances in the treatment of Raynaud’s Phenomenon, states that “In patients with primary [Raynaud’s Phenomenon], nonpharmacologic lifestyle modifications remain the first-line therapy. Calcium channel blockers or topical nitrates may be considered for those without an adequate response to lifestyle modification.”

We know that regular massage is effective in boosting the body’s circulation and alleviating stress. For those suffering from Raynaud’s Syndrome and other circulatory conditions, we have created a hand and foot massage that uses a blend of black pepper and ginger to gently nourish and provide relief to your hardworking extremities.

By Sarah Tomlin 


National Mother Earth Day

Today, 22nd April, is National Mother Earth Day. In 1970, Earth Day was created when a US senator, having witnessed a massive oil spill in California, sought to highlight the devastation of air and water pollution and drove environmental policy onto the US political agenda. This put the subject of the environment on the Western map and later led to the creation of Mother Earth Day, established in 2009 and celebrated here in the UK. Today, the fight for a clean environment continues with increasing urgency, as the ravages of climate change become all the more real.

We all have a responsibility to protect our beautiful planet. Many of us have taken some important steps already such as recycling as much as we can, switching to energy efficient lightbulbs and never leaving the house without our Bag for Life! There are even more steps we can take such as creating a compost heap in our back gardens, turning TVs and computers off at night and cleaning the back of our fridge – dusty coils can increase our energy consumption by 30% would you believe!

 It is also best to choose organic wherever possible. Organic farming avoids the use of artificial nitrogen-rich fertilisers, potent sources of greenhouse gas emissions and supports biodiversity. Not to mention the huge personal benefits we gain from eating organic produce, rich in nutrients and antioxidants and free from nasties such as growth hormones and antibiotics which we unwittingly ingest via meat and poultry.


Choosing organic doesn’t stop at food, however. In many of our treatments at Haelan Therapy, we use Neal’s Yard Remedies organic products. These products use sustainably and ethically harvested wild ingredients and are packaged in fully recyclable dark blue glass which blocks damaging UV light allowing the products to contain minimal preservatives. The plastic bottles are produced from post-consumer recycled plastic and the paper and card are from sustainable managed sources and printed with vegetable based inks.

 As well as their positive impact on the environment, the organic ingredients contain higher levels of essential fatty acids, vitamins and up to 69% more antioxidants which directly benefit us. Find out more at where Neal’s Yard Remedies products are available for purchase.

Healing the earth by being kind to it makes perfect sense. So why do we all too often forget to apply this concept to ourselves? This lies behind our fundamental belief at Haelan Therapy. By being kind to ourselves we can start to heal. Eating good, organic ingredients, applying good, organic products and allowing ourselves time out of the busy routine to really connect with our inner Mother Earth is a great place to start. Visit to make a positive change today.

By Sarah Tomlin

'Fine' is more than just a four-letter word

Do you ever find yourself answering the words 'I'm fine' when asked how you're feeling (even though you may be feeling utterly down about yourself) for fear that the next question will lead to you having to engage with how you're actually feeling and therefore make it all become real that you're not really fine at all?  We've all been there, I certainly have and so has Prince Harry.  


In a recent podcast he gives a very frank and honest interview about the death of his mother, Princess Diana, how it affected him and the support he received through talking therapies such as counselling, to help him understand why he was not always feeling 'fine'.  By sticking his head very publicly above the parapet he is helping to lift the lid on mental health and bringing it to the forefront in the hope that it will encourage many more people to do the same. This is a massive step forward for our mental health which is just as important as our physical health.

Taking to Bryant Gordon he says, "What we are trying to do is normalise the conversation to the point where anyone can sit down and have a coffee and just go ‘you know what, I’ve had a really s--- day, can I just tell you about it?  Because then you walk away and it’s done." 


You can listen to Prince Harry's podcast in full here:

Here at Haelan we also understand that is ok not to be ok...and that it is also ok to put your head above the parapet and let people know you're not ok....and even more than that it is also very ok to seek support to help you understand why you're not always ok.  If this resonates with you, please be in touch with us to find out how our therapies including Transformational Coaching and Equine Facilitated Coaching can help support you too.

Love your bump!

Expecting a baby can be one of the most exciting times of your life. But there is no denying it can also be both physically demanding and emotionally challenging.  Massage therapy during pregnancy is a great way to relieve many of the side effects such as swelling and strain on your joints.  As well as Mum benefiting, baby will benefit from the increased blood flow, nutrient exchange and endorphins released during the massage.  It is also a wonderful opportunity to take some space and time to connect with your baby too.

Other benefits include:

  • easing strain on joints, ligaments and organs
  • postural improvement  
  • reduced swelling
  • aids restful sleep
  • helps to avoid varicose veins
  • relieves constipation and haemorrhoids
  • emotional support
  • easing birth process

At Haelan we offer Mums to be a warm and welcoming environment in which to relax and really connect with your baby through a truly nurturing experience.  If you are a mum-to-be or know of a mum-to-be that could benefit from a massage during their pregnancy then please be in contact and book your treatment with us.  Quote the code Mum2Be when prompted and you can receive a 10% discount off your first treatment.

We look forward to meeting you

Karenanne & Sarah xx