We are familiar with that feeling as adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol fllod our systems, muscles tense, heart pounds, breathing speeds u etc. This physiological reaction can indeed be beneficial in the short term in helping our performance and motivating us to accomplish goals, but if stress levels become too high or if stress becomes chronic, this can have a negative impact on our health.
Chronic stress and /or anxiety is a common presenting condition for many of our clients and can make life feel very hard. It can manifest itself in many ways:
*Physical symptoms~e.g genral aches or pains, muscle tension, frequent colds, lack of energy, rapid heartbeat, constipation or diarrhoea etc.
- behavioural changes-e.g isolating themselves, procrastinating or neglecting responsibilities, insomnia, eating less or more food, using alcohol.
- Cognitive changes-eg. difficulty concentrating, constant worrying, feeling fearful or on edge, perceiving things as mostly negative, etc.
- Emotional changes- e.g.irritability, feeling overwhelmed, sense of loneliness, lack of sense of humour etc.
- When living with chronic stress or anxiety, it can be difficult to see a way forward or to beleive you can feel better. Clients may seek reflexology in the hope that it will have a magic formula; that by pressing a few reflexes in a set sequence this will suddenly make them feel well. This is obviously not the case- as reflexologists we are there to support their physical and emtional well-being, but it is their journey to achieving better health and clients have to be prepared to work for it.
- Whilst we need to acknowledge that the way we live our lives has a profound impact on the way we feel, any lifestyle suggestions we make will have to be small achievable goals that your client agrees to and believes they can manage, even if it is only a 10 minute walk a day. Once they have succeeded, it can help improve motivation and self-belief, so they will be able to take on a little more.
- What I can do as a reflexologist: What I can offer is multi-dimensional but includes relaxation, affective touch, a listening ear and the therapeutic relationship-all of which can help build resilience and allows clients to gain mental strength and take on the lifestyle changes needed to promote better health. I have listed just a few areas for consideration when treating stressed or anxious clients, although there are obviously plenty more:
- Affective touch and pleasurable touch– slow gentle stroking of hairy skin(lower legs, face and arms for reflexologists) has been shown to have an analgesic and anti-anxiolytic effect by activation of c-tactile fibre, which produces a gentle, pleasurable feeling. Slow, gentle and rhythmic massage has also been shown to release oxytocin, which has many benefits including lowering of stress hormones, increased pain threshold, sleep inducing and improved healing.
- Intention- a small study, which is not perfect by any means but interesting nonetheless, was carried out to look at the effect of loving-kindness meditation, although healthy volunteers were told the study was evaluating the effect of time and touch on the autonomic nervous system.
- What are reflexes telling you? I often hear therapists saying that they work gently for stress and anxiety, but in my experience I sometimes have to work a bit deeper or use linking for these clients as reflexes that you would expect to be sensitive just aren’t. It can feel like they are blocking their energy, almost as if they don’t want to feel.