Achieving work/life balance
Work/life balance is a common goal in the modern workplace. Government task forces study the problem of our long-hours culture - workshops are run, champions appointed, and countless newspaper and magazine articles written on the subject.
It is all a bit depressing. But reality is not quite as bad as some of the statistics suggest. Most of the people who work long hours - who are, overwhelmingly, well-paid professionals and managers - like their jobs. A study by Warwick University in the UK found that people who lost their jobs suffered a sharper drop in their level of happiness than people who split up with their partners.
The danger with the work/life debate is that it replaces one form of guilt with another. It used to be that people who left early needed to feel guilty because they weren't pulling their weight - and there are many workplaces where this is still the case. But the solution is not to make people feel guilty for staying late if they choose to. We need to get rid of both forms of guilt in our organizations. Guilt is never good.
One of the paradoxes of the work/life debate is that "knowledge work," which more and more of us are doing, is never done. There is always more that could be done - more reports to read, more networking to do, more polishing of a presentation or pitch.
On the one hand, this means that working hours can go up if we are unable to switch off. But it also means that the kind of work that more and more people are doing is more stimulating than before - that is, less like work.
Of course, there are people under stress who are working long hours. The never-ending nature of knowledge work and the rise of both the Internet and mobile information and communications technologies mean than the line between "work" and "life" will never be as clear again.
Top tipsWhat then can those of us with other hugely important priorities do to remain sane? Here are some suggestions:
- Take a break from work when you feel things are getting the best of you. This may be easier said than done, but it's a good goal. We eat when we're hungry - it is best to work when we feel productive, and conversely, and also stop working for a little while when we know we're pushing the boulder up the hill.
- Energize yourself. If you feel good, you achieve twice as much in any given period of time. So all the lessons about exercise, sleep, sensible amounts of alcohol, and so on, turn out to be true.
- If email is taking over your workday, try checking your inbox only twice a day - morning and afternoon. Perhaps two people will be irritated that you didn't get back to them immediately, but this will be more than offset by the amount of real work you get done.
- Find a partner you love. This may sound a bit simplistic - but the best way to prevent overwork is to make sure you have competing attractions for your time. If you truly love your partner/kids, you will want to be with them enough to stop working. And if you feel torn between your work and your home, you are lucky indeed to love them both so much. Enjoy.
Leaving work in the office
Ever feel like there aren't enough hours in the day? You're not alone. According to the United Nations' International Labor Organization, "Workers in the United States are putting in more hours than anyone else in the industrialized world."1 It's important to find a balance between work and home, but how?
Know your limitsTake a look at your workload and examine how many hours you work during evenings and weekends. If you think you work efficiently, but find you have to skip breaks and take work home to manage, it's time to talk to a coworker about the amount of work you're expected to do.
Managing your timeMany people could simply manage their time more effectively2. There are many things you can do to improve how you manage your time.
- Create an organized environment. How organized is your desk? How much time do you waste trying to find things? Create an efficient workspace and file paperwork so it can be easily retrieved when needed.
- Plan each morning, look at the day ahead and plan what you hope to achieve. Prioritize what needs to be done so that the most urgent work is completed first.
- Be efficient. If you need to talk to your coworkers, go to their desk rather than allowing them to come to you. This way, you control the situation and can return to your work when you want.
- Be honest. If you are running late for a deadline, tell someone in advance so a solution can be found. Maybe there is someone who could help.
Work will fill whatever time you allow. Learn to put time boundaries around how much work you are willing to do outside work hours. Find a middle ground that satisfies both you and your company and stick to it.
Be flexibleIf you can, try and be flexible in your working hours. If you have to leave early one day to collect the kids, then arrange to come in early another day. Or if you have to work on the weekend, try and negotiate a couple of hours off during the week. You have to identify your priorities and work with these.
Time outYou are not a machine. We all need time out from work to relax and recharge our batteries. Working too much for a long period of time can cause your productivity to drop3.
Although work is important and you have a responsibility to meet certain targets, it should not be the only thing in your life. You don't want to look back in 20 years and wonder what you did with your life and where the time went.
If you feel that the time you spend working is spiraling out of control, you probably need to change your routine. It can be tempting to put in a few hours work to fill any gaps in your evenings or weekend, but you need to make a commitment to yourself not to do this.
- Enjoy your free time. Recognize that you work hard and deserve a break. Don't feel guilty about putting aside time just for yourself. If anything, it will make you more productive.
- Learn to live. What did you do last weekend? What will you do next weekend? Think about things you want to experience and make a commitment to do them. Spend some of your hard-earned money on having fun.
- United Nations' International Labor Organization. www.ilo.org
- Greener M. The Which? Guide to Managing Stress. Which? Consumer Guides. Essential Advise on Bolstering your Own Stress defenses. Penguin. 1996
- Eliot R and Breo D. Is It Worth Dying For? How to Make Stress Work for You, Not Against You. Bantam Books. 1989
- National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health Update, www.cdc.gov/niosh/updates/upd-03-05-04.html
Exercise is good for both your physical and mental well-being. As little as 30 minutes a day can improve your overall health, dramatically reduce your risk of developing many diseases, and help you to look and feel your best.
Best bets• If you can't fit in a 30-minute exercise session, split it into two or more shorter sessions instead.
• Feeling blue? Just one exercise session could be enough to lift your spirits.
• Exercise is the number one strategy used by "successful weight losers" who take off and keep off extra pounds.
Effects of exercise on your bodyPhysical activity can help you keep off extra pounds, build and maintain healthy bones and muscles, stay flexible, improve mood, and reduce stress. It can also reduce your risk of heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and some cancers1.
Psychological well-beingWhen you exercise, you release endorphins.. Endorphins are hormones that can act as painkillers, but can also trigger positive, euphoric feelings. They are what give you a lift and a feeling of revitalization during and after a workout. It is therefore not surprising that exercise has been shown to be as effective as anti-depressants in treating depression and anxiety.2
Even a single exercise session can have a positive influence on your mood and emotions. It can both increase pleasurable feelings such as vitality, calmness and vigor3,4, and reduce negative emotions such as tension, fatigue and anxiety4, 5.
Which exercise?The best exercise for you is one you enjoy and can do regularly.Aerobic exercise (such as walking, running, cycling and swimming) and strength training (for example Pilates or weight lifting) have both been shown to boost weight loss, overall health, and mental outlook1. You will get the greatest overall health and well-being benefit from a program that gives you a balance of aerobic, strength, and flexibility training (for example yoga or performing daily stretching exercises).
How much is enough?You don't have to be super fit to reap the health and well-being benefits of physical activity. Just 30 minutes of moderate activity five times a week can make a big difference in your health and weight - and you don't have to do 30 minutes all in one chunk. You can grab 5, 10, or 15 minutes of brisk walking, stretching or other activity anytime you have a chance throughout the day. Combine this with some strength training twice a week and you’ll get additional health benefits.1 For weight loss, most adults will need to combine the recommended activity levels with a calorie controlled diet or increase the duration and frequency of exercise.
Can exercise be bad for you?Exercise isn't bad for you - but you need to do it wisely. Be careful not to overdo it. When you first start to exercise, have a rest day between each session. As you progress, be sure to take it easier the day after a particularly intense session.
A good rule of thumb for determining a safe workout intensity is the "talk test" - you should be slightly breathless but still able to carry on a conversation during exercise.
Don't exercise if you are not feeling well. If you are injured, give your body time to recover fully, or you could turn a minor injury into a chronic injury. If you are new to exercise, or you have a medical condition, seek medical advice first.
Sources1.US Department of Health and Human Services 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans.
2.Exercise and Pharmacotherapy in the Treatment of Major Depressive Disorder Blumenthal J et al. Pyschosomatic Medicine 69:587-596 (2007)
3.Biddle SJH. Emotion, mood and physical activity. In: Physical activity and psychological well-being. Biddle SJH, Fox KR, and Boutcher SH, Editors. 2000, Routledge: London
4.Gauvin L and Spence JC. Measurement of exercise-induced changes in feeling states, affect, mood, and emotions. In: Advances in sports and exercise psychology measurement.
5.Duda JL editor. Fitness Information Technology Inc. Morgantown WV. 1998
6.Taylor AH. Physical activity, anxiety, and stress. In: Physical activity and psychological well-being. Biddle SJH, Fox KR, and Boutcher SH, Editors. 2000, Routledge: London.
Boosting your immune system
Everyone feels run down from time to time. How can you make sure your immune system is in the best condition to fight infection?
Many things affect the immune system, including your mood, stress level, nutrition, and the amount of sleep you get. It is important that you support your immune system, so that it can protect you.
- Keep your life as stress-free as possible
- Get the right amount of sleep
- Eat a balanced diet containing plenty of Vitamin C, E, B6 and zinc
- Try alternative remedies, like Echinacea and garlic
Stress and moodKeeping your life as stress-free as possible will help you keep your immune system healthy.
Being happy and optimistic helps your immune system function better. When you are depressed, your immune system tends to be depressed1. Stress and depression have both been shown to affect how the immune system functions, either causing suppression of usual activity, or an over-reaction2.
Stress increases the levels of some hormones, including adrenaline and corticosteroids. Corticosteroids suppress the immune system, leaving you open to infection3. Also, the level of immune suppression is proportional to the level of stress: the more stressed you are, the more the immune system is affected1.
SleepLack of sleep will affect the immune system and make you more likely to become susceptible to infection.
Parts of the immune system regulate sleep and in turn are altered by sleep and sleep deprivation. The normal sleep-wake cycle regulates the functioning of the immune system4. Significant detrimental effects on immune functioning can be seen after a few days of total sleep deprivation, or after several days of partial sleep deprivation4. Shift-workers frequently get less sleep than their non shift-working counterparts5. If you are getting less sleep than you need to keep your immune system working efficiently, take extra care of the other areas that affect your health.
NutritionWhat you eat has a great effect on your immune system. A healthy, well-balanced diet is important to ensure that you have all the nutrients you need to keep your body functioning properly.
It is important to have sufficient amounts of all vitamins and minerals. But to keep your immune system functioning properly, pay special attention to the following:
Vitamin C: Helps white blood cells fight infection and is essential for healing wounds. It is also an antioxidant that neutralizes potentially damaging free radicals6. It is found in most fresh fruit (especially citrus fruits), vegetables and fruit juices.
Vitamin E: An antioxidant that neutralizes free radicals in the body. It is also important for the protection of cell membranes and maintaining healthy skin, heart and circulation, nerves, muscles and red blood cells6. Vitamin E can be found in seed oils, olive oil, avocadoes, nuts, leafy green vegetables, egg yolks, wholegrain bread, and cereals.
Vitamin B6: Important in the formation of antibodies that help fight infection. It is also important for protein metabolism, the functioning of many enzymes, for the formation of hemoglobin in red blood cells, and for maintaining a healthy nervous system. Vitamin B6 can be found in wholegrain bread, meat, fish, bananas, wheat bran, and fortified breakfast cereals6.
Deficiencies in a number of vitamins, including vitamin A and B12, pyridoxine (B6) and folic acid, can also cause immune system dysfunction7.
Zinc: Aids the growth of immune cells7 and inhibits the growth of several viruses1. Some studies have shown that zinc promotes the destruction of foreign particles and micro-organisms1. It works in conjunction with a powerful antioxidant, and is also important for the maintenance of hair, skin and nails. Zinc can be found in red meat, liver, shellfish, egg yolks, dairy products, and wholegrain cereals.
Alternative remediesMany products claim to boost the immune system, but which ones actually work?
Echinacea: Used to strengthen the immune system6. It is generally used to treat upper respiratory tract infections and studies have found it effective at relieving cold symptoms8. It reportedly works by stimulating white blood cell activity. It is thought to be useful as a wound-healing agent for abscesses, burns, eczema, varicose ulcers of the leg, and other skin wounds9. It can be taken in either liquid or tablets form, and can be bought from pharmacies or health-food stores. Women who are pregnant or breast-feeding women should not take this supplement.
Garlic: Has antibacterial and antiviral properties and is traditionally used to treat a range of diseases and ailments6, 10. It is thought to prevent common colds and flu. Garlic can be eaten raw or taken as a supplement. Consult your doctor before taking these supplements if you are taking drugs to prevent blood clots or to reduce high blood pressure6.
Selenium: Required for the proper functioning of the immune system. Brazil nuts are the best sources of selenium. Other sources include liver, shellfish, crab and fish. Plant foods such as wheat are a good source because of the selenium-rich soil in many parts of the US11. Be careful not to overdose on selenium, as it is toxic in high concentrations. A deficiency of selenium has been linked to bad moods12.
Chicken soup: What your mother told you is true - chicken soup can help you feel better! A study in the journal Chest has shown that it has a mild anti-inflammatory effect, which can help in relieving the symptoms of upper respiratory tract infections13.
- Murray M, Pizzorno J. encyclopedia of Natural Medicine. 2nd Edn. Little, Brown and Company. 2000
- Raison CL, Miller AH. The neuroimmunology of stress and depression. Seminars in clinical neuropsychiatry. 2001; 6: 277-94
- Youngson R. Royal Society of Medicine, Health Encyclopedia. 2nd Edn 2000
- Rogers NL, Szuba MP, Staab JP, Evans DL, Dinges DF. Neuroimmunologic aspects of sleep and sleep loss. Seminars in clinical neuropsychiatry. 2001; 6: 295-307
- Shift work. British Sleep Foundation. http://www.sleepfoundation.org/
- Factsheets. Health Supplements Information Servise. www.hsis.org
- Beisel WR, Edelman R, Nauss K, Suskind RM. Single-nutrient effects on immunological functions. Report of a workshop sponsored by the Department of Food and Nutrition and its nutrition advisory group of the American Medical Association. Journal of the American Medical Association. 1981; 245: 53-8
- Schulten B, Bulitta M, Ballering-Bruhl B, Koster U, Schafer M. Efficacy of Echinacea purpurea in patients with a common cold. A placebo-controlled, randomised, double-blind clinical trial. Arzneimittel-Forschung. 2001;m 51: 563-8
- Fetrow CW, Avila JR. Professional's Handbook of Complementary and Alternative Medicines. 2nd Edn. Springhouse. 2001
- Alternative Common Cold Medications. From the Common Cold center, Cardiff University. www.cf.ac.uk/biosi/associates/cold/alt.html
- National Institutes of Health, Office of Dietary Supplements. Health Information, Vitamin and Mineral Supplements Fact Sheets. www.ods.od.nih.gov
- Rayman MP. The importance of selenium to human health. The Lancet. 2000; 356: 233-41
- Rennard BO, Ertl RF, Gossman GL, Robbins RA, Rennard SI. Chicken soup inhibits neutrophil chemotaxis in vitro. Chest. 2000; 118: 1150-7
Getting started with physical activity
Why should you bother with exercise and how can you get started?
- Exercise gives you a huge return on your investment.
- Only a small amount of exercise each day is needed to get major mind/body benefits.
- Activity doesn't necessarily need to be structured or done in a gym.
- Start slowly - don't try too much at once.
The good news is only a small amount of exercise is needed to get benefits from activity. Thirty minutes a day is enough to produce results. Physical activity is essential for the health and best performance of your heart and many other body organs. It is also great for promoting psychological well-being2. What's more, you don't have to do it all in one 30-minute block.You can break it up into 5, 10 or 15 minute "chunks," whatever fits best with your lifestyle and schedule.
Moderate activity, such as brisk walking or any activity that makes you slightly breathless, can provide health benefits. This can include climbing the stairs, washing the car, cleaning the house, or playing with the kids.
Tips for getting started
- Set simple goals. One of the easiest ways is to commit to a certain number of minutes of physical activity each day. Your plan of action will depend on how active you are now. If you've been totally sedentary, you might begin with a 10-minute walk or bike ride before dinner. If that feels okay, gradually add 10 minutes of strength training with small dumbbells while you watch your favorite TV show. Then begin to use lunch or break time for another 10 or 15 minutes of brisk walking. It's that easy!
- Keep an activity log. In order to track (and give yourself credit for!) your progress, keep a record of your physical activity on a convenient calendar or in a training diary. Jot down what you did and the number of minutes you did it each day, and how you felt before and after. Add up your total at the end of each day and week, and congratulate yourself!
- Find a partner. It's always easier to exercise with a buddy, so find a friend or colleague who also wants to get fit. If you've agreed to go for a brisk walk together, it will be that much harder to skip it.
- Join a walking group, exercise class or swimming club. Find an activity that you enjoy (or used to enjoy!) and join a group that meets regularly.
- Take up a new activity. Consider trying out one that has always appealed to you. This could be anything from Salsa dancing to swimming to yoga.
What not to do
- Don't do too much too soon. Start your fitness plan gently and gradually build up to longer or more vigorous exercise sessions. If you ask your body to do more than it's ready for, you may get discouraged, or even injured.
- Don't rush into vigorous exercise without warming up. Spend about five minutes warming up by slowly walking or jogging. Follow this with some active stretches such as arm and shoulder circles, side bends, hip rotations, and knee bends. Also remember to stretch and cool down when you have finished.
- Don't cut corners when buying equipment - splurge on the "right stuff." You deserve it! Be sure you have the correct clothing, footwear and equipment for the activity you choose.
Exercise safetyRegular activity is beneficial to your health. However, anyone with a health problem (for example, heart disease, diabetes or obesity) should consult a doctor before starting a new fitness program. Men over of 40 and women over 50 who are planning to begin strenuous or vigorous physical activity should also seek medical advice.
- HEA and Sports Council. Allied Dunbar National Fitness Survey, 1992
- American College of Sports Medicine. Guidelines for exercise testing and prescription (6th Edition), 2000
Stuck in traffic, on the train, or under pressure at work? What can you do to relax and unwind?
- Take some deep breaths whenever you need to calm down
- Take a few minutes to picture your perfect relaxation scene
- Go for a walk - get some oxygen into your lungs and clear your head
- Aromatherapy - some smells can help you relax or concentrate
- Massage - it can improve your blood flow and circulation
- Have a beauty treatment, such as manicure, pedicure, haircut or styling
- Acupuncture - can be used to treat all kinds of ailments
- Catch up with friends - talking can often help diffuse stress
Breathing techniquesDeep breathing is one of the simplest techniques you can use to relax. It can help slow down your heart rate and decrease your blood pressure.
In a stressful situation, slowing your breathing can help return your body to a less stressed condition.
Spend time thinking about your breathing. Think about which parts of your body you are using to breathe. Is it your chest or your stomach? If you are deep breathing you should be using your stomach as well as your chest.
Consider following this train of thought: "I breathe in by inflating first the stomach, then the chest, then the shoulders; slowly I breathe out lowering my shoulders, emptying my chest, and pulling in my stomach." Repeat several times, slowly1.
Meditation, mantras and prayersMeditation is a way of focusing on deeper thoughts and feelings. The goal is to empty your mind, free yourself from distractions, and let the concerns from your life drop away.
All you need is a quiet place where you won't be disturbed. Sit in a position you can hold for at least 15 minutes, such as cross legged, the lotus position, or kneeling. Many people begin by concentrating their attention on a word or sound - a mantra. A sound, such as "Om," is used to focus the concentration.
Different forms of meditation concentrate on different things - where you are, what you are experiencing this moment, a single word or image. Meditation introduces you to your internal feelings so you know yourself better.
Research has found that yoga mantras and saying rosary prayers have beneficial effects on cardiovascular rhythms. They slow the rate of breathing, which improves cardiovascular and respiratory function, oxygenation of the blood, and exercise tolerance. It also improves calmness and well-being2.
YogaMany people find yoga a great way of relaxing. It focuses on suppleness, strength, stamina, and concentration. You can practice by yourself, but it is recommended that you learn poses and techniques with a registered yoga practitioner first.
VisualizationVisualization or positive mental imagery can be used to prepare for competitive events or to help you relax. Take five minutes, ideally somewhere you won't be disturbed, and close your eyes. Think of a place or an event you find relaxing and imagine what it looks like. Think about the sounds, colors, smells, tastes and textures. Transport yourself to another place and forget about your worries.
Deep breathing can also help you prepare for stressful events. Rehearse the kind of performance required - physically, mentally and emotionally. Think about what you have to do and use all your senses to imagine what it will be like. Picture yourself overcoming any obstacles or problems, and finding solutions. This will help you prepare for the event and be more relaxed when it occurs.
- Perreaut-Pierre E. "La gestion mentale du stress pout la performance sportive" (Managing stress management for sports performance) Ed. Amphora. 2000
- Bernardi L, Sleight P, Bandinelli G, Cencetti S, Fattorini L, Wdowczyc-Szulc J et. al. Effect of rosary prayer and yoga mantras on autonomic cardiovascular rhythms: comparative study. British Medical Journal. 2001; 323: 1446-9
Avoiding thinking errors
How you perceive events can have a big impact on your stress levels. Learning how you respond to different situations can help you assess the appropriateness of your response and look at alternative ways of thinking about situations.
Try this quick exercise to look at the way you think:
Think back to the last time you were stressed. Perhaps you had a travel delay, you had a deadline to meet, or you lost something important. Try to recall the incident. What thoughts were going through your head? Did you feel angry, either with yourself or with someone else? What did you think about the situation - was it "awful," or "terrible"? Did you feel the situation was unfair, and that things "should be better," or you hadn't been treated fairly? Did you try to avoid the situation, or think you "couldn't stand it"? How did your thoughts affect the situation? Did they help you become less stressed or did they increase your stress?1
You may be surprised at how much your thoughts affected your stress levels. Many people find that when analyzing situations like these that their thoughts actually cause more stress rather than help the problem.
So what can you do to tackle problem thoughts? Psychologists have identified a number of "thinking errors" that can make stress
worse and have found ways to challenge these.
Look at these common "thinking errors" and see if any of these apply to you.
- Labeling. When you "globally rate" yourself or others,
as opposed to rating specific behaviors or skills. For example, because you failed
your exams, you are a total failure. Or because you didn't get that promotion
you are never going to get anywhere.
Solution: Try to think about the behavior that was responsible for your failing rather than adopting global ratings of yourself. Yes, you may have failed your exam, but it is not the end of the world, and it doesn't mean you won't pass future exams. Think about the label you have given yourself. Are you really a "total failure" or "completely stupid"? Probably not. You may not have been given the job you wanted but that doesn't make you a "total failure."
- Focusing on the negative/discounting the positive. Instead of keeping
events in perspective, you either focus only on the negative - things are always
going wrong - or discount the positive. For example, your manager is giving
you positive feedback only to be nice. She doesn't really mean it.
Solution: Start concentrating on positive aspects of your life. Learn to accept compliments at face value. Do you really think that someone is giving you praise only to be nice? It is much more likely that you deserve the praise. Try to make a point of thinking about the things that are going right rather than concentrating only on the things that are wrong.
- Using double standards. You judge yourself differently from how
you judge others. For example, you are much harder on yourself than you are on others,
or you allow yourself mistakes that you don't let other people get away with.
Solution: Be kind to yourself. If you are supportive of other people when they make a mistake, why be ultra-critical of yourself? If you criticize other people for making mistakes but ignore your own, is that really fair? Try to think if you are being reasonable with yourself and other people.
- Mind reading. You make assumptions about what someone is thinking.
For example, you're sure your colleagues think you can't do a project, or your manager
didn't say hello to you this morning - so you must have done something wrong.
Solution: Look for evidence for and against your assumptions. Ask for feedback from your friends and family about things you have done. If you genuinely believe someone doesn't like something you have done and it is bothering you, ask about it.
- Phoney-ism. You fear others may find out you are not the person
you seem to be. For example, even though you have done well so far, one day you'll
make a mistake and they'll realize how incompetent you are.
Solution: Think about the situation logically. The fact you have done well so far proves you are not incompetent. Everyone makes mistakes from time to time - even the person you are trying to impress.
- Magnifying or "awfulizing." You have a tendency to blow
situations out of proportion. For example, if you miss this deadline, the outcome
will be disastrous. Or if you make a mistake, you are sure to be fired.
Solution: Try and distance yourself from the situation. Dreadful things can happen, but blowing situations out of proportion will not help your stress levels. For example, failing a test may be embarrassing and a hassle, and may mess up your plans, but it's more of an inconvenience than a terrible event.
- Emotional reasoning. You evaluate situations by how they make you
feel. For example, flying makes you really nervous, therefore it must be dangerous.
Or, she makes you really angry - she must be a nasty person.
Solution: Thinking emotionally doesn't allow you to think logically about the situation. Although a situation may cause strong emotions, that doesn't mean it is a bad or dangerous situation.
There are many different "thinking errors," but concentrating on negative aspects of a problem does not help solve the problem or reduce your stress levels. Try to take steps to change your thinking when you are under pressure so you can reduce your stress levels.
- Reworked from Cooper C and Palmer S. Conquer your stress. CIPD publishing. 2001.
Exactly how reflexology works has not been established. Reflexology, in its early form, was used thousands of years ago and is known to have been practiced as early as 2330 B.C. by the Egyptians1.
Reflexology is a form of "alternative" or "complementary" medicine. It is a massage treatment that encourages energy flow to specific areas (reflex areas) in the feet and hands, but usually the treatment concentrates on the feet. It’s commonly used to treat a wide range of disorders, from headaches and migraines to sinus congestion, neck and back pain, digestive disorders, circulatory problems and hormonal problems. It may also help with worry and anxiety.2
Does it work?Complementary medicine refers to disciplines that are not considered to be part of mainstream medical care. Although there is growing evidence that certain complementary therapies are effective, the field is still poorly researched. However, many people do believe that complementary therapies can help in a variety of ways.
The treatmentComplementary medicine refers to disciplines that are not considered to be part of mainstream medical care. Although there is growing evidence that certain complementary therapies are effective, the field is still poorly researched. However, many people do believe that complementary therapies can help in a variety of ways.
Therefore, in theory, reflexology offers a means of treating both the whole body, and the body as a whole.
As pressure is applied to the different areas, the patient will feel different sensations that relate to the degrees of imbalance in the corresponding part of the body - the more discomfort felt, the more out of balance the corresponding part of the body.
Sometimes, as a result of the treatment, the patient may suffer from such symptoms as tiredness, runny nose, and passing more urine, but these are only short-term reactions and are positive signs that treatment is having an effect.
Is it worth trying?The lack of proof that it works shouldn’t necessarily deter anyone from trying reflexology (although you should, of course, bear it in mind). Reflexology is generally suitable for all age groups. Many people will find treatment leaves them feeling more relaxed and with a sense of well-being.
PractitionersComplementary practitioners (other than osteopaths and chiropractors) can legally practice without any training. When looking for a practitioner, it is recommended you speak to your primary health care provider and see if they can recommend a practitioner or refer you. Always choose a trained practitioner and check with your health insurer top see if the cost of the therapy will be covered.
Sources1 International Institute of Reflexology
2.University of Minnesota
Stretching your mind and body
Yoga is often seen as the holistic answer to all your well-being concerns, but how true is this?
With celebrities praising its virtues, it seems that yoga has become the exercise fad of the decade. But fashionable as it is, what does it offer you beyond other forms of exercise?
The roots of yogaYoga has moved into center stage because it can promote a sense of calm and well-being if practiced regularly. Originating in India, yoga is an ancient psycho-physical discipline that has been practiced for around 5,000 years. The word yoga is derived from the Sanskrit word 'yug' for 'union' - and this is its key. It is a holistic form of exercise that promotes an integrated approach to mind and body control by focusing on the four key areas of flexibility, strength, stamina and concentration.
Benefits of yogaYoga is ideal for people who are turned off by the idea of high-impact aerobics or weight lifting. Yoga exercises are gentle and designed to progressively strengthen muscles and increase flexibility. So as a form of physical exercise, yoga is particularly good for muscle tone and can also aid weight loss. Additional benefits include helping with stress1, insomnia and asthma, as well as relieving minor problems such as menstrual pain and tension headaches. Also, learning the stress management and meditation techniques practiced in yoga may reduce arteriosclerosis - the hardening of arteries associated with heart disease and strokes2.
Different stylesOne aspect of yoga that often bewilders novices is the wide range of yoga styles. No single style is necessarily better than any other; it's more a question of what will suit you. However, if you are double-jointed or particularly loose-limbed (an easy test is to see if you can touch your toes without difficulty), you should get medical advice before you take classes as increased flexibility may increase the risk of joint instability and ligament problems. The most popular yoga styles are derived from the Hatha or physical branch of yoga. They include ashtanga and Iyengar and are good classes for beginners.
How should I start?While you can practice yoga independently, it is much safer to learn poses and techniques with an experienced yoga instructor at first. Try several different classes to see which ones you are most comfortable with. Once you have learned the basic poses you can schedule them into 10- or 20-minute slots in your day. Practicing yoga first thing in the morning, for example, is an excellent way to start the day. As with all exercise it's wise to consult your doctor if you have any ongoing medical conditions, particularly high blood pressure, as some of the poses may not be right for you.
- British Medical Journal 1996 313: 745-748
- Stress at work; Julia von Oncuil
- Research published by the American Heart Association journal Stroke.