This week on the podcast we’re seeking some relaxation with a panel of experts
When was the last time you intentionally took time for yourself to simply relax? For a lot of us, making space for rest doesn’t come naturally. We might battle with a voice in our heads saying, “We should be doing this…” or that we haven’t got time to stop.
In this week’s conversation, we’re asking why rest can be such a tricky thing, exploring the excuses we make and what we can do to ease ourselves into relaxation. We discuss a range of tools that can support relaxation, from cognitive hypnotherapy and reflexology, to creative making. We ask who these tools might not work for and we’ll share tips on getting started if relaxing feels like an alien concept.
Joining me in this conversation are hypnotherapist Amy Townsend, holistic therapist Louis Oliver Brooke, and founder of creative wellness brand Recess Living, Nina Elegba. Listen below, or wherever you get your podcasts.
*edited for clarity
Kat: Hello everyone and welcome to another episode of Finding What Works. Today we're going to be delving into the topic of relaxation. So if that's something you are currently struggling with, then definitely stay tuned. I'm joined today by a fantastic panel. I've got hypnotherapist, Amy Townsend, complementary therapist, Louis Oliver Brooke and founder of Recess Living, Nina Elegba. So we're going to start by asking you all to introduce yourselves and tell us a bit about the work that you do. So, Amy, I'm going to come to you first.
Amy: Hi, yes, so I'm Amy, I'm a therapist – a hypnotherapist, and I mainly work with individuals struggling with worry and stress. I trained in cognitive behavioural hypnotherapy, so I draw on a variety of approaches. So primarily CBT, hypnotherapy and mindfulness-type interventions. In terms of how I work, I aim to help my clients develop the skills that they need to be able to help themselves without being reliant on me for long-term therapy. So my hope is that clients leave therapy with a toolbox of resources to help them cope more effectively and live the life that they want to live.
Kat: Amazing, thank you. I love the sound of that, making sure people can leave therapy with the tools that they need. That sounds brilliant, thank you. And Louis yourself, can you tell us a bit more about you and the work that you do?
Louis: So my name's Louis, I am a complementary therapist, I'm based in Bewley in Worcestershire, I have a practice that I work from home and as a complementary therapist, I do all kinds of complementary, holistic and alternative therapies. That's everything from acupuncture to massage to reflexology, Reiki, all kinds of healing – spirit, crystal – I even do some of the more obscure therapies like moxibustion, which is one that not many people have heard of but works wonders. I like to say I work holistically, so I work treating not only the body but also the mind and the spirit as well. I have different therapies which can help with different things. If you come to me with a physical problem, then we'll work on that, either using some kind of massage or reflexology for example. Or if you are in need of some spiritual work, then we can work on the healing side, so we can work on your spiritual body rather than your physical. But I like to work treating the body as a whole rather than just individual bits, and that's me!
Kat: Brilliant, thank you. That's so interesting, you must have had to learn a lot of different approaches to be able to cover all those different things <laugh>,
Louis: I call myself a serial learner – I have to learn, keep learning something. If you were to see my certificate wall, it's to the side of me here... A lot of my clients say oh gosh Louis, I think you need a bigger wall. I just keep adding more and more and more because I just have to keep doing something.
Kat: Absolutely. And that's something we are going to be definitely exploring in this episode and throughout the whole podcast is the range of different things that can support us. So that's great. Amazing, and Nina, can you tell us a bit more about the work that you do?
Nina: Hi, I'm Nina, I'm the founder of Recess Living, which is a creative wellness brand. So we work with workplaces and brands and create experiences from creative workshops to team away days and retreats, all designed to help people reconnect with creativity and use it to find mindfulness through making. We also host panel talks and supper clubs all designed to bring people together to share lived experiences around mental health and wellbeing.
Kat: Amazing, thank you. And I've been following your work for a while and I've seen the amazing things that you do and it looks so brilliant. Nina, I'm gonna stick with you actually because I'd love to hear a bit more about your personal journey with relaxation because it's one of those things that we think should be pretty simple – I think a lot of us feel like we know what we should do to relax, but it isn't always that simple. So yeah, I'd love to hear a bit more about your personal journey when it comes to relaxation and self-care in general.
Nina: Oh that is exactly what is, an absolute journey that I'm continuously learning upon and yeah, we all know that we need rest in order to live better, to work better, to survive, to thrive... But it's so much easier said than done. And I still do have quite a difficult relationship with rest, which I know is quite ironic because my business is about helping other people rest <laugh>. So my background was in TV production and events, I was always used to being on the go, it's quite like a fast-paced industry can be really competitive. And I've always worked freelance, which is great in the sense that it allows you to work with loads of different people and different companies, but essentially you don't have an HR person being like, ‘Oh Nina, don't forget you need to take X amount of days off per year.’
As a freelancer, you just keep on going because sometimes <laugh>, I can see Louis nodding, you just don't know where your next job's going to come from. So you are like, oh while the going is good I'm just going to carry on going... And that's essentially what I did. I've suffered from burnout more or less all my professional working life and one of my biggest burnouts happened when I was in my mid-twenties it was the first one I think I really took stock of and also it just completely just wiped me out. So your body always keeps the score, doesn't it? And it got to the point where my mind and body were so out of alignment and I was forced to slow down. And since then I've been exploring different ways that I can rest and relax and making sure that it's part of my every day and restructuring the way I work to just make sure... It's the simple things that I think really help people most and sometimes you think it has to be something really big and extravagant or you see on social media so-and-so's gone off on this four-week meditation retreat and they're sat in silence and come back so enlightened and restful, but you can't always take four weeks off to go on an outing <laugh>. So it's about finding where you can put in rest and care throughout your day. And sometimes it's as simple as just stepping away from your desk and going to make a smoothie or a cup of tea which is going to take like 10 minutes, or making sure you actually take that like lunchtime walk and if you can't go at lunch, make sure you go in the evening.
So yeah, I've really come to realise as well that self-care isn't one of those things where it's a tick-list of things to do, like items that you can copy and paste from your friend or whoever you're following on Instagram or the books that we read or the podcasts that we hear. It's about really making it work for you and also giving yourself some grace and compassion and knowing what works in one season, and it might be a season of your wellbeing or it might just be mother nature's season. So my morning routine is very different in summer than what it is in winter and that's okay, that's one of the things I've really had to tune into and know what serves me – waking up at six is so much easier for me to do and going out for work first thing in the morning in summertime, but in winter... it doesn't quite happen the same. So just looking at how I can replace that in winter, so that's the time when I might start the morning off reading instead because I'm in bed, I'm snuggly but I'm making sure I'm carving out that time for me, but knowing that the activity can change season to season.
Kat: Thank you. I love that, it really is about tuning into what's working for us at the moment and not having super high and unrealistic expectations based on what other people are doing as well. Thank you for sharing your story there. So, Amy, I'll come to you with the same question. What about your personal journey with relaxation drew you to the work that you do with hypnotherapy?
Amy: Yeah, so, personally similar to what Nina said. I experienced a period of burnout when I finished university and I really pushed myself and then when I finished, my body just really was exhausted and really feeling the effects of stress. So relaxation was definitely a part of the journey of me getting better from that and getting back to a more balanced place. In terms of my work, my training also taught me that there are so many tools that we can use to help us relax and hypnotherapy is really great for that. I feel like it's very needed and there are things that we can do to support ourselves.
Kat: Thank you, Amy. It is so interesting how many of us have experienced burnout and that need for relaxation and that's what pushes us to that... It's a shame that it sometimes takes that but it's really interesting to hear everyone's story. And Louis, could you tell us a little bit more about your experience of relaxation and what maybe drew you to the work that you do as well?
Louis: I think from my point of view and from my experience, it's a bit of a different one to everybody else's. I wouldn't necessarily say that I suffered any kind of burnout before or anything like that which led me towards this kind of work to be honest. It's one of the things that I found happened whilst I've been working and given me the realisation actually, Louis, let's stop working 20 hours a day, seven days a week, and start listening to yourself and to the advice that you give your clients. One of the things that I always say is that self-care isn't selfish, listen to yourself – you don't have to fill your diary with everything all the time because otherwise, you will end up like that.
How I got to looking into it was – I used to be a dancer, that was my primary career before I moved into this work, and obviously a dancer's career doesn't last forever, you're kind of done by the time you're 25, so I got to that time and I was like, well what can I do? I need to do something. So I thought, I've always had a caring nature, I've always put others before myself so I said, well why don't I do something that involves that? I went to train as a nurse but was rejected twice for nursing, at the time I was doing sports massage at college and my lecturer said, ‘Well why don't you go down the alternative medicine route and come back and do complimentary therapy?’ And that led one thing to another, I started to hear about other things, different therapists.
It was through working with my clients that I realised the need for relaxation and that so many people don't have that in place. So, especially when I meet somebody for the first time and I do their consultation form, one of the questions that I ask is, what do you do for relaxation? And I would probably say about 95% of people will say nothing, and I'm like, well maybe that's something we need to look at, let's find something. Even if it's just that 30 minutes once a month that you come to me for a back massage, that's your time that you take out when you don't think about anything else. I've got quite a few carers for family members or they're in a caring profession and if you're caring for other people, if you don't take care of yourself, how can you provide the best care possible for the people that you are caring for? So that's something that I've really tried to instill in my clients, the need for relaxation and the need to take that time for yourself.
Kat: What's interesting there is, as you said, a lot of clients struggling to relax or saying that they don't do anything to relax. I'd love to know, do you know if there are any barriers that are in place when it comes to relaxation for people and do you think there are any cultural or social issues that are contributing to this and making it difficult to relax?
Louis: The biggest thing that I always find is people say they don't have the time, you know, I don't have time to go for a walk or I don't have time to sit down with a book for half an hour or an hour or something like that. And I thought... Well, you kind of need to make time for yourself. I think time is the biggest one for that that I find.
Kat: Thank you. And yes, Nina, I can see, have you got something to add to this <laugh>?
Nina: Yeah, I was going to say absolutely – time is such a big thing. And picking up on what Louis said earlier, it's that thing of feeling that you're being selfish, taking that time out for you. And especially I think within, not even just family dynamics but work dynamics and friends dynamics as well. You feel like you need to give your energy to all the people in your life which is rewarding and can also give you energy, but it almost feels selfish to be like, I need to take that space for myself.
I always used to dread back when I used to work in more of a corporate environment that Monday question of, so what did you get up to? What did you do this weekend? And so many times I'd be like oh my God, I just spent the weekend chilling because I <laugh> really need a couple of days by myself and as much solitude as I can get to recharge.
And especially I think when you are younger and everyone's at some cool new bar or just jetting off on holiday, it's that rush to say or feel like you're keeping up, that way you won’t be labelled as boring or odd if you haven't been out. Then I really realised that actually, as Louis said, taking that time to look after yourself allows you to help whoever else you need to help. But ideally, first, you need to help yourself. So yeah, I think society and our construct to always be on and doing things can be quite difficult for people to switch off.
Kat: Absolutely. And I really relate to needing some days to just do nothing. I've had quite a busy month where I think in the last two/three months I've had about two free weekends... And I'm an introvert, I need time to myself to relax and I haven't had that and I'm really noticing it now. So I've got tomorrow carved out and I've booked a long weekend and I've literally put in my calendar in big red letters, 'nothing' so that I don't put anything in, nobody will ask me to do anything so that I can lie on my sofa, probably play The Sims because that's what I do to relax and just, yeah, not do anything. So I definitely relate to you there.
And Amy, I'm curious about the same question. Do you find anything particular with your clients, any barriers that they come to when it comes to relaxation?
Amy: Yeah, I totally agree with what Louis and Nina said. I think in today's culture and the world we're living in, we're very much rewarded for busyness and productivity. So it can be really hard to take that time to relax and it can bring up feelings of guilt and things like that and maybe worries about judgement from other people. Then, even when we take that time to relax, there might be expectations that we put on ourselves, like 'I should be more relaxed by now' and things like that. You take a bit of time and then the pressure to actually feel relaxed is <laugh>, it's quite a lot because you haven't got much time.
Kat: That expectation thing keeps coming up and I think that's a really important thing for our listeners to take away and think about – what expectations are you putting on yourself to relax and can you find a way to lift that and just do what feels needed and right for you without worrying what everyone else is doing or what's expected of you? That's a very interesting theme that's coming up.
I'd love to get a little bit more into the different tools that can help when it comes to relaxation because I think it really is about trial and error and finding what works for you. So, Amy, I'm going to stick with you here. I'd love for you to tell us a bit more about hypnotherapy specifically and how that can help us when it comes to relaxation.
Amy: Yes. So maybe if I say a bit about cognitive behavioural hypnotherapy first just so the listeners have an idea of the approach that it is... Basically, hypnotherapy is using your imagination to evoke positive feelings and rehearse new ways of thinking and behaving. So cognitive behavioural hypnotherapy is an evidence-based approach and it works similarly to CBT and the emphasis is on ordinary psychological factors. So things like suggestion, expectation effects, focused attention and using your imagination, rather than – it doesn't use the term trance in cognitive hypnotherapy, so it's not this magical kind of thing. The client's very much got control and autonomy and it's a very collaborative process. So it is really great for getting into a deep state of relaxation and increases the vividness of mental imagery.
There are lots of techniques and things that we can use in hypnotherapy. Things like breathing exercises can be integrated, I really like using safe place imagery – that's where I would guide you to imagine a place where you feel safe and use all of your senses to imagine what it feels like there, the sounds, what you can see and that can be really, really relaxing. And then also you can use things like light imagery, so imagining a warm light, you can incorporate things like muscle relaxation... So yeah, there's a lot you can include into it and it's really good for stress and anxiety, especially if you're holding tension in your body as well.
Kat: Amazing. Thank you. That sounds really good, I like how it can incorporate so many different things so it's not just about the breathing exercises, it's combining that with visualisation and using your imagination. That sounds really interesting, thank you. And Louis, I know there are a lot of different complementary and holistic therapies that can help, but I wonder if you can talk about maybe a few of your favourite ones that you advise clients to try if they're specifically looking to relax.
Louis: Well the first one that comes to mind straight away is reflexology. Reflexology is such a wonderful yet powerful treatment that works on the whole of the body. We work on the face or the hands, it works in creating balance within the body because it helps to allow the energy to flow correctly through the different parts of the body. It's also deeply relaxing as well because our feet are possibly one of the most neglected parts of our body. You know, if you think about it in terms of they're in shoes and socks pretty much all day, we stand on them, we're walking on them. We might be sitting down right now doing this, but where are your feet right now? They're probably planted on the ground and flat. You haven't got them raised up or even if you sit at a desk, your feet are still down.
They're one of the most neglected parts of us and when we use the movements that we use within reflexology, it really relaxes the feet so much that it does then seep up into the rest of the body and it is a deeply, deeply relaxing treatment. So reflexology would be always the first one that I would go to. But then also any kind of energetic healing. So either Reiki or spirit or angelic healing, because we're working on the spiritual body, particularly the Reiki energy, has a profound effect on relaxing the physical body as well.
During a Reiki session, you don't... You would never fall asleep during a Reiki session. You kind of lift out of your body and you sit just slightly out. When you are in that state you become incredibly relaxed everybody always says you feel like you melt into the bed and everything just drains away. One of the effects of a Reiki session is that you get a deep sense of relaxation and a general sense of wellbeing afterwards. But it's one of those things I always say to people, you have to have it to experience it. If somebody's in need of some relaxation, definitely either reflexology or Reiki would be the ones that I would go to first.
Kat: Thank you. I have had both reflexology and Reiki and I definitely agree with that. I think they're both... Reflexology especially, I must admit I wasn't expecting it to be as relaxing as it was. But as you said, your feet do get neglected and when they actually have some care and attention it's amazing what effect it can have on the rest of the body as well. Reiki is also a really relaxing, lovely experience and one of my colleagues who works with us at Happiful does Reiki and she actually did it for me. And I think that was a lovely thing, to have someone who cares for you to do it. Thank you for sharing. Hopefully, our listeners will take that away and will maybe explore those as options.
And Nina, what I love about the work that you do in Recess Living is that you integrate creativity and making into relaxation. So I'd love for you to talk a little bit more about that and how creativity, making things, and how that can all help us relax a bit more as well.
Nina: Yeah, I love to call creative wellness meditation for doers because I've always found, and find now, my clients and the people I have the pleasure of hosting workshops for - when you are so used to being busy and switched on all the time... It's like Amy said, it can be so difficult or daunting where you've got this spot to relax and you're like, 'Ah, I've still got this energy running through my body'. So being able to work with your hands and harness the energy that you've naturally got still running around your body into making just brings this beautiful relaxation across everything. So I always say as your hands are busy, your mind starts calming down and the more tactile materials you can work with, sometimes the better.
I love sinking my hands into clay because it's so nice and tactile, and we do a lot of hand-building pottery workshops which is just really good to help slow you down because it's quite a slow process as a craft and you'll literally feel all the knots of stress and tension melt through your hands and go into the clay itself. I know it can be difficult when you hear creativity and art because sometimes you flash back to being at school and having your work marked, but the work we do at Recess is all about helping people just relax and enjoy the process. We say it doesn't matter if your lines are perfectly straight or a little bit wonky. It's about embracing it all and not really getting fixated on exactly what the end result's going to look like, but just relax and enjoy the process as you're going along.
If you're finding it difficult to get started because art can be quite challenging, because again we've got these preconceptions about what makes a good artist or piece of art, I say start simple. So just grab a colouring book – there are so many amazing adult ones out there, but also I've been known to borrow some stuff from my niece and nephew, <laugh> and just grab some colouring pencils or pens that you like and just the process of colouring in... There's already a pre-made image so you're haven't got that whole blank page syndrome. It's such a great way to start using creativity to help you unwind. And then as you start getting into a rhythm there, you can start to look at doing some other specialisms, whether it's painting or pottery or marbling, or start to pair it with other forms of relaxation and self-care like journaling. We run a lot of creative art journaling workshops as well, so then again, if you find it difficult to process and release through words, you can start blending the art and the words together.
Kat: I love that it's really helpful to hear what people can try if something else doesn't work for them because that is something I'm going to come to you all with actually – a question about who might these approaches not work for, because I think it's really important for us to recognise that we are all very different and unique individuals and I love it when podcasts share tools that can help, but it's also about understanding that this might not work for everybody. So you talked there about creativity being for people who maybe struggle with meditation. Is there anybody that you would say creativity and this kind of approach to relaxation might not work for? Or do you think it really is for anyone to give a go?
Nina: I'm a firm believer it's for everyone to give a go and it's just about spending the time to find the craft that suits you best. So I love like collaging because I love being able to take something that's already formed and make something new out of it. But you know, as the daughter of a seamstress, sewing – I don't gel to as well. So being able to open up your mind and give yourself the freedom to try different things and also know that it's okay to be crap at something, it's about just enjoying the process. You don't need to produce it for work, you don't need to sell it anywhere. It's just about having that time out for you and it's such a great place to start.
There are so many different crafts that you can try, but if you're still finding that creativity isn't gelling with you, hopefully, it's opened up your curiosity to try something else or be like, 'Actually, I need to be more like guided through my relaxation.' So that's a really good time to book in and see someone like Louis where you are literally in someone else's chair and they're taking care of you, which I think is also really good when you're busy and you find it difficult to carve out that time for yourself. I always say, make a date with someone else. Make a date to either go have your nails done, go to a reflexology appointment or go to a yoga class because someone else is going to take that care for you but also give you the care back at the same time.
Kat: I absolutely love that. That is really interesting to hear and there are so many different approaches when it comes to creativity. I've dabbled in drawing, I've dabbled in art journaling and I think what's important as well is that things can change. Something that might have served you for a really long time... I actually spoke about this in the introductory episode of this podcast, but journaling used to be something that I loved. I'm a writer, that's my day job, that's what I do, that's how I process. But recently I've just not found it supportive or helpful and I've turned away from it and I'm doing things like meditation or playing video games and stuff like that. It's really important for us to recognise that different things will work for us and that it's okay to pick things up and put them down again. So thank you for sharing and with that idea in mind Amy, I'd love to hear – do you think there's anyone who hypnotherapy might not be suitable for or it might not work for from your experience?
Amy: So cognitive behavioural hypnotherapy is generally very safe and most people will find it really relaxing. It can be similar to daydreaming or being engrossed in a film. It's that kind of feeling or state of mind but it isn't suitable for everyone. Certain mental health issues, or physical health issues as well, things like psychosis, clinical depression, epilepsy, migraines – things like that might not be suitable for you or might be worth checking in with your GP. That would be something that you could try and also it depends on how you're using it. So it may not be suitable in terms of relaxation in all cases of anxiety. Maybe if the client is ending up using relaxation as a way to avoid anxiety, then we might want to take a different approach.
But yeah, it's really great for chronic stress. The other thing that I could mention is occasionally people can experience relaxation-induced anxiety. Not very often, but if you haven't been relaxing for a long time then you might find that you get a little bit of an increase in anxiety when you relax. So maybe that's a feeling of fear of losing control or the physical sensations. That can rarely happen, but that might be worth exploring – the personal reasons for that. Or maybe starting with something like mindfulness where there's less pressure to feel relaxed, it's just a byproduct of the mindfulness and adding in small moments of relaxation and building those up.
Kat: That's so interesting. I'd never have thought of that but that's a really good point. I think if you've not been letting yourself relax, when it actually comes to it, as you said it might feel a little bit stressful. I know anxiety is often rooted in control, so having to let go of control and maybe going and sitting in somebody else's therapy room and allowing them to support you is too much to start with. So you might want to build up slowly. Thank you for sharing those other areas where it might be best to speak to your GP before trying it. That's what I really wanted to get at here – understanding that these aren't all suitable for everybody and it's really important to tune in to what's right for you. So thank you.
And Louis, same question for you. Do you think there are any conditions or any people who might need to check in with their doctor before trying complementary therapies?
Louis: So to start off with, I do know somebody who is exactly how Amy just described. To relax for them brings on an immense sense of anxiety. So they are constantly trying to fill their time with anything that they can, because if they relax it has the opposite sort of detrimental effect on their mind because the anxiety builds because they're relaxing. But in terms of complementary therapy – with every therapy that we do, whether it's massage or reflexology, acupuncture, moxibustion, cupping, or anything like that, there are contraindications to each therapy. Whenever you go to a therapist... So you come to me for example, for the first time, we will go through a consultation form to see if there is anything that is what we would say contraindicated to having that particular therapy.
Some things that are contraindicated – for example, high blood pressure for a massage is contraindicated, but there are steps that you can take as long as you tell your therapist that this is what you suffer with. There are three stages of contraindication. There's mild, severe and almost dangerous and it depends on what they are. Where that is would depend on whether you just continue with the treatment but with some adaptations, for example, going back to the high blood pressure, you would get off the couch slowly, don't get off straight away, sit on the bed, turn around, sit up on the bed for a few moments, stay there for a couple of minutes and then stand up because it helps to get that pressure to equalise.
One of the only real things that's contraindicated with reflexology is if you're pregnant. However, <laugh>, I always find it ironic that I have had a lot of success with fertility and conception, reflexology and aiding women to get pregnant. So far I've actually had success with seven different women... That sounds so wrong on my part <laugh> when I say out loud that I've helped seven women get pregnant! Through reflexology! Because we focus on particular points when you are pregnant, those points become contraindicated. So we miss them out unless of course you get to a certain point and baby doesn't want to come out, they're quite happy where they are, and we can go back to those points to induce labour. So as long as you tell your therapist what is going on with you, there are ways complementary therapy will complement in some way, but we need to know what's happening.
The only real therapy that has zero – well, technically there are two – contraindications and that's Reiki. Reiki is an intelligent energy. It will do whatever is needed. It only works with love and light. It will only do for the greatest good. However, if you are drunk it won't work, if you've been drinking or if as a therapist we don't like you... And that's simple. Those are the only two contraindications to Reiki.
For all other therapies there are contraindications, but as long as we know what they are, then we can either advise a different therapy or we can make adaptations to the one that you are having. Or we could just turn around and say, actually no, this is a GP referral. You need to check with your GP first to see whether the condition that you have won't be made worse by what we do or if you are going to suffer from it. What I always urge to people is that when you have that consultation with your therapist, even though it feels like you're divulging a lot about your personal life, we need to know these things so that we can provide you with the best treatment possible and get the best results out of what you're having. All in all, though, there isn’t really anything that isn't suitable for anybody, there are always adaptations that can be made.
Kat: Brilliant. I love what you said about complementary therapy, that it is there to complement you in whatever way it can. It's a really important takeaway there I think for listeners - to be honest with your therapist, speak up about what is going on and trust them to do what is needed to support you. Brilliant, thank you all that was so helpful to go through those bits. We're going to talk a little bit more about how somebody who might be finding it difficult to relax can start taking those small steps. We've talked about some of these already, but this is just for any really practical tools that you have to help people who are thinking, 'I can't relax, I have got too much to do, I haven't got enough time, I've got so much going on'. Nina, I'm gonna come to you first on this. Can you share any small tips that can help people who are struggling to really switch off and relax?
Nina: Yeah, my main go-to’s are one: start with your diary and your calendar and just be really mindful that you're carving out time for yourself. So if you can block in a day, amazing. If a day feels too much, then just start smaller and start for half an hour where you just ringfence that time, that's exactly as you need it to be, to do what works best for you and no one else can step into that time zone.
With work, and especially to help you get through a working day, I always find apps like the Pomodoro technique really good because, again, that's something that's helping you guide your working time but more essentially guiding those breaks and yeah, it's so important and what a difference it makes. Just having that five-minute break to look away from your screen and reset your eyes or pop away from your desk, get up to get a cup of tea, pop out into the garden if you've got one and just know that that time is there to help you govern it.
But my essential go-to is whatever you can just put your time and care into someone else's hands. And it doesn't always have to be either coming to a workshop or going see a therapist, even just making a date to go out with a friend for a walk, You know that you need to, you want to honor that time together so you're going to show up for it, but it's also giving you the care back that you need. So you've got that nice gentle accountability for it.
Kat: That's really lovely and that's something I'm going to remind myself of because, as I said, I'm an introvert, I tend to go into myself when I need to relax, but I have been finding recently, as you said, putting it into somebody else's hands a little bit, whether it's a call with your mum or something like that just to relax a bit is great. Thank you so much for those.
And Amy, do you have any guidance towards somebody who is currently struggling to switch off and relax?
Amy: Yeah, so the first thing I would say is it can be helpful sometimes to release a bit of that tension and stress that you're feeling first. So you might find doing a bit of movement, gentle movement, or going for a walk helps release some of that tension and helps you start to create that feeling of safety that helps you activate that relaxation response and shift away from fight or flight. And then having mini resets during the day or mini moments, as Nina said, can be really helpful. Maybe even just having like a timer on your phone for three times during the day to just stop for a couple of minutes and do some breathing exercises, really incorporating it into your day.
The other thing I would say is, like you said, Kat, that what you need to relax might be different at different times and that's okay. So yeah, just experimenting with what you find relaxing, it might be different to what someone else does and have a bit of variety, what you need to relax on one day might be different to other days as well. The last thing that I would say is to give yourself self-compassion as well. If you're struggling to relax, just be gentle with yourself. It can be challenging and it can be a skill that we need to build. So yeah, just be kind to yourself.
Kat: Thank you for that reminder. That is a very good one for us to all take away - self-compassion can be key in all of these things. Thank you. And Louis, any final tips or any additional ideas for anyone who's struggling to relax?
Louis: I think the first thing that I always say to people who come to me and say, 'I struggled to relax', is guided meditations in particular. So when people say to me, 'Yeah, I tried meditation, it didn't work,' or 'Well I can't meditate because I can't switch off' and I say, well if you try a guided meditation, then you've got a lovely man or lady telling you what to do, how to breathe, for example, they say, 'okay, breathe in and out, now hold it, now visualise yourself - you can see you are walking yourself through a forest...' that sort of thing. You've got somebody telling you what to do.
It was one of the things that I did as part of my lockdown program because obviously during lockdown I wasn't allowed to work, so I had to do quite a lot of things, I used to do a guided meditation and people found it a lot easier because they could hear my voice talking them through the steps. So that's one of the things that I always say to people, in particular, to start off with, is to try guided meditation. You can get guided meditations from five minutes to 20 minutes or even longer and all you need to do is just go into the video search engine or anything like that and there they are, guided meditation five minutes and you'll have thousands. That's one of the things that I always say to people, ‘If you're struggling to relax in the first place, try this.’ You know, just pop it on, sit down and just listen. If you pick one, it's five, or 10 minutes long, it's not that much out of your day.
Another thing that I always say to people as well is napping. I'm a very firm advocate of napping and I will often 'prescribe' - I'll use air quotes on that one - napping to people, especially for people who say, 'Oh, I struggle to go to sleep at night, I wake up during the day, first thing in the morning I'm up at four or five o'clock,' you know, that sort of thing. I say, well, have a nap in the afternoon, but you have to nap correctly. There is a right and wrong way to nap and it is in increments of 20.
So just set yourself down, set an alarm on your phone or however for 20 minutes, even if you just lie there for 20 minutes with your eyes shut, you've got that stillness. And a lot of the time it is just that stillness that our bodies crave. I have a nap every day, either between three or five o'clock, before I take my dog Henry out for his walk and it sets me up for the rest of the rest of the afternoon, but it is only 20 minutes. There's been times where I lay there for 20 minutes and just kind of go, 'alright, this is, um, yeah...' and then there are times where I've set the alarm, closed my eyes and next thing I know the alarm's going off and I've actually fallen asleep for that time. It's one of the best things to do.
Also, listen to your body, your body will tell you what needs to happen. If you sit down and within a matter of minutes you start head nodding and your eyes start closing, you're tired. That's the point. But if you start there and you start to tap your feet, go for a walk, do something - listen to yourself. If you really listen and then you get a tummy gurgle, have a drink, have something to eat, you must be hungry or thirsty. I think as a society we've stopped listening to our bodies because everything is in front of us. We get regimented, this is breakfast, lunch, dinner these times, bedtime, get up, go to work. We've kind of lost the sense of actually listening to what our bodies need at that point in time. Listen to your body, and have an app-guided meditation. I kind of went off on one there!
Kat: No, all brilliant, brilliant points and definitely something we need to do more, especially listening to yourself. I really agree with you there. I think it's so easy to get drawn into the routine of every day and the humdrum of life, life admin, there's so much of that going on... There's a lot taking our attention away from ourselves. So if we can carve out those couple of minutes to stop and listen to ourselves - and sometimes guided meditation can be great for that. It can give you a moment to stop and pause and check in and say, 'Hey, what do I need right now?' So that's really helpful. A tip I wanted to add to the end of that is when we are stressed and overwhelmed sometimes it can be hard for us to remember all of these great things that will help us.
So once you have found like four or five different things, whether it's hypnotherapy, whether it's drawing and making something, whether it's booking yourself in for some reflexology, make a list of that and then have that - I like to call it your self-care first aid kit because then you have a list and you can just grab it any time you're feeling stressed or overwhelmed and just be like, 'Okay, these are the things that help me check in with myself, what do I need right now? What off of that little menu is gonna work for me?' And do that because when we are stressed the prefrontal cortex shuts down a little bit so it can be quite hard for us to be logical and make decisions and then we can get even more flustered and overwhelmed. That would be my additional little tip, put it in writing, put it somewhere you can see it, so then you take away a bit of the decision-making process for yourself.
All fantastic tips and I want to just say thank you so much to everyone for coming and sharing your wisdom today. Before we wrap up, I would love it if you could all share where people can connect with you. Louis, I'll start with you. Can you let everybody know where they can find you if they want to learn more about you?
Louis: If people want to learn more, they can find me on different socials. I'm on Facebook and Instagram. Facebook is Chi-ki Monkey Fitness and Wellbeing. I'm @thatchikimonkey on Instagram. You can also find me on the Therapy Directory website, just search for my name, Louis Oliver Brooke, and also on my website, which is chikimonkeyfitnesswellbeing.co.uk.
Kat: Perfect, thank you. And Amy, yourself, where can people connect with you online?
Amy: I'm on Instagram as well, so that's @therapywithamy. And then I've also got my website, which is therapy-with-amy.com, you can find more information about my work there and also I've got a blog on there as well, so there are some tips and information that you can find on there. I work online as well, so you can work with me anywhere from anywhere in the UK.
Kat: Brilliant. Thank you. And Nina, where can our listeners connect with you online?
Kat: Perfect. Thank you so much, everyone. And for anyone listening, if you want to learn more about hypnotherapy in general, you can head to hypnotherapy-directory.org.uk. If you want to explore some more complementary therapies, you can visit therapy-directory.org.uk. So for next week's episode, the exhale episode, we are going to have something really special for you to help you relax even more deeply. So please make sure you tune in for that. And until next time, please take care.