Wednesday, 29 July 2020

Understanding Social Anxiety: Seeing the signs and methods of coping

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Feeling anxious every now and again as influenced by circumstances is one thing. But when you're always anxious in a "crowded" setting then you might be dealing with social anxiety. In fact, a venue doesn't even have to be crowded to warrant feelings of anxiety and fear of the other people.

Anxiety has many different categories, and phobias are one of these. As a whole, anxiety affects millions of people in the world, yet not everyone are getting the help they need to manage it. 

Let's have a closer look at social anxiety

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In short, social anxiety is feelings that overcome individuals when they are around other people. These can include but are not limited to shyness, worry, and difficulty speaking. In children, this may be a part of growing up, and they tend to "outgrow" it.

But when it persists and even becomes worse with time, then there are steps to help manage it. In bad cases, social anxiety tends to disrupt a person's life and makes it hard for them to be around people. It can easily lead to self-isolation and "disconnecting" with friends and family. This could have many negative mental effects on an individual.  

Some people experience the following social anxiety symptoms:

In some cases, the psychological symptoms are so severe the person may worry for days, even weeks before an event they have to attend. 

There is sometimes a need or reliance on alcohol to help muster up the courage to go somewhere or to "mix" with other people. Another common psychological fear is worrying you'll embarrass yourself in front of everyone. 

How does the nervous system influence this? 

The nervous system consists of a "parasympathetic" the one responsible for calming effects and the "sympathetic" nervous system which focuses on fight-or-flight. 

Parasympathetic responses

The aim of getting your anxiety under control is by stimulating this nervous system. This is what breathing techniques does as well as practicing sounds such as "Aum" (Om), singing, or humming which activates your vocal cords and stimulates the "vagus nerve".

When stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system it helps to slow down the the rapid heart rate and blood pressure drops. At the same time, the O2 levels of consumption decreases. All of these things taking place helps to clear the mind and allows it to become still or quiet.  

What can you do if you're having a panic attack?

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Stop for a moment and take a few deep breaths.

Breathing deeply stimulates dopamine and serotonin which helps the body to relax. At the same time deep breathing lowers cortisol or stress hormones in the body which are elevated under stressful situations. In this case, when you're experiencing a panic attack. 

What causes social anxiety? 

Oftentimes it's related to upbringing. Adults who were bullied as kids, often find it harder to cope with their anxieties. Another one with consequences that we often see is family conflict. No home is perfect, but if family conflict is severe for example parents getting a divorce, or often fighting it can lead to an individual developing emotional difficulties.

This comes in the form of depression and anxiety. Sexual abuse is another factor that leads to depression, loss of self-esteem, and anxiety to name a few.

Social anxiety can also be caused due to an imbalance of mood stabilisers in the brain. One of these hormones includes "serotonin." Various hormones (chemicals) influence mood and some control "fight-or-flight" sensors while others stimulate relaxation and calmness.  

Treatment and methods of coping with social anxiety

Social anxiety is not uncommon and based on statistics from "Our World Data" recorded in 2017, 2.8% are males and 4.1% are females. Roughly this indicates an international total of 284 million people with some sort of anxiety disorder. That being said, there are many options for treatment. Some individuals may have to change their lifestyle because these could have factors that trigger their anxiety.


Photo credit: Unsplash 

Exercising is able to help increase uplifting mood chemicals which in turn reduces stress hormones like cortisol. It also helps to increase serotonin and dopamine. Dopamine is the body's "natural pain reliever. This has an effect by positively reducing inflammation in the body and thus pain related to stress such as headaches and tension or knots in the body. 

Prescribed medication

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The doctor may prescribe medication to help stabilise the chemicals in the brain and to help reduce anxiety and even symptoms of depression. Some meds may include fluoxitine, setraline, and buspirone, clomipramine, and selegaline to name a few.

These medications also have side effects as do all drugs. Some users experience dry mouth, low libido, nausea, dizziness, and headaches amongst others.

Alternative treatment/practice

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Breathing exercises are very effective in helping people to calm down even when in a state of shock. Regularly breathing properly can help to improve the body's response to certain situations.

Meditation is another effective way to instil a sense of calmness and clarity within the "whole person" since it effects the mind and body together. This, along with breathing exercises is a very good and natural way to combat anxiety, depression and stress. 

Teas, herbs and essential oils

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Aromatherapy has long been part of the medicinal history of mankind. In fact, this along with special herbs sourced from trees and plants bear potent properties. Chamomile tea for example, is known to help ease and relax the person drinking it. That's why this is often good at night time before you go to bed.

Herbs like lavender, roman chamomile, spearmint, Frankincense, and Myrrh are just some of the essential oils that can help you on your relaxing journey. 

Reduce your caffeine intake

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You know how it seems the logic thing to do and to sip some energy (high-caffeinated) drink to help feel more awake?

This can seem plausible after a restless night of no sleep. But what caffeine does is just aggravate the situation. Limit your caffeine consumed and try to keep away from energy drinks.

Foods rich in vitamin B are excellent to help boost your energy naturally. Some people rely on vitamin B supplements if they're not getting enough in their diet. As mentioned, exercise can also uplift mood as well as boos energy levels naturally. 

Enjoy some sunlight

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Sunshine helps our body to produce vitamin D which helps us maintain healthy bones as well as uplifting our mood. It will also help your body to produce melatonin (the hormone that stimulates sleep) so that you'll get a better night's rest. 

The conclusion on coping with social anxiety

Take things in your stride. Try and make breathing exercises part of your daily routine. In this way, you'll be lowering those stress hormones and will be able to manage the situation better.

It is also a good idea to practice other relaxing techniques such as meditation and yoga because this will also help your mental and physical well-being.

Speak to someone if your anxiety is overwhelming. It is important to get the help you need before it progresses.

Wednesday, 22 July 2020

It's Time To Get Those Muscles Stretched: 12 Stretches for improved flexibility and better posture

It seems that as the older we become, the less flexible we are too. But it doesn't have to be this way if you incorporate regular stretches into your lifestyle. Stretching can form part of your daily exercise routine and a few stretches a day is good enough to give you an energising boost if you're feeling exhausted.

Photo credit: Unsplash - Stretching for flexibility

What are the benefits of stretching?

If you haven't considered stretching as an important part of your exercise regimen, then it's time to give it a re-think. Stretches provide you with many advantages such as:

 Improving blood circulation

When you're sitting at a desk in one position for a long time, your blood circulation won't be as good. Restrictions in blood circulation for long periods is not ideal as it can pose risks of blood clot development. 

Taking a break from what you're busy with to do a few stretches will improve your blood circulation and increase the flow of oxygen and nutrients to cells and tissue.

Better posture 

When you improve your posture, you reduce the risk of injuries. Muscle and joint injuries often occur when there is too much strain or pressure exerted onto the muscles. Proper posture will guide you to walk, sit and pick things up correctly without hurting your back amongst other areas that are often affected. 

More flexibility 

Being flexible doesn't mean that you'll be able to do a split. Instead, when you're more flexible, you can reach further without straining your joints or muscles. This is handy for injury prevention. 

Better balance

Even while it may not seem like it, stretching can help to improve your balance too. This is good for preventing falls and again injury. Seniors over the age of 80 are more likely to risk injuries due to a fall compared to younger people. Stretching moves for seniors are extremely important.

Reduces tension

With the tension in the shoulders reduced, you'll experience fewer headaches, neck and upper back pain as a result. Stretching also helps to soothe your mind and to give your body a naturally energising feeling. 

Mental focus and calmness

As mentioned in the above point, stretching can help to instill focus and to calm you down when you're feeling stressed. This is why it is so beneficial to breath properly through every stretch as it has a positive mind-body effect. 

 Tips on warming up before stretching

Photo credit: Unsplash - warm up before stretching

Any activity done before warming up the muscles can result in injury. The same is said of stretching without warming up first.

Before you start your stretches (note stretches isn't a warm up strategy), first do a cardio activity to warm up. This can be anything from a short brisk walk, to a short run. Only after warming up like this can you start stretching. 

2. Standing quad stretch for tight quads

This is another easy stretch to do. Quad pain is common amongst athletic people, but you can also experience pain during exercise. This is why warming up helps.

How to do it: 

3. Extended "puppy pose" (Uttina Shishosana)

This pose helps to stretch the back, glutes, an shoulders. Oftentimes, when we have bad posture during sitting it can lead to shoulder and neck pain. Yoga provides a variety of stretches that especially targets certain areas of the body.

How to do it:

4. Laying quad stretch

This is an extended version of the standing quad stretch and you need to lie on your side for this.

How to do it: 

5. Seated shoulder squeeze 

Even though often overlooked, the seated shoulder stretch helps to ease tension in the shoulders. While doing so, it also eases tightness in the upper back.

How to do it: 

6. Hand to big toe pose (Supta Padangusthasana)

This pose is excellent for stretching your hips, hamstrings, groins and calve muscles. If you have tight hamstrings and cant stretch as far, you can always use a strap on the instep of the raised leg.

7. "Eye of the needle" stretch (Sucirandhrasana)

Photo credit: Unsplash - "Needle in the eye" stretch variation

This particular stretch is good for hip flexors and is important especially for people who work at a desk for prolonged hours. It can help to reduce pain and injury if you do this and other stretches targeted at hip flexors. 

8. Crescent lunge (Anjaneyasana

Photo credit: Unsplash - variation of the "forward fold"

The crescent lunge helps to stretch the hip flexors, groin, and leg muscles. It is a relaxing and also energising move that is excellent if you want to wake up from feeling exhausted. Again, this paired with other yoga poses is very effective at helping you feel energised.

How to do it:


9. Lunge with a twist (Parivarrta Uttitha Ashwa Sanchalanasana)

Photo credit: Unsplash - Lunge with twist

The lunge with a twist move pose is good to help flex your spine. It can also help to stretch the muscles in your legs and with time helps to increase range and flexibility. Sometimes this stretch is referred to as "the world's greatest stretch because it effectively helps correct posture-related issues.

How to do it:


10. Standing hamstring stretch or "forward fold pose" (Padangusthasana)

Photo credit: Unsplash - Forward fold

Tight hamstrings are common, even in athletic people. It is important to stretch these muscles to avoid the risk of injury and sprains. There are many ways to stretch hamstring muscles but this post guides you through the standing pose. 

NB: Don't be afraid to bend your knees if your hamstrings are tight.

How to do it: 

11. The butterfly stretch (Baddha Konasana)

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This stretch is good for the inner thighs, groin, and lower back. It is easy to do and will help you on your journey to flexibility.

 How to do it:


12. Plank pose 

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Plank pose is one of the most loved core exercise routines. It helps to tone the core muscles as well as improve posture. In addition, it helps with flexibility and strengthens the muscles in the back. You can practice this stance everyday.

How to do it:

Some people are doing the 30 day plank challenge. You can give it a try and set your goals starting today.

Conclusion to stretching for flexibility 

The more flexible your muscles are the lower the chances of pain and strain occurs when doing everyday movements. Correct stretching also targets certain areas that are sore and can help to speed up the healing process. While this is so, adequate stretching can help reduce pain and the need to have pain medication.

While it takes time for your body to become more flexible and it differs with everyone, one of the best things to to is be consistent. If you don't have a schedule, start slotting one into your day.

Do you do a few stretches to kick start your day or for winding down? Which are your favourites?