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An Integrated Clinical Approach to Stress Management

by Eliana Harvey(more info)

listed in stress, originally published in issue 25 - February 1998

Whilst following a course of particular therapy may be highly beneficial, better and more complete results can often be obtained by a unified approach with a combination of appropriate therapies. For example in some quite severe stress conditions, inappropriate diet can well be part of the cause, ie wheat allergy can contribute to depression.

This unified approach does not normally include allopathic chemical drugs such as Prozac or anti-depressants. However, if a client is on prescription drugs it is obviously not within the authority of the complementary practitioner to tell the client to stop taking them. In such cases, at this centre we have found that the combination therapies bring about a noticeable improvement, whereupon the client's own doctor sees that dosages can be reduced and eventually eliminated. This would probably not be possible in severe cases such as schizophrenia. Here the complementary therapies would prove a valuable support to the client's feeling of wellbeing and ability to cope normally.

Initially it is important to discuss in what areas of the person the worst stresses are being experienced and what form they are taking. General questions need to be asked about any major life changing situations that might have occured in the last two years. These in order of severity are, bereavement within the close family or circle of friends, severe accident or illness, break up of a relationship, redundancy or new job, moving house, new baby or children leaving home. It is important to note that being stressed is not necessarily having a large workload or lots of demands or responsibilities. Some people can adapt to these quite well, but others are unable to cope and this may be purely to do with their basic personality type, their attitude and also their previous mental and emotional history.

Long term stress such as nursing or caring for an elderly relative or any form of violence or abuse can also have an equal impact cumulatively. A further questionnaire will identify the seat of the problem and where in the being it is expressed. For example, stress symptoms in the Emotional Body may be shown as tearfulness and excessive worrying, depression, irritability and so on. Stress symptoms in the Mental Body may be shown as inability to make decisions, poor memory and concentration and many other symptoms.

Physical effects – Readily observable rather than internal, eg palpitations, migraines, shakiness and exhaustion. The basic effects physiologically are virtually the same for each person. Breathing, heart rate and blood pressure increase, then adrenalin and cortisol are released, which in an emergency situation is appropriate, but in a situation of on-going worry or pressure the stress hormones are not released by response. Instead they are kept buzzing around in the system with damaging effects.

Behavioural warning signs – such as compulsive eating, smoking or drinking, aggressive or obsessive behaviour as well as nail biting and skin picking.

Furthermore, assigning a points system to stresses, recorded in various areas of life such as work, relationships, home life, body, mind and personality may help to bring the major problem areas into sharp focus.

In view of the complex nature of stress and its various manifestations, it would appear that a unified approach which addresses as many of the factors as possible, with information and results being passed between a team of therapists involved, would offer the ideal approach.

It makes sense, as stress is seldom confined to just one part of a person – for example, negative worrying thoughts can ultimately lead to a physical response such as stomach ulcers or perhaps chronic neck and shoulder tension, to offer remedies from the therapies which focus on the alleviation of stress in many different forms.

At the Middle Piccadilly Centre we have found that a combination of the following therapies are most suited to an integrated approach, as they complement each other and the therapists themselves have an understanding of each other's disciplines and the best way to build on each subsequent treatment. The experience for the client then becomes a healing process rather than just a collection of different therapies.

The stress relieving programme would be chosen from among the following therapies:

  • Aromatherapy
  • Shen Tao Acupressure
  • Flower Remedies
  • Autogenic Deep Relaxation Training
  • Dietary Therapy and Allergy Testing
  • Cranio-Sacral Osteopathy
  • Stress Counselling

Plus a concluding session offering follow-up advice and a self help programme.

Aromatherapy

Stress by Colette Prideaux-Brune, (Senior aromatherapist at the centre).

Stress can be described as anything which disturbs the normal balance of mental and physical health. They can be mental, physical or environmental in origin. We tend to think of stress as more mental/emotional such as worries about work, finance or relationships. Any of these stresses make us more unable to withstand stress from other sources such as having an accident or catching infectious illnesses. The immune system is weakened.

External sources of stress are not in themselves the problem but the way in which we react to them. After the initial reaction the body adapts to the situation but this puts a strain on the body if it continues for any length of time (especially on the adrenal glands). If the stress levels continue to increase or fresh sources of stress materialise, the ability to adapt may break down and then symptoms from allergy to heart attacks can follow.

Aromatherapy has a very important function as a de-stressing treatment. It can bring deep relaxation due to the massage itself and the essential oils. Reducing the stress is the prime objective rather than working on the physical symptoms provoked by the stress.

There are a number of oils that can be used. All the sedative and anti-depressant oils initially induce relaxation:

Environmental Stress – Counteracting lights, computers, noise; Geranium, Chamomile, Bergamot, Cypress.
Chemical Stress – Too much coffee, alcohol, drugs, smoking and junk food; Lavender, Rosemary, Geranium, Lemon, Grapefruit, Clary Sage.
Physical Stress – For those pushing the body to limits, lots of drinking etc., Rosemary, Lemon Grass, Chamomile, Marjoram, Lavender, Fennel, Geranium.
Mental Stress – Those trying to achieve, worrying over job or money; Geranium, Lavender, Sandalwood, Basil, Bergamot.
Emotional Stress – For relationship problems, guilt, grief, fear, anger, inability to give or receive love; Geranium, Sandalwood, Rose, Palma Rosa.

Initially the therapist has to assess the level of stress experienced, then treat the first level of stress before the others develop.

Level 1 – General tiredness, irritability, headache, insomnia.
Level 2 – Depression, anxiety, muscular pain, persistent infections, guilt, apathy, helplessness.
Level 3 – Claustrophobia, despair, increasing guilt and depression, bacterial invasion, agoraphobia, persecution complex, viral infections.
Level 4 – Urgent help needed!, unexplained pain, heart problems, strokes and high blood pressure, all manner of serious physical problems, allergies etc.

Levels 1 and 3 need sedative and relaxing oils.
Level 2 needs more stimulating oils to prevent slipping into level 3.
Level 4 needs very heavily sedative oils.

Examples of effects of oils:

Stimulants – Bergamot, Lavender, Lemon, Cypress, Eucalyptus, Peppermint, Geranium and Rosemary.
Sedatives – Lavender, Sandalwood, Chamomile, Rose and Neroli.
Deep Relaxants – Level 4 – Rose, Jasmine, Hyacinth, Valerian.

I will very often work with and tune into the chakras particularly if I am unsure how seriously stressed a person is. By tuning into these I can also judge what level the stress has reached. If someone has very high levels of stress it is better to work in a very subtle way, choosing oils for the aura rather than the physical body. I also use one or two flower remedies in the massage oil to help this process. The flower remedies help the oils to reach deeper levels of healing.

In my experience each chakra is vulnerable to a particular set of weaknesses:

Base – Physical, aches, pains, insecurity, lack of support. (Victim)
Sacral – Relationships, bottling up emotions, wants more attention. (Martyr)
Solar Plexus – Everyday stress, burnout, giving out too much attention, not enough time for themselves, low self worth. (Servant)
Heart – Grief, bottling emotion, not able to receive or give, shallow breathing. (Acting out false mask, 'The Actor and Actress')
Throat – Trust, low self worth, voice unheard, needs to express, anger and frustration, critical negative, dishonest. (Silent Child)
Third Eye – Unexpressed creativity, sensitivity, intuition, too open to others, aura polluted, ungrounded if too much energy here. (Intellectual)
Crown – Unexpressed connection to higher self, need to open to new possibilities and discover a peaceful mind. (Egotist)

My final advice might be as follows, if the client is under a lot of stress, have a massage as often as possible. If the client leads a very busy life, aromatherapy on a regular basis will have long term benefits even if only once a month is all that is possible.

Oils that I use most frequently for Stress; Rose, Lavender, Chamomile, Sweet Orange, Sandalwood and Geranium, (not more than 3 of these with a total of 10 drops can be used for relaxing baths).

Flower remedy approach to Stress

Quotes and adaptation from The Ecyclopaedia of Flower Remedies by Clare G Harvey and Amanda Cochrane.

Shock and stress in their many guises have a devastating effect on the energy systems of the body. You can visualise sudden shock as a pebble being hurled into a tranquil pond, sending ripples or shock waves reverberating through the water or in this case the energy body or nervous system. The pebble can then be seen as the root cause of any upset, while the ripples are the physical repercussions of shock. Unlike the pond, however, which becomes still once the pebble has dropped to the bottom, when shock or stress makes an impact on our nervous system the disruptive effects linger, unless steps are taken to bring everything back into balance.

Any misalignment of the energy body or nervous system filters down into the physical body where it triggers a range of symptoms, depending on which part of the body is affected. Shock can be divided into two main categories – traumatic and long slow shock or stress.

We live in a world of horrific events that are often too distressing even to think about. Some of these, such as natural disasters, unpredictable violence and the death of a loved one are age old. Others such as car accidents and bomb blasts which can maim or kill are relatively recent phenomena. At some time or other we are all likely to experience personally the shock of some traumatic event.

The medical profession is only just beginning to appreciate the impact of such shock on our physical and psychological well-being. It has come to realise that such trauma gives rise to a range of symptoms resembling those experienced by shell-shocked war veterans.

Shock and stress has a particularly potent influence on the mind, concentration becomes difficult, thoughts are blurred and decisions about even everyday issues such as when to do the shopping can pose problems. Emotions are volatile and range from anger and irritability to depression and despair. Sufferers often over-react to events that would not normally upset them and steer themselves away from any kind of pressure. They may also suffer from panic attacks.

Confidence and self-esteem dwindle making them less inclined to tackle new projects which they would have previously relished as a challenge. At worst, doubts arise as to whether life is really worth living.

Stress ultimately affects the smooth and efficient functions of all the organs and systems. The medical profession now agrees that stress can indeed make us more susceptible to illness. This is the reason we tend to catch cold or fall victim to an infection after a stressful event has taken place, or when we feel overly stressed at home or work.

Flower remedies are potent healers for all forms of conditions which have stress as their origin. Years ahead of his time Dr Bach was aware that shock and stress provoke emotional or mental distress by heightening imbalances in the personality. The remedies aim to bring you back to a state of emotional equilibrium.

The following remedies are recommended for stress:

Stress Buster

  • Black eyed Susan (Australian Bush)
  • Pink Fairy Orchid (Aus L, Living Essences of Australia)
  • Fairy Duster (DAI, Desert Alchemy flower essences, Arizona)
  • White Carnation (PF, Petite Fleur Essences, Texas)

For over-stimulation and feeling overwhelmed and burnt out, brings calmness – filters out stress– restores balance and resilience.

Case History Stress

Mary, a senior manager, had enormous new responsibility. Despite being extremely successful in her career she always found herself in relationships with men in which she felt abused. These played havoc with her self esteem and were a continual source of worry. She felt confused, overwhelmed and unable to sleep properly. Her tumultuous emotional life was beginning to affect her work. She could not concentrate or make decisions and was in danger of ruining her career.

Clare prescribed:

  • Paw Paw (Aus B) for feeling overwhelmed and burdened by decisions (Bush Flower Essences, Australia).
  • Scleranthus (B) to encourage decisiveness and belief in her own intuition (Bach Flower Remedies, UK).
  • Stress/Tension (Him A) for general tension and nervous stress (Himalayan Aditi Flower Essences, India).
  • Scarlet Monkey Flower (FES, Flower Essence Society, California), Mentlretia (New Perception Flower Essences, NZ), and Ettringite (Peg Gem, Pegasus Essences, Colorado) for her difficulties with relationships .
  • Lehua (Haii, Hawaiian Tropical flower Essences) for lifting self-esteem by increasing sensuality and joy in femininity
  • Russian Kolokoltchik (AUS L) to help her conquer adverse conditions.

Mary found additional therapies including aromatherapy and acupressure helpful. Mary recovered her strength and sense of being centred. She spent some time on her own and began to feel more positive about herself, realising that she did not need the sort of destructive relationships in which she was always trying hard to please someone else, but never succeeding. Later she was drawn to a man who was gentle, kind yet strong in his own way, who treated her with the respect she desired and deserved. Her business situation and her new relationship continue to flourish.

Shen Tao Acupressure

Shen Tao is a gentle yet highly effective therapy. Unlike acupuncture, needles are not part of the treatment; however, training and diagnosis is similar to an acupuncturist's. With Shen Tao the acupuncture points are activated through light pressure and the channelling of the Qi through the fingertips rather like little energy lasers. As well as the therapeutic benefit the treatment brings an experience of profound relaxation and the easing of any mental emotional stress. The breath slows and deepens; checking the pulses always shows an easing of tension. Like many complementary therapies, Shen Tao does not claim to cure diseases, but assists the body in its own healing processes. There are, however, specific combinations of points known as 'patterns' for certain imbalanced emotional conditions such as anger, depression, tension, general stress and so on. The following case history gives an idea of how this works. In addition to about six treatments Richard was prescribed flower remedies and had one session of deep relaxation training later on.

Richard came first in the middle of winter wearing only a singlet and thin trousers, complaining of always being too hot, feeling restless, angry and irritable almost to the point of violence. He stated that he might not be able to stay on the couch till the end of the treatment. He had had several motor bike accidents with broken limbs due to his raging impatience. His diet was high in red meat and fatty food, he seldom ate vegetables, fruit, or drank water. He stated that his degree of tension was beginning to exhaust him. At one point during his first treatment he began to shake violently for several minutes, it was as if a tightly wound watch spring was beginning to unwind. He was astonished to feel cool by the end of the treatment. Richard needed counselling as his deep seated anger began with his violent father; his diet needed re-educating as it was another factor causing internal heat.

Dietary factors in Stress.

One's ability to handle stress can depend, to a surprising degree, on the quality and quantity of one's diet. These days most people know the basics of healthy eating which includes plenty of fruit and vegetables and the minimum of processed or junk foods, but it is not always realised that certain foods will actually add to the levels of stress being experienced through increasing the toxins that takes a large amount of energy for the body to expel. The way that food is eaten can also weaken the digestive system.

Energy depleting foods which may stress the system are as follows:– red meats, excessive fats or dairy products, smoked or aged foods, processed foods, foods with chemicals or additives, refined sugar, alcohol, tea and coffee, cakes and biscuits.

Over or undereating often has its roots in childhood emotional deprivation and this aspect will need to be addressed before anyone is able to maintain an improved and truly nurturing pattern of eating. Stressed people frequently ignore the needs of the body for a calm and peaceful atmosphere in which to eat their meals and have to be reminded of the following 'rules of respect'.

Always sit down to eat, eat regular meals, do not snack between meals, don't eat when upset, eat at a slower pace and chew thoroughly, eat in a quiet atmosphere – do nothing else – focus on your food and unless it is a social occasion keep conversation to a minimum and on positive subjects, eat to less than capacity and avoid ice cold food or drinks.

Case History

A child of five was brought by his desperate mother as he had been waking the whole family seven to eight times a night. They were all exhausted and the child who was always drowsy at school became hyperactive in the evening. The one year old baby was also a poor sleeper. It was discovered that the child was given lots of sweets at bedtime as a bribe and had sugared fizzy drinks every time he woke up. This had been going on for five years and the whole family was severely stressed. Both children were discovered to be highly intolerant of sugars and food additives. Upon abandoning these substances there was a dramatic change, the mother reported that by the end of the week they had all had a full nights sleep and continued to do so.

Deep Relaxation (Autogenic Training)

It follows that to begin training the mind, body and emotions, it is of enormous benefit to be able to return to and hold a peaceful relaxed state at all times. Like anything else it needs practice before the skill is fully under our control. One way of doing this is to gain an awareness of the level of the physical stress one is experiencing and begin to 'undo the knots', progressively letting go physically, mentally and emotionally then taking positive action to deal with the cause of the stress.

The regular practice of meditation is a major helper on this quest, as is the Schultz Autogenic Relaxation Sequences (from The Awakened Mind by C. Maxwell Cade and Nona Coxhead). At our centre the client is guided through this sequence for a hour of which this is an extract: "I take a slow deep breath. I hold my breath and tighten every muscle in my body until I feel my body start to tremble with tension. I breath out and let go completely. My shoulders feel heavy and relaxed. The top of my head feels heavy and warm. Breathing easily and deeply – easily and deeply." and so on.

Conclusion

Some clients require cranio-sacral treatment or spinal touch as the skeletal system may be unbalanced, thereby becoming part of the stress pattern. Flower Remedies are given as a 4 month course and it is important to check for prescription change as the situation improves and the remedies begin to work. The concluding treatment will be Alignment therapy or its sister therapy Subtle Energetics, a profoundly harmonising and balancing treatment which ensures the client returns to normal life feeling grounded, well balanced with all the various therapies integrated and absorbed.

The final counselling session comprises the findings from all the therapists with their individual recommendations. This could be to continue with a particular therapy, and to take more exercise. Yoga or Tai Chi are very beneficial in counteracting stress. Strategies for dealing with difficult work situations or authority relationship problems are offered. Counselling or some form of therapy can be appropriate in certain cases. Some of the other strategies and techniques offered to our clients on leaving are shown in the table 'Stratagies for Self Help'. [not shown on Web site]


Strategies for Self Help

1.    Take some time to honestly assess the value of your goals in life. Do they bring you happiness and well-being in a non material sense?
2.    Does your lifestyle support you or are you supporting it?
3.    Value yourself for who you are and not how much you can accomplish in a day.
4.    Decide on priorities in your life and let go of activities or situations that drain you.
5.    Make two lists – the first is of appropriate concerns – deal with them one by one. The second is composed of all the unfounded worries and “what ifs” that we carry around – burn this list.
6.    Take up some form of regular meditation or visualisation and work with positive affirmations.
7.    Do gentle exercise especially walking
8.    Deep breathing exercises increase oxygen intake helping to clear stress-making toxins from the body.
9.    Eat proper meals in an unhurried atmosphere, try to avoid snacking on junk food.
10.    Have at least two early nights a week.
11.    Any interactive stress programme, such as practised at Middle Piccadilly will be composed of:
        •Preventive – taking action to avert a breakdown by providing time and a peaceful environment for assessment.
        •Remedial – appropriate and effective
therapies to alleviate the immediate problems, each therapy building on the previous one.
        •Educational – help with understanding the causes of stress and advice on self help techniques plus continuation treatments in their own area are amongst various strategies offered on an ongoing basis.

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About Eliana Harvey

Eliana Harvey – author of Acupressure published by Headway Lifeguide – Hodder & Stoughton. Founder of the Shen Tao School of Acupressure. Co-founder of Middle Piccadilly Natural Healing Centre in Dorset.

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