Archive for April, 2010

By Sue Shekut, Owner, Working Well Massage, Licensed Massage Therapist, Certified Wellness Coach, ACSM Personal Trainer

Recently I did a presentation on Stress Management for psychology students at Chicago City Colleges’ “Psych in the City” program. (I’m taking psychology classes at Harold Washington College and this was an all school event with over 400 students attending!) Most of what I spoke about was a review of the autonomic nervous system and the effects of chronic Sympathetic Nervous system activation. (Sounds pretty technical, I know but if you know your nervous system or have heard anything about stress management, you know that calming the nervous system helps us better handle with the effects of stress.) It was a lot of fun, we did breathing exercises and I showed students how to find their resting heart rate…and how to speed up their heart rate with a little aerobic activity.  Overall, though, the goal of most stress management techniques to is calm down your nervous system, slow your heart rate and basically put your autonomic nervous system into parasympathetic (resting and digesting) mode versus sympathetic  (flight or flight) mode.

However, there are many different ways to calm down your nervous system. Read an excerpt from “30 Great Stress Relievers”  on some stress relieving techniques that are not commonly thought of, like cooking and art from  EKG Technician Training blog. To read the entire list from the blog, click here.

With the everyday stresses from work, parenting and budgeting finances, it’s no surprise that stress has been directly linked to causing heart disease, high blood pressure and decreased immunity. In a survey conducted by the American Institute of Stress, about 75-90 percent of all visits to general physicians are for stress-related problems. While it is difficult to avoid stress altogether, there are several ways to relieve stress and manage it through simple and often free practices that can be done at home and work.

Deep Breathing Exercises
While you can’t always control stressors, you can learn how to control and regulate your breathing. Thankfully, there are various ways to exercise your breathing to achieve deep relaxation, reduce stress and release endorphins. Learning how to stimulate, relax and count your breathe, like the breathing exercises taught by Dr. Weil, will help increase energy levels, alertness and help manage stress-related health problems.

Whether it’s classical, jazz or soft rock tunes, listening to and playing music is a popular way to relieve stress. Music has the power to slow one’s heart rate and pulse, lower blood pressure, as well provide a distraction that allows listeners to escape, or become focused on something other than what’s stressing them out. Not only is music so portable, but a little can go a long way. Make a feel-good CD for your car ride to work, listen to it when working out and meditating, or listen at work to block out sounds and added stressors.

From painting, drawing to sculpting, art is another therapeutic activity for tackling stress. Like music, art provides a means for escape, concentration and personal expression. Creating artwork allows people to explore their creativity, utilize their senses and provides a calming balance to a hectic day. You can also transfer negative energy, by using your frustrations and emotions as inspiration for your artwork. Viewing art also relieves stress because it calms the mind and muscles, provides a distraction and allows you to focus on something aesthetically pleasing for a bit.

While cooking may be a stressful endeavor for some, it is also a major stress reliever for others. Cooking is like a project that involves planning, experimentation and results. Whether you’re baking, preparing dinner or assisting in the kitchen, cooking allows people to improvise and focus on a different kind of task. In addition to the actual act of cooking, people will gain satisfaction from providing nourishment for their bodies and creating a meal on their own.

There are many health benefits of sex, including stress relief. From the physical act of lovemaking to the emotional connection between partners, sex allows people to experience pleasure and free their mind of worries. High levels of stress can decrease libido in men and women, so it is important to practice other stress relievers in order to get the most from your sex life.Talking
While some enjoy writing or reading during stressful times, others like to talk about their stress to friends, family, coworkers and counselors. Venting out loud about stressors and personal issues can help alleviate built-up emotions associated with stress, as well as help guide you toward a realistic stress management plan. Not to mention, talking to others about their lives and interests can be a healthy distraction for yours.

Nothing says relaxation like vacation. If the opportunity arises to take a trip, you should go for both pleasure and stress management reasons. Vacations let you mind and body escape from the daily routines and stressors that affect your mood and state of health. No matter how or where you spend your vacation, you are sure to experience heightened levels of relaxation and enjoyment. While vacations don’t last forever, they do provide a mental and physical break from stress and allow you to return back to work (and reality) refreshed and satisfied.

Kids aren’t the only ones who journal their thoughts and feelings — adults do it too. Writing is a cathartic activity for people to vent their thoughts, feelings and goals. Whether you prefer a diary, blogs or loose papers, all variations of journaling allow people to relieve stress by writing, evaluating and reflecting on their day. Journaling also serves as a record for detecting stress patterns, and a means to implement stress management techniques.

Along with writing, reading is another form of stress relief. Avid and sporadic readers alike can benefit from reading to relax their mind, use their imagination and adopt new ideas, skills and vocabulary. Reading is also one of the best ways to escape from the doldrums of day-to-day life, and serves as a positive distraction to a stressful state of mind. For those who suffer from high levels of stress, may benefit greatly from reading self-help books and positive reading materials that will boost their spirits and help manage their stressors.

From cats, dogs, birds and hamsters, animals are not only great companions, but also major stress relievers. Playing, petting and exercising with animals will make them happy, as well as reduce your level of stress and lower your blood pressure. Although not everyone is suited to care for a pet, you can always pet sit, go to a dog park or play with friends’ animals to get your dose of animal time and stress-free fun.

An easy way to avoid stress is to plan and stay organized. If you generate a plan, make a to-do list or make prior arrangements, you will be more likely stick to the plan, which will help alleviate stress. In addition to planning, having an organized house, workplace and daily schedule will help you achieve specific goals and avoid unnecessary stress from misplacing or losing items in a mess. Planning and staying organized does take a considerable amount of effort, but having the tools to do so and make your life easier will help in the long run.

To read the entire blog post with all 30 stress relievers, click here.

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04.26.09 [#116] Feet Week - At Rest
Image by Jeezny via Flickr

By Sue Shekut, Owner, Working Well Massage, Licensed Massage Therapist, Certified Wellness Coach, ACSM Personal Trainer

Some of you may wonder why I haven’t posted much over the past week. It’s simple–I caught a touch of the flu and have needed to rest.

As a massage therapist, wellness coach, and small business owner, I work a lot of hours. And in my work, I come in contact with many people every day. Some of my clients see me when they are sick or are getting over an illness but are still contagious. Being self employed, I don’t get paid sick time.  Therefore, I do all I can to avoid catching colds and flues. However, there are still times when my immune system can’t handle the fight and an infection or flu bug gets me. Luckily, living healthy keeps me well most of the time and helps me get over most illnesses relatively quickly. In those times when I do get sick, one of the principle methods I use to get over an illness is one you can’t buy in a store: it’s rest.

The definition of rest, according to education.yahoo.com here is:

  1. Cessation of work, exertion, or activity.
  2. Peace, ease, or refreshment resulting from sleep or the cessation of an activity.
  3. Sleep or quiet relaxation.
  4. The repose of death: eternal rest.
  5. Relief or freedom from disquiet or disturbance.
  6. Mental or emotional tranquillity.
  7. Termination or absence of motion.

Looking through this list, how many times the past week have you been able to achieve the definitions cited in point 1, 2, 3 or 5 above? When I think of rest, I don’t only think of sleep. I also think of relaxing, having quiet time to contemplate my navel or meditate or watch clouds pass overhead. Resting to me is a time to let the worldly concerns go and just relax my mind and body. Which is tough to do in today’s fast paced culture. But rest is ever more important in today’s world. Most people do not even get the required 7-8 hours of sleep. Then they spend the day working on computers, meeting with other people, traveling and commuting, going to the gym or home to spend time with family. In all the hours we spend working and meeting outside obligations, rest is often confined to the hours of sleep we can sandwich into  the rest of our lives. But studies show that rest is an important tool in our wellness arsenal. Napping is a common event in many cultures (just not in the U.S.!). Read more from my post on Daytime Naps here. And meditation is an effective way to rest our minds as well.

NASA is currently doing a study on how bed rest effects human subjects in space travel. Read more about the study here.

While I rest, read more great articles on rest:

• The vital importance of rest here.

• Give your immune system a  rest here.

• The effects of sleep deprivation on brain and behavior here.

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Saratoga chips at the Mississippi State Fair i...
Image via Wikipedia

By Sue Shekut, Owner, Working Well Massage, Licensed Massage Therapist, Certified Wellness Coach, ACSM Personal Trainer

Having a hard time switching from potato chips to carrots? You are not alone! As people in our country continue to grow more and more obese, many research scientists are putting in long hours to investigate biological causes. Last month, scientists from the Scripps Research Institute issued a report that shows -definitively, for the first time- that the same biological processes that cause drug addiction are behind the compulsion to overeat. Many obese people have been making this statement for years–that they feel out of control after eating junk food, and the more they eat, the more they want.

In the study, scientists monitored brain chemicals in rats, noticing that as the rats got more obese, their brains were less and less able to issue a reward to the body. As this pleasure center in the brain became less and less responsive, the rats developed the tendency to overeat, seeking that chemical reward. This is the exact same pattern that occurs in rats that are administered cocaine or heroin, and scientists believe that the pattern plays a large part in the development of drug dependency.

Paul J. Kenny, an Associate Professor at Scripps, conducted the study. He says that the nearly three year long study confirms the “addictive” properties of junk food:

“The new study, unlike our preliminary abstract, explains what happens in the brain of these animals when they have easy access to high-calorie, high-fat food. It presents the most thorough and compelling evidence that drug addiction and obesity are based on the same underlying neurobiological mechanisms. In the study, the animals completely lost control over their eating behavior, the primary hallmark of addiction. They continued to overeat even when they anticipated receiving electric shocks, highlighting just how motivated they were to consume the palatable food.”

The scientists offered the rats many types of food, but they always chose “junk” food. As a test, the researchers removed the junk food and tried to put them on a nutritious diet. Their preference for junk food was so strong, however, that they starved themselves for nearly two weeks.

To read the entire article, visit the original Press Release.

So if anyone tells you junk food is not addicting, think again. And pass the carrots!

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30 Days of Gratitude- Day 1
Image by aussiegall via Flickr

By Sue Shekut, Owner, Working Well Massage, Licensed Massage Therapist, Certified Wellness Coach, ACSM Personal Trainer

Remember the old adage, to “count your blessings” as  a tool to feel better about your self and your life? Did you know that maintaining an actively grateful personality can actually provide stress relief?

Robert Emmons at the University of California, Davis and Michael E. McCullough from the University of Miami have maintained a study that attempts to help its participants develop methods to cultivate gratitude in daily life and assess that gratitude’s effect on well-being. They say of the project:

“Gratitude is the “forgotten factor” in happiness research.  We are engaged in a long-term research project designed to create and disseminate a large body of novel scientific data on the nature of gratitude, its causes, and its potential consequences for human health and well-being. Scientists are latecomers to the concept of gratitude.  Religions and philosophies have long embraced gratitude as an indispensable manifestation of virtue, and an integral component of health, wholeness, and well-being.  Through conducting highly focused, cutting-edge studies on the nature of gratitude, its causes, and its consequences, we hope to shed important scientific light on this important concept.”

In the research, the scientists had all participants keep diaries of their lives. One of the groups was instructed to specifically look for the positive things that had happened to them that day, and one was instructed to keep a diary as they normally might. Emmons and McCullough discovered that their participants showed a clear correlation between those who kept a “gratitude journal” and a number of positive factors, including exercising regularly, reporting fewer physical symptoms, feeling better about their lives as a whole, and feeling more optimistic about the upcoming week compared to those who recorded hassles or neutral life events.  Participants who kept gratitude lists were more likely to have made progress toward important personal goals (academic, interpersonal and health-based) over a two-month period compared to subjects in the other experimental conditions.

Not convinced? They also reported that a daily gratitude intervention (self-guided exercises) with young adults resulted in higher reported levels of the positive states of alertness, enthusiasm, determination, attentiveness and energy compared to a focus on hassles or a downward social comparison (ways in which participants thought they were better off than others).

Elizabeth Scott, M.S., About.com’s Stress Management Guide, reminds us that “although we are born with specific tempermental tendencies, the brain is a muscle, and you can strengthen your mind’s natural tendency toward optimism if you work at it.”

Scott offers some helpful suggestions for how to encourage gratitude in your own life:

  • Make Gentle Reminders – When you notice yourself beginning to feel negative, try to think of 4 or 5 related things for which you are grateful.
  • Be Careful With Comparisons – Focus on yourself, and stop comparing what you have and do to other people.
  • Keep a Gratitude Journal – Make it a habit to remind yourself of good things that happen to you every day.

Sue’s Gratitude List

I notice that when I am more consciously grateful of all the good things I have in my life: my family, my friends, my work, my clients, my health, my ability to travel and hike and see wonderful natural beauty as well as the Internet and all the “Dick Tracy” gizmo’s we now have to entertain and communicate, I have much better days and a happier demeaner!

I am grateful you are reading my blog!  Start your own gratitude list today and see how you feel. Just list 10 things you are grateful for. Share them with us in the comments if you feel inspired!

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By Sue Shekut, Owner, Working Well Massage, Certified Wellness Coach, ASCM Personal Trainer

Thinking about growing some of your own vegatables or herbs but not sure how to start? This Saturday, Appetite for Balance, a Chicago holistic nutrition group, and We Farm, is sponsoring the first a FREE Sunday in a series of Urban Gardening and Organic Nutrition classes. The First Party is on  April 25th and they will be teaching about garden mapping, seeding and easy sprouting. Walk away with tools on how to do it yourself and why is is good for your health and your pocket book! RSVP here or here.

Last Year's Urban Farming Party Pics

All parties will be loaded with give-a-way(s), gardening tips, food demos, holistic nutrition, hands-on workshops, sustainable food/beverage, and FUN in the sun! So, grab a friend (or two) and join Appetite for Balance for a Sunday afternoon of digging and chewing!

Invite details:

Check out the Appetite for Balance blog here.

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Image courtesy of Birth Balance Blog

By Sue Shekut, Owner, Working Well Massage, Licensed Massage Therapist, Certified Prenatal Massage Therapist, Certified Wellness Coach, ACSM Personal Trainer

Prenatal massage therapy is an area that is generating more and more research. Right now a few of my massage clients are pregnant. I thought I’d share some of the tips on prenatal massage with you that I share with them!

Benefits of Prenatal Massage

Pregnancy Today’s Kelly Lott, RMT, suggests that, in addition to feeling good, prenatal massage therapy can have other benefits for the mom-to-be and her baby, too.  “A study conducted by Dr. Tiffany Field at the University of Miami School of Medicine showed that massage actually reduces stress hormones in the body. Touch is vital to the mother’s physical and emotional well-being as she adapts to her new body image. Regardless of individual circumstances, a pregnant woman’s body is challenged, changed and stressed in many ways. Massage gives special attention to the mother-to-be, which in turn nurtures the new life that grows within her.”

In addition, other benefits include:

  • Relieves swelling/edema in legs
  • Reduces low back pain
  • Relieves muscle soreness and pain in neck and shoulder area
  • Gives mothers-to-be a place to be pampered, to relax and feel nurtured!
  • And according to Shirley Vanderbilt at MassageTherapy.com, “Recent studies from the Touch Research Institute (TRI) in Miami, Fla., indicates that pregnancy massage provides more than just symptom relief for the mother. A group of 26 pregnant women were given either massage or relaxation therapy during a five-week study. In addition to experiencing a reduction in symptoms of anxiety, stress, sleep problems and back pain, the massage group had fewer complications in their delivery. Their newborns also had fewer postnatal complications. Another TRI study reported massage during labor resulted in shorter labor times for the mothers, shorter hospital stays and less postpartum depression.” (Read more from Shirley Vanderbilt on Pregnancy Massage at massagetherapy.com here.)

Cautions for Prenatal Massage

There are, however, times when expectant mothers should avoid seeking massage therapy. Because of the increased risk for miscarriage in the first trimester, it is commonly recommended to wait until second or third trimesters to explore prenatal massage. If an expectant mother is experiencing any of the following complications or conditions, she should abstain from prenatal massage as well:

  • heavy discharge (watery or bloody);
  • diabetes;
  • contagious illness;
  • fever;
  • vomiting;
  • unusual pain;
  • preeclampsia;
  • high blood pressure;
  • morning sickness;
  • abdominal pain;
  • diarrhea;
  • any malignant condition.

Additionally, areas of the body that should not be massaged include:

  • skin rashes, open sores, bruises
  • raised or distended varicose veins
  • Points on the hand between the thumb and index finger*
  • Points on the inside of the lower leg about 4 inches above the inner ankle bone*

*These are accupressure points thought to stimulate contractions and labor

Prenatal Massage Positioning

For table massage, pregnant women should not lie on their stomachs. Prenatal massage should be done with the mother to be in a side lying position, usually hugging  a body pillow. Some massage therapists will also use a body cushion system that allows the mother-to-be to lay face down with her belly supported by the pillows. Pregnant women love this pillow because ti allows them to lay face down without any pressure on their bellies. However, there is some concern that this body cushion position may over stretch ligaments in the woman’s abdomen and some massage therapists (myself included) prefer to avoid the risk and use the side lying position exclusively.

For chair massage, most massage chairs have a “pregnancy bolster” which allows the expectant mother to sit in the chair without putting any pressure on her belly. The massage chairs at Working Well massage stations are designed to move the breast plate high enough to that the expectant mother’s belly is under the breastplate.

Finding a Good Prenatal Massage Therapist

Massage therapists must be certified in prenatal massage to perform prenatal massage. If you already see a massage therapist, ask him or her if they have this certification or if they can refer you to a massage therapist that does. If you are in Chicago, I, myself, am certified in prenatal massage and I also know of several massage therapists with prenatal certification I can recommend.

To find a reputable prenatal massage therapist in the US, visit the Association of Bodywork and Massage Professional’s massage locator service here. Or visit the National Massage Therapy Certification Board and search for ‘pregnancy massage.’

Read more at Suite101: Benefits of Prenatal Massage: When and Why to Get a Massage During Pregnancy

Read “12 Reasons to Administer Prenatal Massage Therapy” here.

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By Sue Shekut, Owner, Working Well Massage, Licensed Massage Therapist, Certified Wellnenss Coach, ACSM Personal Trainer

ETC in First Floor of Kendall Collage Building

In the past few years I’ve noticed  a trend in personal training: Gyms or centers that ONLY provide personal training. I recently spent some time in a really interesting such facility in Chicago– ETC (Energy Training Center). It’s a private, exclusive personal training facility geared towards personal trainers who are passionate about wellness. It’s not a gym or a fitness club. ETC is a personal trainers only center: You can only workout there with a personal trainer, not on your own. The advantage to this is: higher quality trainers and a clean, less crowded workout space!

One of my massage therapist/personal trainers led me through a few sessions at ETC to show me his trainer methods. I really enjoyed not only his training style but the center itself. It’s a but pricey (You pay for each session versus a monthly membership), but for those that can afford it, ETC is a nice alternative to packed gyms.

The concept here is simple: ETC wants its customers to achieve the best they can in health and wellness and wants the customers to work personally with experts to achieve these goals. ETC owners describes the center as “a facility for personal trainers and their clients, who desire a positive environment, first class amenities and service, high standards of fitness, education, and most of all results.”


Located on the first floor of the same building that houses Kendall College (On Halsted just North of Chicago), ETC offers a number of services and amenities:

  • A state-of-the-art 7,000 sq. ft. training facility equipped with bio-mechanically correct equipment featuring LifeFitness, Hammer Strength, IronGrip and Stairmaster.
  • Inside Energy Training Center

    ETC has ample cardio equipment for your warmup!

  • Complimentary unlimited secure parking
  • Complimentary towel and filtered water system
  • Full shower amenities in locker room including cable television and courtesy phones
  • Woman's locker room at ETC

  • Locker rooms and training floor sanitized daily
  • Open floor area for functional training and other sport specific movements
  • Great view of the river at ETC while you workout!

  • Fitness evaluation room
  • Complimentary coffee/tea service
  • Outdoor riverside training area available
  • Also available: massage therapy, physical therapy, occupational therapists, and MAT specialists
  • Massage Room at ETC-Before or after your workout

Interested in learning more? Visit their Facebook page, visit them or contact them directly:

900 N. Branch St.
Chicago, IL 60622

(312) 377-4170

Front door of Energy Training Center

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