Posts Tagged ‘stress relief’

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

Image by Sue Shekut

Flowers make me feel better,  more relaxed and give my overworked mind a rest from planning, analyzing and overall thinking. I send flowers at times to say I am thinking of you to those recovering from illness or for holidays and birthdays. My garden has some very pretty flowers and I can tend to them for a nature fix every day!

Tell me, what do flowers do for you? How do they make you feel?

For an article on the Therapeutic Effect of Flowers, click here.

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

Today I offer you an image of peace and serenity courtesy of Wisconsin’s Devil’s Lake. This shot is of a small outlet just off the lake’s South Shore. No motor boats, no large crowds. Just you, nature and the ducks. Enjoy!

Devils Lake, WI, South Shore. Image by Sue Shekut

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

Aside from the stress of the holidays, it’s the end of 2010 and many of us are feeling the tension from increased holiday traffic, holiday party obligations, kids being off school, economic woes and general deadlines and busy-ness. All that stress can lead to muscle tension, stress-related ailments like headaches, gastrointestinal distress and fatigue. I have had a lot of extra stress due to final exams myself!

So where can we go for stress relief? You know I am going to say to get a massage! And you know where I recommend going to get fantastic massage, with no appointment needed and  no need to disrobe or take a few hours out of your busy schedules: Working Well Massage chair massage stations in the Gold Coast and Lincoln Park Whole Foods Markets.

DECEMBER YELP SPECIAL: Stop by one of our two Working Well Massage chair stations any time between Noon and 8pm this December and mention our Yelp special to receive a 20-minute massage for only $20 (regularly $24). Offer valid until December 31, 2010. Valid one per client. No valid with other offers. Check out our ad on Yelp:  Go to our WWM Gold Coast ad page here . Go to our WWM Lincoln Park Yelp page here.

I don’t just recommend you go and get a massage from one of the talented Working Well Massage therapists, I go myself! During Final exams, I’ve been to both the Gold Coast and Lincoln Park massage stations for massages quite a few times. I usually get at least 20 minutes, 30 minutes if I have time. In 20 minutes, I know I can get most of the tension worked out of my neck and shoulders with even some attention to my low back. Bending over a computer typing or reading and studying heavy textbooks, makes my neck and shoulders really tense and sore. So, for me, chair massage is perfect because I get attention paid to the areas I hurt the most, while sitting in a really relaxing padded massage chair.

The price for chair massage is very reasonable as well. instead of paying $80 (or MORE) for a massage at a spa where I may or may not get a massage therapist I like, I can get shorter massages, with attention to the areas of my body that need it most (my  back, neck and shoulders) for only $24 for 20 minutes. It’s far easier and cheaper for me to get three 20-minute massages than one hour massage on a table. And it costs me at least $10 less ($70 if you did a full hour at WWM versus $80 for a table massage at a spa). Now, I do enjoy table massages. But they take more time because you not only have to factor in the time for making the appointment as well as the actual massage time, but also time for getting disrobed and dressed after the massage, and time to find parking. At Working Well Massage chair stations, we are located inside Whole Foods stores with free parking. So you can get a great 20 minute massage, grab a healthy meal and you are on your way back to the busy-ness of your life.

For more info about i Well Massage chair massage stations, click here.

For more info on chair massage at Whole Foods in general and for locations around the country, click here.

Working Well Massage
Gold Coast Chair Massage Station

30 West Huron Street
(between Dearborn and State Streets)
Chicago, Illinois 60654
Free parking: Underground lot. Enter off Dearborn Street going Northbound.

Sessions: Drop in, sign up.

Get Directions | In-store Map | Massage Schedule


Hours: Daily, Noon to 8 p.m.

Working Well Massage
Lincoln Park Chair Massage Station

1550 N. Kingsbury
(between North Avenue and Division Street)
Chicago, Illinois 60642
Free parking: available in the garage, enter on Kingsbury

Sessions: Drop in, sign up

Get Directions | In-store Map | Massage Schedule


Hours: Daily, Noon to 8 p.m.

Quick Fix (5-Minute Massage) = $6
Short Stop (10-Minute Massage) = $12
Mellow Moment (15-Minute Massage) = $18
Complete Retreat I (20-Minute Massage) = $24
Complete Retreat II (30-Minute Massage) = $35

Additional increments of 5 minutes = $6

Please note that we do not accept credit card payments at the Massage Stations. Payment accepted in cash or checks only. You are welcome to purchase chair massage gift certificates at our Massage Station with cash or checks only during our business hours from noon to 8p.m. We do not accept credit cards at our chair stations for purchase of gift certificates.

How to Use WWM Chair Massage Stations:

  • No need to make an appointment! If someone else is already receiving a massage when you arrive, simply sign in and wait your turn.
  • Before your massage begins, let the therapist know how long you’d like the massage to last and any areas that are bothering you. Be sure to let him or her know if you have any medical contraindications such as high or low blood pressure, pregnancy, or fever.
  • Your therapist will help you get seated in the chair and begin the massage. Let him or her know if you need the pressure adjusted. We welcome your feedback; it helps us give you a better massage.
  • When your massage ends, your therapist will help you out of the chair . He or she will provide you with any feedback you may need about stretching or follow-up.
  • Pay the therapist for the massage. Gratuity is always appreciated but not required.
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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 Harvard Health Publications

Since the 1970s, meditation and other stress-reduction techniques have been studied as possible treatments for depression and anxiety. One such practice, yoga, has received less attention in the medical literature, though it has become increasingly popular in recent decades. One national survey estimated, for example, that about 7.5% of U.S. adults had tried yoga at least once, and that nearly 4% practiced yoga in the previous year.

Yoga classes can vary from gentle and accommodating to strenuous and challenging; the choice of style tends to be based on physical ability and personal preference. Hatha yoga, the most common type of yoga practiced in the United States, combines three elements: physical poses, called asanas; controlled breathing practiced in conjunction with asanas; and a short period of deep relaxation or meditation.

Many of the studies evaluating yoga’s therapeutic benefits have been small and poorly designed. However, a 2004 analysis found that, in recent decades, an increasing number have been randomized controlled trials — the most rigorous standard for proving efficacy.

Available reviews of a wide range of yoga practices suggest they can reduce the impact of exaggerated stress responses and may be helpful for both anxiety and depression. In this respect, yoga functions like other self-soothing techniques, such as meditation, relaxation, exercise, or even socializing with friends.

Taming the stress response

By reducing perceived stress and anxiety, yoga appears to modulate stress response systems. This, in turn, decreases physiological arousal — for example, reducing the heart rate, lowering blood pressure, and easing respiration. There is also evidence that yoga practices help increase heart rate variability, an indicator of the body’s ability to respond to stress more flexibly.

A small but intriguing study further characterizes the effect of yoga on the stress response. In 2008, researchers at the University of Utah presented preliminary results from a study of varied participants’ responses to pain. They note that people who have a poorly regulated response to stress are also more sensitive to pain. Their subjects were 12 experienced yoga practitioners, 14 people with fibromyalgia (a condition many researchers consider a stress-related illness that is characterized by hypersensitivity to pain), and 16 healthy volunteers.

When the three groups were subjected to more or less painful thumbnail pressure, the participants with fibromyalgia — as expected — perceived pain at lower pressure levels compared with the other subjects. Functional MRIs showed they also had the greatest activity in areas of the brain associated with the pain response. In contrast, the yoga practitioners had the highest pain tolerance and lowest pain-related brain activity during the MRI. The study underscores the value of techniques, such as yoga, that can help a person regulate their stress and, therefore, pain responses.

Improved mood and functioning

Questions remain about exactly how yoga works to improve mood, but preliminary evidence suggests its benefit is similar to that of exercise and relaxation techniques.

In a German study published in 2005, 24 women who described themselves as “emotionally distressed” took two 90-minute yoga classes a week for three months. Women in a control group maintained their normal activities and were asked not to begin an exercise or stress-reduction program during the study period.

Though not formally diagnosed with depression, all participants had experienced emotional distress for at least half of the previous 90 days. They were also one standard deviation above the population norm in scores for perceived stress (measured by the Cohen Perceived Stress Scale), anxiety (measured using the Spielberger State-Trait Anxiety Inventory), and depression (scored with the Profile of Mood States and the Center for Epidemiological Studies Depression Scale, or CES-D).

At the end of three months, women in the yoga group reported improvements in perceived stress, depression, anxiety, energy, fatigue, and well-being. Depression scores improved by 50%, anxiety scores by 30%, and overall well-being scores by 65%. Initial complaints of headaches, back pain, and poor sleep quality also resolved much more often in the yoga group than in the control group.

One uncontrolled, descriptive 2005 study examined the effects of a single yoga class for inpatients at a New Hampshire psychiatric hospital. The 113 participants included patients with bipolar disorder, major depression, and schizophrenia. After the class, average levels of tension, anxiety, depression, anger, hostility, and fatigue dropped significantly, as measured by the Profile of Mood States, a standard 65-item questionnaire that participants answered on their own before and after the class. Patients who chose to participate in additional classes experienced similar short-term positive effects.

Further controlled trials of yoga practice have demonstrated improvements in mood and quality of life for the elderly, people caring for patients with dementia, breast cancer survivors, and patients with epilepsy.

Benefits of controlled breathing

A type of controlled breathing with roots in traditional yoga shows promise in providing relief for depression. The program, called Sudarshan Kriya yoga (SKY), involves several types of cyclical breathing patterns, ranging from slow and calming to rapid and stimulating, and is taught by the nonprofit Art of Living Foundation.

One study compared 30 minutes of SKY breathing, done six days a week, to bilateral electroconvulsive therapy and the tricyclic antidepressant imipramine in 45 people hospitalized for depression. After four weeks of treatment, 93% of those receiving electroconvulsive therapy, 73% of those taking imipramine, and 67% of those using the breathing technique had achieved remission.

Another study examined the effects of SKY on depressive symptoms in 60 alcohol-dependent men. After a week of a standard detoxification program at a mental health center in Bangalore, India, participants were randomly assigned to two weeks of SKY or a standard alcoholism treatment control. After the full three weeks, scores on a standard depression inventory dropped 75% in the SKY group, as compared with 60% in the standard treatment group. Levels of two stress hormones, cortisol and corticotropin, also dropped in the SKY group, but not in the control group. The authors suggest that SKY might be a beneficial treatment for depression in the early stages of recovery from alcoholism.

Potential help for PTSD

Since evidence suggests that yoga can tone down maladaptive nervous system arousal, researchers are exploring whether or not yoga can be a helpful practice for patients with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

One randomized controlled study examined the effects of yoga and a breathing program in disabled Australian Vietnam veterans diagnosed with severe PTSD. The veterans were heavy daily drinkers, and all were taking at least one antidepressant. The five-day course included breathing techniques (see above), yoga asanas, education about stress reduction, and guided meditation. Participants were evaluated at the beginning of the study using the Clinician Administered PTSD Scale (CAPS), which ranks symptom severity on an 80-point scale.

Six weeks after the study began, the yoga and breathing group had dropped their CAPS scores from averages of 57 (moderate to severe symptoms) to 42 (mild to moderate). These improvements persisted at a six-month follow-up. The control group, consisting of veterans on a waiting list, showed no improvement.

About 20% of war veterans who served in Afghanistan or Iraq suffer from PTSD, according to one estimate. Experts treating this population suggest that yoga can be a useful addition to the treatment program.

Researchers at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., are offering a yogic method of deep relaxation to veterans returning from combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. Dr. Kristie Gore, a psychologist at Walter Reed, says the military hopes that yoga-based treatments will be more acceptable to the soldiers and less stigmatizing than traditional psychotherapy. The center now uses yoga and yogic relaxation in post-deployment PTSD awareness courses, and plans to conduct a controlled trial of their effectiveness in the future.

Cautions and encouragement

Although many forms of yoga practice are safe, some are strenuous and may not be appropriate for everyone. In particular, elderly patients or those with mobility problems may want to check first with a clinician before choosing yoga as a treatment option.

But for many patients dealing with depression, anxiety, or stress, yoga may be a very appealing way to better manage symptoms. Indeed, the scientific study of yoga demonstrates that mental and physical health are not just closely allied, but are essentially equivalent. The evidence is growing that yoga practice is a relatively low-risk, high-yield approach to improving overall health.

Where To Find Yoga Classes

Yoga Chicago magazine is a free publication distributed around the Chicagoland area. It contains a directory of all yhe known yoga classes in the city and suburbs of Chicago. Other cities may have similar publications or online services. For the Yoga Chicago main class directory go to this link here.

There are also a number of great yoga DVD’s available from Amazon, or you may find them at Target, Best Buy or Whole Foods Markets:

Yoga for Beginners from Amazon here.

Yoga for Stress Relief from Amazon here.

Yoga for Every Body from Amazon here.

and Yoga for Inflexible People from Amazon here.

Working Well Massage also provides certified yoga instructors for your home or office.


Brown RP, et al. “Sudarshan Kriya Yogic Breathing in the Treatment of Stress, Anxiety, and Depression: Part I — Neurophysiologic Model,” Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine (Feb. 2005): Vol. 11, No. 1, pp. 189–201.

Brown RP, et al. “Sudarshan Kriya Yogic Breathing in the Treatment of Stress, Anxiety, and Depression: Part II — Clinical Applications and Guidelines,” Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine (Aug. 2005): Vol. 11, No. 4, pp. 711–17.

Janakiramaiah N, et al. “Antidepressant Efficacy of Sudarshan Kriya Yoga (SKY) in Melancholia: A Randomized Comparison with Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT) and Imipramine,” Journal of Affective Disorders (Jan.–March 2000): Vol. 57, No. 1–3, pp. 255–59.

Khalsa SB. “Yoga as a Therapeutic Intervention: A Bibliometric Analysis of Published Research Studies,” Indian Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology (July 2004): Vol. 48, No. 3, pp. 269–85.

Kirkwood G, et al. “Yoga for Anxiety: A Systematic Review of the Research,” British Journal of Sports Medicine (Dec. 2005): Vol. 39, No. 12, pp. 884–91.

Pilkington K, et al. “Yoga for Depression: The Research Evidence,” Journal of Affective Disorders (Dec. 2005): Vol. 89, No. 1–3, pp. 13–24.

Saper RB, et al. “Prevalence and Patterns of Adult Yoga Use in the United States: Results of a National Survey,” Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine (March–April 2004): Vol. 10, No. 2, pp. 44–49.

For more references, please see www.health.harvard.edu/mentalextra.

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In an article from Reader’s Digest, “Change the Way You React to Stress,” Robert Fried, Ph.D., director of the Stress and Biofeedback Clinic at the Albert Ellis Institute and a senior professor of psychology at Hunter College said, “When you’re stressed, you may be sitting on the outside but running on the inside. Deep breathing for stress reduction means you’re sitting on the outside and you’re reposing on the inside.”

Once you’ve learned to do deep breathing, says Dr. Fried, author of Breathe Well, Be Well, it takes less work to breathe, thus reducing the amount of work your body has to do and sending a message to your brain that you’re inactive. After a while your body gets the signal and your heart rate and oxygen consumption slow.

The Deep Breathing Technique

This exercise combines deep breathing with mental imagery to help you feel relaxed yet alert. The results are immediate, so you can pull out the technique any time you need to feel calmer and more in control. Dr. Fried has used it in treating everything from tension and anxiety to burnout syndrome, panic disorder, agoraphobia, depression, tension headache, and high blood pressure.

A few notes of caution (yes, even something as seemingly innocuous as deep breathing isn’t entirely risk-free — a testament to its power to effect change in the body). If you’re not used to deep breathing, your diaphragm muscle will need time to adjust and become toned, so start slowly. If you experience cramps while doing the exercise, stop. Also, deep breathing may cause a significant decrease in blood pressure, so if you suffer from low blood pressure or fainting, be cautious when trying it. Check with your doctor before doing this exercise if you have a condition in which you may need to hyperventilate, such as diabetes or kidney disease. (Under certain circumstances hyperventilation may be the body’s protection against diabetic acidosis.) And diabetics, take note: The sudden reduction in blood levels of certain stress hormones has been demonstrated to reduce the need for insulin and may cause your blood sugar to drop.

Day 1. First, seat yourself comfortably, with your back supported by the back of the chair. Loosen any tight-fitting clothing and place your hands on your knees. Let yourself relax. Now you’re ready to begin.

• Close your mouth and breathe through your nose only.

• Put one hand on your chest and the other on your stomach. As you inhale, hold your chest and don’t let it rise. Let the hand on your abdomen rise as the air fills your lungs.

• Exhale slowly, pulling your abdomen back as far as it will go without letting that raise your chest in the process. Spend a minute or so on this exercise. If you feel dizzy, you are working too hard. Stop and rest a little until the dizziness passes, then make the motions a little more subtle.

Day 2. Follow the same routine you followed yesterday, but practice the exercise for two to three minutes.

Day 3. Breathe for four minutes, and try the exercise without your hands. You should now be noticing that your inhale and exhale are approximately the same duration. There should be no pause before or after inhale or exhale — just one smooth motion. Your breathing rate may range between three and seven breaths per minute.

Day 4. Today you introduce imagery. Sit in your chair as before. Now:

• Close your eyes.

• Picture a very specific scene — the beach in July, a cool pine forest, swimming underwater. Try to put yourself in the scene — hear the sounds, feel the air (or water), smell the scents.

• As you focus on this scene, begin your deep breathing. Each time you inhale, imagine that you are breathing in the air of your scene, saying to yourself, “I feel awake, alert, and refreshed.” And as you breathe out, feel the tensionin your body flow out with your breath as you say to yourself, “I feel relaxed, warm, and comfortable.”

Do this for four breaths, then stop. After a few minutes of rest, repeat the exercise. Try the routine once in the morning and once in the evening. After about three weeks, Dr. Fried recommends that you do the exercise in rounds of three: Four or five breathing cycles and a few moments of rest, followed by a second round of four or five breathing cycles and a few moments of rest, and finally a third round of four or five breathing cycles.

Once you’ve mastered deep breathing, you can pull it out of your relaxation arsenal whenever life gets tense. Not only will it help slow your body down, but it may also, in effect, slow down time, providing those critical moments that are often the difference between exploding and maintaining your cool. As you breathe in and out, release the physical tension and then ask yourself the following questions:

• Is the way I’m reacting to this situation increasing my tension?

• Is this reaction logical and reasonable?

• Is this reaction realistic?

• Is there another way to view the situation?

The answers may enable you to “spin” the stressful situation from the negative to the positive, or at least to the neutral.

Deep Breathing Technique from Reader’s Digest article, “Change The Way You React To Stress:Deep Breathing Exercise”

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Relaxation Exercises to Reduce Stress, Anxiety, and Depression
from Helpguide.org

Deep Breathing

Stress Relief: Yoga, Meditation, and Other Relaxation Techniques

The body’s natural relaxation response is a powerful antidote to stress. Relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, visualization, progressive muscle relaxation, meditation, and yoga can help you activate this relaxation response. When practiced regularly, these activities lead to a reduction in your everyday stress levels and a boost in your feelings of joy and serenity. What’s more, they also serve a protective quality by teaching you how to stay calm and collected in the face of life’s curveballs.

The Relaxation Response

The relaxation response is a mentally active process that leaves the body relaxed. It is best done in an awake state so don’t practice relaxation when you are very sleepy. The Relaxation Response IS trainable and becomes more profound with practice.

The stress response floods your body with chemicals that prepare you for “fight or flight.” But while the stress response is helpful in true emergency situations where you must be alert, it wears your body down when constantly activated. You can’t avoid all stress, but you can counteract its negative effects by learning how to evoke the relaxation response.

The relaxation response brings your system back into balance: deepening your breathing, reducing stress hormones, slowing down your heart rate and blood pressure, and relaxing your muscles. In addition to its calming physical effects, research shows that the relaxation response also increases energy and focus, combats illness, relieves aches and pains, heightens problem-solving abilities, and boosts motivation and productivity.

Starting a Relaxation Response Practice

A variety of relaxation techniques help you achieve the relaxation response. Those whose stress-busting benefits have been widely studied include deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, meditation, visualization, yoga, and tai chi.

Learning the basics of these relaxation techniques isn’t difficult. But it takes daily practice to get full benefit of their stress-relieving power. Most stress experts recommend setting aside at least 10 to 20 minutes a day for your relaxation practice. If you’d like to get even more stress relief, aim for 30 minutes to an hour.

More Relaxation Techniques from www.helpguide.org

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