According to a report by Mind* 85% of adults and 91% of young people surveyed are suffering from acute mental health issues, intensified by the fear and anxiety around the pandemic. These findings are corroborated by evidence from the UK Household Longitudinal Study** that tracked changes in levels of psychological distress during the pandemic.
Anxiety, depressive symptoms, loneliness, sleep, and stress are becoming a growing nightmare for Occupational Health Practitioners who witnessing these issues more frequently in their patients/clients and struggling with their own mental health challenges.
My own mental health issues began with the onset of menstruation when my unstable hormone levels caused depression, a tendency towards violent and psychotic behaviour, panic attacks and addiction. I ended up in prison, where I was kept in solitary confinement. My case made legal history on 22nd December 1978 at The Old Bailey, when the judge accepted premenstrual syndrome as a mitigating factor and I was freed against all the odds, aged eighteen. (Nicola Owen – Wikipedia).
I was given a second chance
Even when my hormone levels were restored back into balance, the trauma of the past few years triggered a spiral of mental health issues and increased stress and anxiety. Looking back, it was a defining moment in my life that has taken me on a journey of self-discovery and emotional healing.
It took ten years to feel in control of my life rather than feeling that life was controlling me. I studied different healing interventions from psychotherapy and hypnosis to breathwork and energy releasing tools. After turning my own life around, I began applying the tools and techniques that had helped me. For three decades I’ve worked with thousands of people, helping them to make small daily changes so that their lives are easier to navigate.
The root of stress
Many people try to resolve stress based on what’s happening in the current moment. This is like trimming a weed and expecting it not to grow again. The root of stress and mental health issues comes from pent up emotions from the past that we have not been able to express, process and release.
If you have young children, you’ll have witnessed their temper tantrums. Occasions when they express their pent-up feelings by screaming, pummelling their fists, and stamping their feet. Moments later they are calm. All human beings have this natural ‘tantrum’ mechanism that brings us back into homeostasis. In mammals this mechanism is observed as shaking and is referred to as a neurogenic tremor.
As we grow up, we learn to push down our emotions. This maybe a conscious suppression of how we feel. For example, if a little boy falls over and cries, his father may say “big boys don’t cry” and the child learns to hold their emotions in check. During intense moments of fear, instead of activating the fight or flight response, we experience a freeze response. We push down the emotions associated with that event, and it remains repressed within our emotional and physical body.
Over the years, levels of unprocessed emotion build up, layer upon layer. Then, something in the present moment, triggers the eruption of a lifetime’s worth of emotions. Therefore we feel overwhelmed, and our emotional reactions become out of proportion.
Ignoring the signs
When we are so busy caring for other people, we sometimes fail to recognise the needs of ourselves. In today’s culture of ‘busyness,’ we don’t have time to squeeze self-care into our daily routine.
Often it takes a harsh blow, a major illness, or a devastating event to recognise that unless we prioritise our own emotional wellbeing, we cannot truly empower, support, and help others. But it’s hard to work on ourselves. The fear about opening our ‘can of worms’ often stops us from addressing past issues in the belief that it’s best not to rehash painful situations.
But the mountain of negativity living inside our body, needs soothing. We find coping strategies such as escapism through work, excessive exercise, shopping addiction, taking solace from alcohol, drugs, food, or sex.
As negative thoughts multiply and gather momentum they stampede into our lives with such force that we are often left stunned by the overwhelming sense of despair and frustration. Toxic thoughts from our past, contaminate our happiness in the present moment. Thoughts about the future create fear and anxiety now. Our minds become so full of these hallucinations around what might happen that we feel impotent in our ability to tell illusion from reality.
Releasing unprocessed emotions helps to restore our autonomic nervous system back into balance so we feel lighter, calmer, more at peace with life, even when it becomes challenging.
But how can this be done in a way that’s easy and comfortable?
The way we breathe influences how we feel
Wilhelm Reich MD in the 1920s, was an Austrian psychotherapist who used open mouth breathwork to soften unprocessed emotions, making it easier to release them. Stanislov Grof, M.D, a Czech psychiatrist, developed this technique and evolved it into Holotrophic Breathwork.
This style of breathing transports vast quantities of oxygen into the bloodstream and changes the 50 trillion cells in our body from an operating mechanism of survival to one of growth. Cells are the building blocks of emotional and physical health. Would you feel safe and secure living in a house built from crumbling bricks? Many of us are living in a body built from unhealthy cells that have entered a cellular lockdown. This means that our cells are unable to receive nourishment from serotonin or oxytocin.
Every individual holds their life story in their physical body
Over the years we have adapted the way we breathe to keep emotions buried. As the musculature tightens, our breath becomes shallow. If there were no ‘old emotions’ held in the body, then our muscles can relax, and we have more space to breathe.
Watch a tiny baby sleeping and you’ll observe that their whole body is breathing – their back, belly and chest move together effortlessly. This natural ebb and flow to the breath usually changes when life’s challenges, change breathing patterns. Every trauma, every belief, every experience has danced along your breath, altering, and shaping it until it becomes an accurate representation of the way you flow, or not, through life.
Quick way to release stress
1. Take 5 deep open-mouth breaths. When you inhale push out your stomach.
2. Hold your breath for the count of 10.
3. Imagine pummelling a boxing ball for the count of 10
4. Hold your left wrist and repeat the word “peace” three times
Since the turbulent events from my youth, I recognise that if we want to get more from life, then we must be prepared to work on ourselves. Every difficulty we encounter gives us a unique opportunity to wake up our potential and experience a better version of who we are and how we show up in the world.
You don’t have to keep battling stress when there is an array of powerful tools that can be used in the comfort of your own home. If you are ready to prioritise your own self-care, then now is the time to do so.
*Coronovirus: the consequences for mental health. July 2021 published by Mind
**Longitudinal changes in mental health and COVID-19 pandemic