Yule feel good after this! 

Words by:
Ian Eassom
Featured in:
December 2022

’Tis the season to be jolly, but it’s also a time of year that can often be quite stressful too. Your job workload might increase in preparation for the Christmas rush, or you might feel the pressure to buy gifts, or prepare food for the extended family.

The festive season can heighten mental health struggles and place everything under a magnifying glass, while those around you seem caught up in the excitement.

lot of us spend time looking after our bodies, but then put our mental wellbeing on the back-burner, until we feel well and truly burnt out.

This is why I have given you five easy de-stressing stretches that can be done in less than 10 minutes, encouraging you to make time for yourself during the day, no matter how busy you may be.

We know that stress can be damaging to our physical health, as it affects blood pressure, puts a strain on our heart, increases the risk of type 2 diabetes, as well as increasing our stress hormones, which can lead to achy joints, stiffness and fatigue. Not forgetting the effect it can have on our mental health, making us prone to anxiety and depression.

So here goes with some stress-busting techniques. As a starting point, you can do each of the stretches once a day, or you might want to try for several times a day, going through the five exercises in turn, and then starting back at the beginning.

If you have some additional stretches you like, feel free to add them in to customise it for yourself. It’s all about making a little time to relax and feeling energised afterwards.

Doing these stretches regularly will give you the benefits of improved flexibility, circulation, balance and help relieve joint pain. It will also help regulate your breathing, leading to improved focus and lower stress levels.

Interestingly, a client of mine took his blood pressure before a workout session (as it’s been getting a little high), and again at the end of our session (a moderately intense workout), to discover his blood pressure had gone right down. Don’t forget to check with your GP before changing your exercise routine or going to classes if your blood pressure is on the high side.

You should perform each of the following exercises at your own pace. Try holding each stretch for 20-30 seconds (or as long as you feel comfortable) and repeat each exercise 2-5 times.

This can be done in various ways, working the flexibility and improving strength in the glutes and back.

We are going to do it the easy way – lying flat on your back, with your knees raised and your feet on the floor.

Lift your bottom off the floor, so that your knees are vertical to your ankles, spreading your arms out at your side, palms facing up.

You’ll feel a nice gentle stretch in your shoulders, opening up your chest. Control your breathing, keeping your core tight and your butt clenched. To get the most out of this, the bridge can be held for 15-30 seconds, or you can do gentle sets of 10 reps, taking two seconds going up into the raise, pausing for two seconds and then two seconds back down again.

Remember, this is your time to relax so whatever feels the most benefit to yourself.

Kneeling cat stretch 
The great thing about this exercise is that we are working the whole spine along with the hips and shoulders. This one can even be done seated in your office chair.

Begin in the kneeling position, either raised or with your bottom resting on your heels.

Place your hands palms down in front of you, leaning outwards, so your tummy is over your legs. (If you’re doing this in a chair, spread your knees in line with your shoulder width, and put your hands palm down about a hand space from your kneecaps.)

Start with your spine in a neutral position, then tucking your tailbone under and at the same time lowering your head, so your back gently rounds, pushing your abs up to the spine while breathing gently as you hold the stretch.

Hold this for 15-30 seconds and repeat as many times as you feel necessary.

Scapular stretch 
These can be done kneeling or seated (or even while sat on a gym ball).

Sit upright, watching your posture with your tummy tucked in, grab the outer side of your knee with the opposite hand and turn in the direction of the knee you are holding, until you feel a full stretch.

Hold it for 20-30 seconds before changing sides.

Once you’ve got the knack and are feeling the stretch, you can try it using both hands, crossing your arms over so that your left hand is on your right knee and your right hand is on the left knee, bringing your knees apart.

If you find you need a bit more stretch, just lean slightly back until you feel it hit the spot.

Pec Stretch
This is so simple, but has great benefits, such as improving your posture and easing tension in the shoulders, whilst opening up your chest.

It involves simply holding your hands up in a classic film “I surrender” style, and moving your arms back rotating at the shoulders, to feel the stretch across your chest.

This can be done laying down, face up or just standing, and can also be done using a doorframe for that stretch, keeping your forearms flat against the frame, while taking a step forward to increase that stretch even more.

Child’s Pose
This is a great one to finish, as it helps with your breathing, stimulates the blood flow around your body (especially the head and neck area) and really helps with flexibility.
In fact, the more flexible you get, the deeper you can go into this pose. It’s so easy, just kneel back on your heels, arms out in front and keeping your back straight, then lower your shoulders to the floor, to get some stretch in the shoulders themselves, as well as your back and arms.

Stress-busting smoothie
Here is my recipe for a delicious, fresh smoothie full of goodies I’ve developed over time to help in my own fitness routine.

For this you will need the following items (quantities to suit):
• Spinach leaves – A good source of magnesium, helping to lower blood pressure and regulate cortisol levels.
• Chopped avocado – An excellent source of vitamin B, which helps maintain healthy nerves and brain cells.
• Frozen mixed berries (or fresh cranberries) – Packed full of vitamins, such as vitamin C and packed full of antioxidants. Please note: If you’re on medication like warfarin, follow GP advice on the correct and safe amount of cranberries you can consume, as they can interfere with this specific medication.
• Walnuts – These are great for helping to relieve anxiety, being rich in omega 3 fatty acids.
• Fresh ginger – Great for nausea and has been shown to be good for blood sugar levels, making it great for heart health.
• Banana – Full of nutrients, rich in fibre and gives an instant energy boost.
• Flaxseed – Like walnuts, they are rich in omega 3 and contain a good amount of protein and fibre, as well as thiamine and copper, keeping the nervous system healthy and helping the body make red blood cells.
• ‘Kefir’ – Yoghurt-like and containing plenty of probiotics, which are important for the body’s gut health, as well as being essential to the production of neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine, which affect our moods. Plus brain-boosting Vitamins A, D and K2.
• Cinnamon – Good for the brain as it helps prevent protein build-up, and a great anti-inflammatory.
• Water or milk (to thin)The method is so simple, just pop all your ingredients into the blender and blend!

All that remains to say is to wish you a very happy, healthy Christmas from me and my little festive helper Harvey. Be kind to yourselves and give your pets plenty of treats (he told me to add that!).

Ian Eassom is a Lincoln-based mobile personal trainer. Ian can offer private individual training sessions (one-to-one, couples or small groups) in your own home, garden or public space, or online, with bespoke exercise and diet plans to suit you. Don’t forget there’s a special offer for Lincolnshire Life readers! For the latest information, visit www.ianeassom.co.uk

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