When we go to the doctor and are told  that whatever ails us is triggered by stress, it is always a frustrating diagnosis. Too vague somehow. We want something more concrete.

I recently asked a client who is a gastroenterologist what, in her opinion, is the main cause of IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) and her answer was stress. In fact she told me that most of the medications prescribed for IBS are for anxiety.

With all that is going on in our world right now, how can we keep our stress levels under control to avoid developing chronic illness and without devoting hours to meditation or moving to some remote island without electricity.

Maybe one way to stay calm would be to take our hobbies to a new level. I know many of you already have interests outside of work because they come up a lot in conversation during spa visits. And I also know many of you will react with the question “Who has the time?” But gardening, games, puzzles (not all online and using an electronic device), photography, reading, and cooking are all hobbies that can provide endless pleasure and get us to relax and concentrate on lighter pursuits.

Take gardening for example. Many people now grow some if not many of their own vegetables. A study in the Netherlands compared reduced cortisol levels after one random group read for 30 minutes and another gardened for the same amount of time. The gardeners’ cortisol levels were the lowest. Not that I am against reading. I read a lot and belong to a book club that I find really interesting, but being in touch with nature connects us to the earth and that has a very comforting effect on us all.

Cooking is another great way to relax, especially if you have some favourite background music playing while you prepare your food. Maybe take a cooking class before the Holidays and surprise your family and friends with some new recipes or exchange recipes with friends?

Several of my clients are also making their own Holiday cards this year. We have a newly opened Paper Source in our neighbourhood that offers evening classes in all kinds of crafts. Sending cards that are hand-made adds a very personal touch, allows you to be creative and saves money. Many of us underestimate our creative talents both in the garden and arts arena.

Photography is another hobby that can bring endless pleasure. Our phones now take great pictures as we go about our daily lives, but take it one step further and carry a camera on you every day to capture images you may want to re-produce for that gallery at home.

Finally, get together with friends and family as much as possible and laugh. It really is the best medicine and exercises all those facial muscles in the best possible way!!

These are just a few ideas that may help you unwind and keep those stress levels under control. If you would like to share some other ways that you enjoy, please e-mail me at msimms {at} skinsensewellness.com. I would love to hear from you.

As many of you know, the color lavender is featured heavily at SkinSense – on our stationary and in the decor of the rooms and hallways. It is calming to use and to look at and we do use it in great quantities in all our treatments and products.


Lavender has had a very interesting and varied history. There are many biblical references made to the plant as a protection against evil and temptation. In terms of its remedial track record, Pliny the Elder, back in Roman times, recommended lavender for menstrual problems, upset stomachs, kidney disorders, jaundice and dropsy. As the plague took hold of Europe many grave-robbers who plundered the victims bodies, washed in lavender vinegar and even though they came in contact with the disease more than most people, they rarely died. In Tudor times, the plant became connected with love and romance. Lavender was tucked under lovers’ pillows and married couples’ mattresses to encourage passion.

By the nineteenth century, lavender finally appeared in the very respected London Pharmacopeia. During the First World War, when modern antiseptics became scarce, lavender was often used to dress wounds. Also around this time, the French chemist, Rene-Maurice Gattefosse, made the word “aromatherapy” popular in the 1920’s when he treated a self-sustained laboratory burn with lavender. He then went on to treat severely wounded troops who had suffered extreme burns from mustard gas during combat.

Aromatherapy is the science of using distilled essential oils to treat both physical and emotional ailments. The aroma of each oil triggers a response through the limbic system and the active property of the oil can treat a wide range of skin problems from acne to dryness.

Here are a few great recipes for you to use at home;

General Fatigue – fill a diffuser with water and add four drops each of orange, spearmint and lavender oils.

Hangover – place a cool compress of equal parts geranium and lavender on the forehead.

Insomnia – bath in lavender, rose and lemon – eight drops each – and then sprinkle lavender on the pillow case before going to bed.

More recipes next time…

According to the experts, we don’t establish our circadian rhythms until we are about six weeks old. That’s about the time when babies can hold more milk in their bellies to sleep longer periods. Sleep helps us fight illness, manage stress AND keeps our skin youthful and fresh.

When we are tired, our skin will look tired too. Lines deepen and look more ingrained, the complexion looks dull and eyes are often shadowed. When we get enough rest the sleep hormone, MELATONIN, is able to go to work. It lowers blood pressure and core body temperature, regulates hormonal levels and increases our alertness the next day. Just losing one hour of sleep a night can reduce day-time attentiveness by one third.

And to add insult to injury, because the lack of sleep interferes with ghrelin and leptin – the eat and don’t eat buttons in our bodies – we tend to snack irregularly and eat more sugary and starchy foods. This leads to a spike in our sugar levels, creating glycation and inflammation. Check out my recent blog “The Not So Sweet Side of Sugar“. This can age us very rapidly, create break-outs, wrinkles, rosacea, dryness, and even depression and chronic illness.

So, if you can get eight hours of sleep a night – perfect. If not, try napping. Recent studies have established that just a short nap can clear and recharge the brain just as effectively as a longer sleep. Your eyes and skin will be brighter and you will be more productive each and every day.