By Bryant Acquaro PT, DPT
The holiday season is often a time of joy and is supposed to be about spending quality time with family and friends; however, it’s also one of the most stressful times of the year and can take a toll on your mental and physical health.
Many people feel a lot of pressure and worry about everything from finances, to finding the perfect gifts, to cooking and entertaining for family. In the run-up to the holiday season, people might also experience physical pain resulting from situations like lifting heavy packages and decorating their home.
Read on to find out how stress can impact your body and why it’s important to manage stress and pain during this time of the year.
The Effects of Stress on Your Body
There are various physical symptoms associated with stress. These include high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes and migraines.
“You may think illness is to blame for that nagging headache, your frequent insomnia or your decreased productivity at work,” says the Mayo Clinic. “But stress may actually be the culprit.”
Fifty-one percent of people who cite physical symptoms due to stress experience fatigue, while 44 percent experience headaches. Other common physical symptoms of stress include teeth grinding, loss of appetite, dizziness, muscle tension, and an upset stomach.
Stress can also result in back pain, muscle tension and muscle spasms.
“When you live with unconscious stress, you may encounter several physical changes,” says Thrive Global. “Blood vessels are restricted because there’s less blood flow in your body, not enough oxygen to support your muscles and other tissues become blocked as well.”
People who travel with heavy gifts or decorate their home during the holiday period are also likely to cause damage to their back.
Physical symptoms can intensify during the height of the holiday season. Dealing with holiday expenses, meeting with family members, traveling across the country — all these experiences can increase your stress levels. Research shows that up to 69 percent of people feel stressed during the holidays because they don’t have enough money, while 51 percent feel stressed because of the pressure to give and receive gifts.
“Too often we take holiday stress for granted,” says the Cleveland Clinic. “What’s worse, we often have higher expectations for this season than for any other time of the year. Planning for the holidays can leave us feeling impatient, cranky, and — in some cases — depressed.”
Five Ways to Manage Stress During the Holiday Season
1. Manage Your Stress with Mindfulness
Mindfulness is a stress reduction technique that can prove beneficial during the holiday period. This method involves you ignoring negative thoughts and controlling your breathing when you feel stressed. One study suggests that mindful-based stress reduction can even reduce back pain.
“Practicing mindfulness involves activating a brain relaxation pathway by deliberately ignoring mental ‘chatter’ and focusing on your breathing,” says the Harvard Medical School. “When you do this, an ‘unfocus’ circuit, called the default mode network, is activated.”
2. Getting Acupuncture Treatments to Manage Stress
Acupuncture can also help to alleviate the symptoms associated with stress during the holidays and improve spinal care and overall wellness. An acupuncturist will insert needles into certain points of your body to help relieve pain.
At Alliance Orthopedics, we specialize in acupuncture treatments that can reduce pain and stress and improve well-being. Find out more about this treatment here.
3. Use Stretching to Manage Stress
Stretching is a simple technique that can reduce stress and promote back pain relief. This treatment can strengthen the muscles and tendons that support the spine. Stretching your shoulders and upper back on a regular basis will provide you with a number of health benefits and contribute to your overall health. Just remembering to take a moment to pause and do something for yourself during the day can be extremely beneficial.
4. The Importance of Exercise in Stress Management
Exercise not only helps you lose weight, but it can also have a positive effect on your stress levels. Incorporating exercise into your daily routine will help you navigate the stressful holiday period and leave you feeling more relaxed.
“Scientists have found that regular participation in aerobic exercise has been shown to decrease overall levels of tension, elevate and stabilize mood, improve sleep, and improve self-esteem,” says the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. “About five minutes of aerobic exercise can begin to stimulate anti-anxiety effects.”
You don’t have to join an expensive gym to experience the benefits of exercise. Working out at home or running around the block for 10 minutes a day can promote calmness and leave you feeling refreshed.
5. Using Massage Therapy to Manage Stress
Regular massage can relieve aching, tense muscles and reduce stress during the holiday period. Research shows that massage lowers cortisol — the hormone responsible for stress.
Here at Alliance Orthopedics, our massage therapists will use soothing techniques on your body, so you can better manage stress.
Take the First Step Towards Relieving Your Stress
With National Stress Awareness Day just around the corner, it’s important to think about the situations that cause you stress during the holidays. Managing stress with techniques like massage, exercise, and acupuncture will improve your well-being during this time of the year. If you do tend to neglect your physical or mental health during the holidays, make sure to read our previous blog post for more tips on how to stay healthy during the season.
It’s also important to remember how much our physical and mental health go hand in hand. If you are struggling with something mentally, it can take a toll on your body and vice versa. While the holiday season is about thinking and giving to others, you won’t be able to do that if you don’t take care of your own health first.
If you do find yourself suffering from any kind of back or spine pain during the holiday season, Alliance Orthopedics can help. In addition to chiropractic care, we specialize in pain reduction techniques like massage therapy, acupuncture and physical therapy.
Dr. Bryant Acquaro grew up on Long Island before attending Seton Hall University where he earned his Bachelor of Science as well as his Doctorate in Physical Therapy in 2010. Since then Dr. Bryant has specialized in treatment of orthopedic and athletic injuries in a wide variety of patients from professional athletes to elderly adults.