News flash: the holiday season can be stressful!

Surprise, right? No one is shocked by this bit of information, but we don’t always respond appropriately. So our awesome DPTs, Meagan and Brianna, thought we might talk a bit about how to practice some healthy self care at the holidays.

our doctors of physical therapy

Here are their thoughts on how to take care of YOU while you take care of everyone else this festive season.

Massage

If you’ve never had a massage (or only the therapeutic kind to rehab an injury, for example), this is one great way to relax after stressful shopping, planning, prepping (or in my case, avoiding all the above).

Massage increases blood flow, soothes anxiety and stress, refreshes your body, and can help you release pain in your joints and muscles.

If you’re not comfortable lying down or stripping down, you can find a practitioner who will give you a “chair massage” – fully clothed, in a chair, working on your shoulders, neck, and back.

Some caveats when shopping for a massage practitioner:

  1. Look for a licensed, certified, or registered massage therapist. Check their website, says Bri, to get a feel for their level of professionalism.
  2. Ask how many years of experience they have. Meagan suggests dropping in a specific muscle name to gauge their knowledge. If they look at you with confusion, consider moving on: a licensed massage therapist should be familiar with the names of muscles. We have no idea what your infraspinatus is, but our DPTs do, and so should your therapist, says Meagan.
  3. Be sure to fully disclose any conditions you have they need to know about, like arthritis, osteoporosis, artificial joints, injuries, back pain, etc. Be sure they’re comfortable working with or around that condition.
  4. Ask for recommendations from friends or even from your doc, if you have a particular condition, Brianna says.
  5. Some health insurance covers massage therapy, so check with your provider and your massage therapist.
  6. If you’re looking for relaxation as opposed to therapy, maybe steer away from a sports massage practitioner or make clear what you want, says Meagan. Sports massage can involve working much deeper tissue and may not provide the stress relief you’re looking for right now.

Sauna, hot tub, spa

When it’s 20 degrees out and you’re looking for some blood flow and comfort, these can be a great way to relax and soak in the heat. Again, look for places that have a good reputation for hygiene and safety.

Or turn your own bathtub into a spa, says Meagan. Epsom salts are terrific for soothing body and spirit. Bath bombs are great too, says Bri. We like Lush or Rocky Mountain Soap to give you an instant spa experience and fizz the stress away.

Shoes

If you’re out and about and on your feet a lot this holiday season, treat yourself to a good pair of shoes, Meagan says. Safe tread on icy sidewalks, good cushioning and support for your joints and posture—this is not only good self-care, it can help avoid problems in the future. Remember, your body is a chain, and where and how “the rubber meets the road” matters as much for your body as it does for your car.

Nutrition and mindfulness

“Just be mindful of what you’re eating and drinking,” Bri says. You don’t have to deny yourself all the pleasures of the season, but you may find that paying attention helps you stay in control. Avoid the “day after” syndrome of feeling terrible or guilty or both. If you’re headed to a holiday event that likely involves food and drink, go in with a plan: eat from a smaller plate; scan all your options first, so you indulge in the very best and don’t waste your calories on lesser treats; if it’s a potluck, bring an option you can feel good about eating so you know there’s at least one healthy thing there.

Why do we overindulge during the holidays? Well, for many of us, it’s the only time of year we allow ourselves certain treats, Meagan says, certainly in this quantity. So maybe we should consider making festive cookies in July.  Maybe we’re not thinking about the sheer volume of goodies we’re buying or baking, and we end up overeating simply because we don’t want to throw stuff away. Or maybe alcohol and indulging friends lessen our restraint. Whatever, figure out what’s guiding your decisions when it comes to food and drink so you’re forewarned.

One thing to really think about, Bri adds, is your intake of festive “this season only” drinks from your local coffee shop, for example. That peppermint latte that you must have because you can only get it during the holidays, takes a real toll on your wallet and your waistline and remember that coffee can hit you right in the bladder….

Hydrate

‘Tis the season of dry, plus we’re busy, we’re on the move and don’t want to have to take potty stops, we’re drinking plenty, but that ain’t water, Sally – this time of year, we may actually have to think about drinking enough water. Including water in your plans is great for appetite control as well as all the good benefits of just being appropriately hydrated.

Plan for activity

take a hike for the holidaysTake a daily walk with friends and family, especially if folks are visiting from far away, says Bri. There’s nothing like a brisk walk in the snow to spur great conversation! Find a 5K walk/run in your area and get a group to do it together. Bri says her family gives events and activities instead of traditional gifts – a zoo pass or ticket to the aquarium, a lift ticket for a local ski area, even the gift of time to take a hike together.

Being really virtuous (exercising, eating well) puts you in the right mindset and helps you continue making good choices because you feel so darn good.

Detox your spaces

The holidays are a time to accrue more stuff, and all that stuff can be subtly stressful, Meagan says. Pick your purge, she says, and clean out a drawer a day. Give it away, recycle it, just give yourself the gift of clean, organized, uncluttered space.

Do what you want

Too many events planned, too many people to see, too many miles to drive? As Bri says, save yourself the stress and just say no. Prioritize according to what you really want to do, because it’s your holiday season too.

Still stressed?

What do you do if you just can’t stop doing all the things that stress you out at the holidays?

Stop and take a deep breath, says Meagan. The physiological benefits of deep, measured breathing are real as your pulse and blood pressure decrease and your head stops swirling. Breathe in deeply, then do an aggressive release on the out – make noise, sigh loudly, feel your body let go of the breath and the tension. Drop your shoulders.

And get enough sleep, Bri says. “This is the season of sickness,” she reminds us, so do yourself the favor of getting good rest. If you’re tired, stop online shopping, flipping through family recipes, organizing your date book, and go to bed. It may be the best decision you make all day.

How do you take care of yourself during the Season of Festive Stress? Fill us in! Comment below, or find us on Facebook or in Midlife & Menopause Solutions, our Facebook group. You can also join us, anonymously, if you prefer, on our community forums.


Shannon Perry

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