There are two sides to the holiday coin: You love this time of year… Presents, decorations, seeing loved ones, SNOW! You don’t exactly love this time of year… Presents, decorations, seeing loved ones, SNOW! Most of us would agree, no matter how much you love the holidays, they (especially Christmas) do bring some extra stress. Which can bring extra physical discomfort. Like a stiff neck or a headache. Or, if you’re normally so inclined, maybe a sore jaw, or back pain.
What can you do to keep holiday stress from becoming physical pain? Very often what causes the most problems physically are the things you do all the time that you have no idea you’re even doing. And when you’re stressed, this happens in spades. Say you’re a nail-biter. Normally you’re able to keep that annoying habit under control, but during stressful times, you might not even notice what you’re doing until your nails are bitten down to the quick and bleeding. You can’t change what you don’t know you’re doing, right? Being aware of your less-than-productive habits is a huge first step to changing them.
Here are a few things to notice:
- Where are your shoulders? If they’re creeping up toward your earlobes and it feels a little like there’s still a coat hanger under your sweater, just notice the tightness in your shoulders and neck, take a deep breath in, then breathe out s-l-o-w-l-y as you let your shoulders descend back down to where they’re supposed to be.
- You know that spot below your breastbone and between your ribs? What’s going on there? You may tighten up around this spot when you’re anxious, and your shoulders and head come forward along with it. If you notice you’re tight here, you may also notice that you’re barely breathing. Try breathing gently but directly into this spot. Not forcefully, but deep enough to feel this area expanding. Or, lie down on the floor, put your lower legs up on a couch or chair (so hips and knees are at 90 degree angles), arms comfortably out away from your body with palms up, and just lay there for a while as you breathe gently into this spot.
- What is going on with your breathing? Are you breathing into your upper chest, with your shoulders moving up with each inhalation? Is your breathing shallow and kind of fast? This is a recipe for stress and anxiety. Harvard-trained MD Andrew Weil has a lot of good ideas on how to breathe better for stress relief here http://www.drweil.com/health-wellness/balanced-living/meditation-inspiration/the-art-and-science-of-breathing/
- What’s going on with your butt? I know this sounds ridiculous, and somewhat personal, but shoulders and the solar plexus aren’t the only areas you may tighten up for no particular reason, especially when you’re stressed. Check it out: when you’re standing, are your butt muscles tensed? What happens if you let them relax? (Here’s a hint, you won’t fall down.) Chronically tight gluteal muscles lead to a tight back, right on up to a tight neck.
- Have fun and give up on perfect. Easier said than done, of course.
Gil and Cheryl wish you and your family a very Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and a Happy and very healthy New Year!