Managing stress-related pain this Christmas

Managing stress-related pain this Christmas


Sunday, December 15, 2019

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CHRISTMAS is the time of cheer. For most people it is the most wonderful time of the year.

While the time may be filled with joy and festivities, it can also be extremely stressful.

Stress during Christmas can range from:

Physical — The non-stop partying and events with little or no rest in-between. Hosting events, standing for long periods of time cooking, baking, cleaning, decorating, re-arranging the house, and travelling long distances to visit family and friends.

Mental — December goes by in a flash and there is just so much to do in so little time. It is mentally exhausting trying to keep up with everything and meeting all the deadlines.

Emotional — The season may not be as joyful for individuals who lost loved ones, as this time may bring back painful memories as well as feelings of sadness and loneliness. There are also those uncomfortable encounters with some family members with whom we don't get along.

These stressful conditions can result in stress-based pain. When we get stressed out the body naturally releases certain hormones. Adrenalin is associated with the 'fight or flight' phenomenon, it results in elevated blood pressure, increased blood supply and causes the muscle around our spine to tense and spasm in case we need to flee the source of stress.

Since we cannot always flee our stressors, we are often left with the back pain associated with the tension and spasms at the spine.

Cortisol is known as the stress hormone; it interferes with a variety of functions and is the underlying cause of many non-communicable diseases. Prolonged stress response can result in cortisol dysfunction, causing widespread inflammation and pain.

So basically, stress can be a literal pain in the neck. However, it is unrealistic to suggest being the Grinch and cancelling Christmas to reduce pain. Instead, here are five simple ways to manage stress-related pain this Christmas.

1. Breathing exercises

Breathing helps to remove toxins and ease tension throughout the body. Below is a simple breathing exercise:

Try finding a comfortable spot to sit or lie down. Place a hand over your belly button and one over your chest. Close your eyes and take a deep breath. You should first feel your hand on your stomach followed by the hand on your chest rise as your lungs fill with air. Hold each breath briefly and feel your abdomen and chest slowly lower on your exhale. Pay close attention to the air entering your mouth and nose, breath slowly; as you breathe let the air surround the areas of tension or pain that you feel in your body. Imagine that you are blowing stress from your muscles and out of your body as the air leaves your mouth.

Continue to breathe and focus your mind and breath on areas that are tense or painful. Drop your shoulders as you exhale, unclench your buttocks and loosen your jaw.

2. Physical activities and stretching

Physical activities release endorphins and dopamine, also known as 'feel-good hormones'. Take a little break from the festivities and go for a brisk walk. Try to make time for your workouts, do not desert your gym, Pilates or yoga class all season. Light stretches can help relieve tension. A physiotherapist can help with recommending specific stretches to target trouble areas.

3. Massage

Book a massage session or spend a day at the spa as a little treat to yourself. A trained massage therapist, as well as a physiotherapist who specialises in manual therapy, can assist in loosening tense muscles. A great gift idea for your family and friends is a gift certificate for one of these services to help them stay pain-free this Christmas.

4. Applying ice or heat

Applying ice to tense areas like the base of the head can reduce tension in the head and neck, this would provide significant relief of neck and shoulder pains.

Heating large muscles can increase blood flow, relieve muscle spasm and muscle soreness. This will relieve inflammation and reduce pains.

5. Getting adequate sleep/rest

Sleeping is essential to overall health. Lack of sleep is a huge contributor to painful conditions, and poor sleep correlates strongly to high stress levels. While you might want to be at all the parties and every social event for the season, you may end up sacrificing sleep for pain and the trade-off might not be favourable. So, ensure you schedule adequate rest this season.

Enjoy the festivities, give love and enjoy the spirit of Christmas but also take care of yourself and loved ones. Have yourself a pain-free Christmas.

Kimberly Hoffman is a registered physical therapist at BodyForte Limited. She is also a member of the executive body for the Jamaica Physiotherapy Association.

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