The holidays are right around the corner. That means preparation for family gatherings, travel time, and gift shopping, in addition to your everyday activities. It’s no wonder so many people get stressed out this time of year! Stress can be a pain in the neck–and the back. When we are under stress, we tend to be more tense. Tensed muscles can cause pain. It’s often a vicious cycle–stress causes tension, which causes pain, which causes you to worry more, and so on.
There may not be a way to totally eliminate stress from your life, but you can take steps to manage it. Here are my tips to avoid stress-related back and neck pain.
1. Plan Ahead
Last-minute things do come up, but often you’ll know what needs to be done ahead of time. Time management is an important part of managing stress. Long before the holidays start, take the time to list out everything you know that needs to be done and plan out a schedule. Don’t pack your schedule too tight–you can’t expect everything to go exactly to plan, so plan for that ahead of time and leave some extra time on your schedule in case something takes longer than anticipated. If you do happen to get everything done on time, then that’s just extra relaxation time for you. By anticipating situations that may cause you stress and planning ahead, you may be able to reduce adverse effects, like chronic fatigue, which can lead to muscle and joint pain throughout the body, including the back. Physical and mental exertion makes chronic fatigue worse; managing your time effectively can help you to avoid spreading yourself too thin.
2. Get an Early Start
If you know there are certain things you’ll have to do this holiday season, start as early as you can. If you wait until the last minute, you’ll feel more rushed and anxious, which can lead to panic attacks, high blood pressure, a weakened immune system, and back pain, among other conditions. Make a list of the people you plan on buying for months ahead of time–you can always add to it later if you need to. Then, anytime you are shopping in the months before Christmas, try to pick up at least one gift. It will be less overwhelming if you start early, rather than waiting until the last few days before you need it done.
3. Break it Down
Taking on more than you can handle at one time won’t be good for your stress levels or your back. Often, you can take larger tasks and break them down into smaller tasks. You might not need to finish a large task all in one day. As mentioned above, you don’t have to do all of your gift shopping in one day. Getting one or two gifts at a time on normal shopping trips makes it easier to accomplish. Need to get the house ready for visiting family? Clean one room at a time over a few days, rather than rushing to clean the whole house all at once. Prioritize your smaller tasks by importance, and do those first, then move on to the less-important ones.
4. Take Time to Rest
When you’re planning out your activities, make sure to set aside some time for yourself. During the holidays, we’re often running around doing things for other people. While there’s nothing wrong with wanting to do things for other people–it’s great, in fact–you won’t be at your full capacity if you don’t take some time to recuperate. Do things that you find relaxing. Treat yourself to a massage to work out some tension in your back. Make sure that you are giving yourself enough time to sleep. Not only can a lack of sleep make your stress worse, it can also make your back pain worse. Your body needs rest to repair itself; if you aren’t getting enough, you are doing a disservice to yourself.
5. Eat Well and Stay Hydrated
Often, when we are busy and stressed, we forget to drink water and eat regular, healthy meals. Many people turn to “convenience” foods, which tend to be over-processed and have poor nutrition. Make sure you are giving yourself time to have regular, healthy meals. This will help to prevent weight gain as well, which can also make back pain worse. Also, make sure to drink plenty of water to stay hydrated. Dehydration affects the structures in the back, resulting in stiffness and soreness.
6. Try Activities That Promote Fitness and Relaxation
As I’ve discussed before, yoga is a great way to strengthen the core and promote spine health. It’s also a great way to promote relaxation. The slow, controlled breathing of yoga forces you to slow down and relax. If you’re not a fan of yoga, try going for a walk or a run. Do something active that takes you away from the stressful environment you’re in. Not only will you help yourself relax, you’ll help to keep your muscles strong and help control your weight, which will in turn help you to avoid back pain.
Don’t let the stress of the holiday season get so bad that you are physically affected by it. Follow these tips, and you should find that you are less tense, which will help with back pain.