The holidays are a time of excitement and energy. A time to catch up with family and friends. A time to relax and unwind. Late nights watching your favorite holiday movies around the fire.
Along with those late nights and family excursions back pain can try to sneak in and ruin your plans. With that in mind, we have put together 6 health holiday habits to prevent low back pain before it starts and tries to ruin your holiday vibe.
1. Find time to exercise
The benefits of exercise for managing low back pain are incredible. Study after study has shown us that movement really can be medicine and that when we exercise we not only allow blood and nutrients to flow to the affected muscles but we also keep our muscles flexible and supple.
Unfortunately, the holidays are also a very demanding time and we often find ourselves busier than ever. Shopping for presents. Wrapping presents. Baking. Cooking. Traveling. So many things clamor for our attention and exercise can often become an afterthought and something that we quickly forget about.
2. Get enough sleep
Staying up late catching up with family members. Binge watching Hallmark movies way past your bedtime. Last minute present wrapping frenzies. These are all things that try to sabotage our sleep schedule over the holidays. Maybe you are lying in bed worrying about what gifts you need to buy for people. Perhaps you are worrying about if you can even afford gifts this holiday season. No matter what the reason, so many things can get in the way of a good night’s sleep which is bad news for back pain.
When we sleep we give our bodies time to rest and to heal. Once our heads hit the pillow and we fall into a deep sleep our brains trigger the release of hormones that encourage tissue growth to repair our blood vessels. These hormones help to restore sore and damaged muscles, like back pain muscles.
3. Stay calm
As much as we can't wait for the holidays and the excitement that they bring, statistics have shown that they can be super stressful. 69% of people feel like they don’t have enough time during the holidays. Almost 70% worry that they don’t have enough money over the holidays and almost 40% of people feel that their stress levels rise during this time.
Stress not only affects our mood, but it can also have real effects on our physical health. When we are feeling stressed our muscles tend to tense up leaving them stiff and prone to injury. Research has found that feelings of stress can actually cause musculoskeletal pain like lower back pain.
Taking a few minutes each day to practice some deep breathing, or even better, trying a 5 or 10 minute meditation can help get your day off to a great start. YouTube has thousands of meditations with different themes that you can try, from positive affirmations for a great day, to anxiety relieving sessions. They are great for those just getting started with the practice of meditation.
Once you start, you will probably end up looking forward to those few sacred moments of "me time" each day and you should start to feel the benefits in your back, too!
4. Stick to your routine
Sticking to an exercise routine during the holidays is crucial to maintain your health and flexibility. But it can be incredibly hard sometimes to stick to your workout program when there are so many other things that it seems like you need to do. Willpower often only gets you so far.
Studies have shown that, especially for particularly difficult or challenging tasks, willpower gets depleted quickly. This means that if working out is hard for you, it can also be hard to find the willpower to do it.
The Power Of Habit Stacking
What can do you about it? Well, experts suggest that when your willpower wanes, you should try and find some other intrinsic motivation, or you could do a thing called “habit stacking”.
Habit stacking is the practice of stacking a new behavior or “habit” onto a current behavior or habit in order to help you remember to do it. This creates a more automatic response and relies more on habit than on willpower which we have a somewhat limited supply of.
How To Habit Stack
The best way to habit stack is to tie a new behavior to an old one. For example, when trying to remember to do your low back pain stretches, make sure you do them right after (or before) brushing your teeth before bed. You are already in the habit of brushing your teeth so maybe putting a reminder about stretching (like a stretch band or something small) by your toothbrush can help you remember to stretch when you wake up and before you go to sleep.
Habit Stacking During The Holidays
How can do you this with guests or during the busy holiday season? Well, taking 5 minutes to stretch and do deep breathing when you brush your teeth is a quick and easy habit to keep and it won’t interfere with some of your other activities. Guests won’t notice if you are gone for 5 minutes or 10 minutes.
You could also try inviting family members on your daily walk, if that is something that you do. Turning it into a social event can have huge benefits for the whole family in terms of getting outdoors and doing something active. It can also help prevent cabin fever ;)
5. Stay Hydrated
Hydration is another really important part of preventing low back pain. When we are dehydrated the cushiony disks between our vertebrae become less spongy and they can’t absorb the shocks from our daily activities as easily. This can lead to wear and tear on our disks which can ultimately lead to pain and potential degeneration.
Making water fun and seasonal can help. Adding some cranberries to your water for a tart flavoring, or maybe some orange slices can make your water feel a bit more festive. You could also go all out and buy one of those big water bottles that encourage you to drink more water by tracking your progress at certain points during the day. Another idea is to make your own water bottle by taking a plain one and putting some fun Christmas stickers at certain intervals to help inspire your hydration journey.
6. Make Time For Family
Depression. Stress. Isolation. These are all factors that can have significant negative effects on our lower backs. Studies have found that psychological stress can actually increase your chances of having lower back pain. One Korean study actually discovered that severe stress was associated with an almost 3x increase in the risk of chronic low back pain compared to the general population.
The surgeon general, General Vivek Murthy, MD. has been studying the loneliness epidemic that he feels has taken the US by storm. According to his research on the topic it is believed that loneliness can actually shorten your life by up to 15 years. That’s the equivalent of smoking up to 15 cigarettes per day!
So, how can you handle loneliness during the holidays?
Be present. So often we are thinking of the next thing on our To Do list, or the next place we need to visit that we don’t enjoy what we are doing in the present, or who we are doing things with. Taking time to relax and soak in this time with friends or family is key.
Volunteer. Perhaps you are new to a city or a country. Maybe you don’t have any family. Volunteering is a great way to get some feel good hormones going in your body and it is a great way to connect with people in meaningful ways. Not only will you meet the people you are helping, but you stand a good chance of meeting and connecting with other volunteers as well. Check local listings to see what volunteer options are available in your area.
The holidays are a wonderful time of year and with just a few intentional tweaks you can make the most out of these moments and help prevent the stress that can lead to low back pain. So many people find that low back pain prevents them from doing the things they love with the people that matter the most to them. Hopefully sticking to these healthy holiday habits will help you stay on top of things and live your life to its fullest!