Finding Calm In The Chaos: Preventing Back Pain Flare Ups During The Holidays

It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. It was holiday time. The holidays are what many of us live for. The chance to see family. Relax. Spend time with loved ones. Eat amazing food and take lots of naps. Sounds too good to be true? You might be right!


Family having fun at Christmas


Holiday Statistics On Stress


As much as we can’t wait for the holidays and the excitement that they bring, statistics show that the holidays can be a super stressful time for many of us. Here are some stressful holiday statistics:


  • 69% of people feel that they have a “lack of time” over the holiday season.

  • 69% of people feel like they have a “lack of money”

  • 51% feel pressured to “give or get gifts”

  • 38% of people feel that their stress levels increase over the holidays

  • 77% of people have a hard time relaxing over the holidays

  • 29% of people are stressed about “putting up decorations”

  • 35% of people are stressed about family gatherings.

  • 35% of people are stressed about working out where to spend the holidays

  • 31% of people are stressed about how much money to spend on gifts.



51% of people feel stressed about getting or giving gifts at Christmas.



While we often have these Hallmark movies playing in our heads about how the holidays are going to be, unfortunately the holidays can sometimes be more like a comedy of errors than a romantic one. Research shows that the average couple will have 7 arguments over the holiday season which comes as no surprise when we see that celebrating the holidays makes 88% of people say that they feel stressed. Where to spend the holidays and how much to spend on gifts are two of the most contentious issues facing couples over the holiday season.


The reality is that the holidays can be far from harmonious and happy. For many people there are situations that can be triggered at every turn. For those struggling with depression, grief, anxiety, eating disorders, PTSD, or any other mental illness, the holidays can be extremely challenging. Family gatherings, an emphasis on food, the pressure to create the perfect holiday or to be happy after the loss of a loved one can be overwhelming.



For people struggling with grief and depression the holidays can be tough.


Holiday Stress and Your Back


While the holidays can wreak havoc on your mental health, they can also have a big impact on your physical health. From a physical perspective, hours spent standing in endless shopping lines trying to get the best deals or find the perfect present can take a toll on your lower back. Long nights spent sitting on the floor wrapping gifts can be brutal for your back. Some find themselves on not super supportive sleeper couches while staying at relatives' homes or crushed into coach class airline seats for long periods of time. Then there is the obvious - injuries related to hanging holiday decorations and many hazardous high ladder falls.



Decorating for the holidays can be dangerous and can be a major cause of low back pain.


Stress itself can also take a toll on your physical health. When our bodies are stressed our muscles tend to tense up. This is our bodies’ natural reaction to stress. This is helpful for acute situations but when we are facing chronic stress over the extended holiday period our muscles don’t get the chance to relax and they stay in a constant state of tension. Stress has been shown to cause musculoskeletal pain in the lower back.



When our bodies are stressed our muscles tend to tense up. This can cause low back pain.


Studies On Stress And Low Back Pain


One study, conducted on 8,473 people in Korea found that increasing levels of “stress showed a significant positive association with chronic low back pain. Severe stress was associated with a 2.8 fold increase in risk of chronic low back pain compared to the general population.”


Another study conducted in Denmark in 2020, found that moderate and high stress at baseline increased the odds of having low back pain in almost 2000 study participants. The researchers in this study concluded that psychological stress increased the odds of low back pain in the healthcare workers that were studied, and recommended that strategies be implemented to help lower stress and prevent musculoskeletal disorders in this population.



High stress has been shown to increase your odds of having low back pain.


The importance of using relaxation, and other stress-relieving techniques and therapies to reduce muscle tension cannot be emphasized enough. Activities such as mindfulness and meditation have been shown to decrease the incidence of stress-related disorders like low back pain and headaches. Not only can they help relieve pain but they can also improve mood and mobility.


A study that was funded by the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) found that “mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR) and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) may prove to be more effective than traditional treatment in alleviating chronic low back pain”.



Maintaining your mental health and engaging in self-care is a crucial part of holiday preparations.


What Can You Do To Help Prepare For The Holidays


While we could all do with prepping ourselves mentally and emotionally for the holidays, those who suffer from low back pain or depression and anxiety should definitely have some tools that they can implement when things start to feel like they are getting a bit out of control. Maintaining your mental health and engaging in self-care is a crucial part of holiday preparations and can make a big difference to how much enjoyment you get out of the season.



Over spending during the holidays can be a major cause of stress.


Tips For Managing Stress During The Holidays


It is easy to get carried away with all that Christmas cheer, until you get your credit card bill in January. While the holidays only come once a year it is important to set budgets, and realistic goals so that you aren’t left disappointed or with a financial “hangover” in the new year. Here are some of our tips for getting through the holidays season with less stress.





Set Realistic Expectations


Your holiday doesn’t have to look like the movies. While Kevin’s parents (Home Alone Movie) could afford to live in a huge house in Chicago (we could just stop right there!) and pay for at least 7 plane tickets to Paris in December, the reality is that most of us can’t even dream about doing something like that. Decide on what is important and realistic for your family and know that being together and making memories doesn’t have to cost a fortune.


Making memories doesn't have to cost a fortune - set a christmas budget and stick to it.


Make A Budget


In 2020 the average American household planned to spend around $1,000 on holiday gifts. With rising inflation, increasing energy costs and job uncertainty this is not realistic for many families. Set a realistic budget for your family this holiday season and get creative finding gifts that fit the budget but that are still meaningful.


Perhaps you could chip in with other family members for big ticket items or give money towards a larger item, and help teach your children about savings goals and working towards bigger presents. One thing we have found is that it is generally best to leave yourself a little wiggle room in your budget and maybe spend a bit less on something else if there is a more expensive gift that you just have to buy for someone.



Online shopping can save you time, money, and stress over the holidays and can help prevent low back pain.


Shop Online


Online shopping is a great way to help save money over the holidays. Not only can you see the total in your shopping basket before you have stood in an hour long line, making it almost impossible to want to put anything back, but you can also shop around for the best deals without even leaving your couch!


Comparing deals from different stores online means you save gas and time and you can wait for other things to go on sale, or look for coupons associated with them. Many stores will offer free shipping so you don’t have to stand in line and pay extra at the post office for friends and family who live further away. Amazon even offers financial incentives for those who can wait a little longer for their orders to be delivered so get in early and make some money!


Reduce stress by going Christmas shopping at less busy times during the holiday season.


Find The Best Time To Shop


If you do have to go to the mall, weekdays and weeknights are often much quieter than the weekends. Park further away and you can get in a little exercise while you do your errands. Going after meal times will also help you feel less tempted to hit the food court for an extra snack and save you a little more money.



Mindfulness is a great way to beat stress and back pain through the holidays.


Practice Mindfulness


Staying calm and mindful during shopping can make a big difference to how you feel afterwards. Mindfulness can be practiced anywhere, anytime during the holidays. Find a quiet room or even a closet for a quick moment of peace and deep breathing. Go for a quick walk around the block wherever the holidays find you. Not only will connecting with nature help you feel a little calmer and more peaceful, but it is good exercise, too!


Download some meditation apps to do a quick body scan before bed or when you wake up in the morning can make a big difference to how you feel about the day. There are lots of free options on YouTube with various lengths. You can do a 1 minute meditation if that is all you have or a 10 minute bed time body scan for a good night’s rest. The choice is up to you. It doesn’t have to be complicated.





Be Kind To Yourself


Some relatives are impossible to please so all you can do is try your best and be kind to yourself. No one will know if you had a particular dish that didn’t work out. No one will care if your cranberry sauce isn’t home made. Hopefully what they care about is spending time with you and being thankful for each other. It has been quite a year or so. This holiday season practicing grace for others and for yourself is one of the best gifts you can give!





Conclusions

The holidays are about presence, not presents. Find new traditions that don’t cost money. Find ways to actually spend time together that doesn’t necessarily involve hours at the mall. A family walk and picnic in a park, roasting marshmallows outside, watching the stars, these are all ways that you can connect with nature, connect with each other, and connect with yourself that don’t cost money. Memories are the best gifts you can give. Hopefully your family will be thankful for you and for your efforts and not just expect the latest, greatest gadget that will be soon replaced by the next thing.

Don't forget to take care of yourself over the holidays to help reduce stress and prevent low back pain.

And while we are thinking about the spirit of giving, don’t forget to give yourself the gift of self care. Taking care of your mental health during the holidays will not only benefit you and your low back, but it will help you to be more present with loved ones. Self care is not selfish. It is the best gift you can give to you and your family.


Happy holidays!