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How to Handle Holiday Stress

By Dr. Brooke Meinema PT, DPT, FAFS

With the holiday season upon us, many people report an increase in stress and tension. We often hear about people holding their tension in their shoulders/neck, clenching their jaw, and one lesser known area women especially may hold their tension is in their pelvic floors. Rule of thumb: if you notice you are clenching your jaw, you are likely clenching your pelvic floor musculature as well, which can lead to an increase in pelvic floor dysfunction, leakage, and pain. Even if you do not have pelvic floor tension, it is still a good time to work on stress and tension alleviation approaches.

The first step is recognizing how you are feeling and what ways this is manifesting in you. If you are someone who experiences an increase in muscle tension, assess where your body is holding tension. This can help you focus on stretching and opening up those areas of your body. If you experience a general state of tension or feelings of anxiety, working on deep breathing and meditation can be a great help. And lastly, if you are experiencing a much deeper form of anxiety, depression, or general unease, reach out for help; this can be to a friend, family member, or medical professional. There is enough to focus on this season without feeling you are losing yourself.

Focusing on your breathing can be a good place to start. Using breath work can be a helpful first step. Deep, slow breathing stimulates the vagus nerve, which can help get you out of the fight/flight/freeze state. Starting in a comfortable position, I like starting on my back with my feet elevated (as pictured or with something supportive under your knees). We’ll focus on different areas to allow you breath to travel.

  1. Starting with upper chest breathing. Place your hands on the upper part of your chest and feel the chest move up and down. Take several gentle breaths feeling the air move.
  2. Next, outer rib breathing. Place your hands on the outside of your ribs and feel the ribs move out to the side.
  3. Many people have heard of belly breathing. Have your hands placed on your belly and feel the rise and expansion with each breath.
  4. A little trickier, especially for those with low back tension, is breathing in to your low back. Having your hands under your back (if your shoulders do not allow this, just focus on the pressure of your back on the floor). When you take a deep breath, feel your back move into your hands/the floor.
  5. Lastly, breathing into your pelvic floor. Each breath should allow the pelvic floor a bit of pressure and expansion through the pelvic floor.

When performing this breath work, do not take so many deep breaths you make yourself light headed. Try and use gentle breathing and deep breathing as comfortable.

As I mentioned, this can be a nice place to start, but if you are experiencing higher levels of depression or anxiety, please do not suffer in silence. Allow yourself grace and address this with the help you deserve.

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