Does the thought of another holiday season fill you with joyful anticipation or overwhelm you with dread and anxiety? For most people, the holidays are a little bit stressful. And for those who are already struggling day-to-day with chronic pain or fibromyalgia, the added holiday stresses can actually trigger a flare of pain symptoms. “While you may not be able to totally avoid stress, you can reduce your stress levels and your odds of painful episodes by following a few simple rules,” says Jacob Teitelbaum, MD, chronic pain expert and author of The Fatigue and Fibromyalgia Solution (Avery Penguin 2013).
Dr. Teitelbaum recommends 4 cornerstones: 1) a healthy diet, 2) restful sleep, 3) exercise and physical activities, as you’re able, and 4) spending time with the people who make you feel good. Here are a few more Rx’s from Dr. T that will make you feel thankful:
EAT FRESH: Healthful eating begins with lots of whole grains, fresh fruits (whole fruits, not juices) and fresh vegetables. Many raw vegetables have enzymes that actually boost energy levels.
NOBODY’S PERFECT: Don’t shoot for perfection because it’s nearly impossible to resist those holiday cookies, cakes and pies! It’s better to maintain a diet that’s reasonably healthy and low in added sugar. “Start out by cutting out sugary drinks,” says Dr. Teitelbaum, “and if possible substitute sugar-free chocolate, and sodas sweetened with Stevia and sugar-free cocoa.”
EFAs REDUCE INFLAMMATION: He also recommends including foods with essential fatty acids, including three to four servings of fatty fish per week – salmon, tuna or sardines (fried fish doesn’t count).
ZZZZZ: Proper sleep is even more important during the holidays when schedules go into overdrive and getting eight hours of zzz’s per night is wishful thinking. You may find that travel, additional financial and social obligations can all lead to restlessness, and sometimes, full blown insomnia. “The first step,” says Dr. Teitelbaum, “is to realize that you will never get it all done, no matter how fast you run.”
QUICK TIPS…Prioritizing your to-do list and scratching off the things that aren’t really essential and don’t feel good. Consuming little or no alcohol right before bed, even if you do overindulge a bit at the office party. No caffeine after 4:00 pm (everyone knows that one!). Keepyour cool by keeping the bedroom at a comfortably cool temperature. CHILL!!!! Don’t lie in bed worrying and ruminating; rather get up and write down what’s on your mind, then set it aside and go back to bed. Whatever the concern, it will be there when you wake up but you’ll find better ways to cope when you’re rested and fresh.
MOVE YOUR BOOTY: Exercise is easy to avoid during the colder months, when putting on extra layers can be a pain. Bottom line: exercise is a proven stress-reducer and, in moderation, this can lead to less pain. Always choose an activity that you enjoy or you won’t stick with it. Light exercise, like walking, is a good way to begin. “Walk to the degree that you feel ‘good tired’ afterward,” says Dr. Teitelbaum. “Increase your time incrementally and when you get to the point that leaves you feeling worse the next day, cut back to a comfortable level.” Investing in a pedometer and walking with friends will help you maintain your regimen while monitoring your progress. When it’s cold outside, wear long woolen underwear to avoid muscle spasms and also make sure to put on a hat and scarf.
PROTECT YOURSELF: Spend time celebrating with the people who enrich your life and make you laugh. Oddly, this can be difficult when social demands pull you in all directions and make you “should on yourself.” It’s OK to say N-O says Dr. Teitelbaum, and learning how to use this wonderful word can liberate you. “In general, I suggest you decide to say yes or no based on how you feel, more than based on a sense of guilt,” he advises.” So if going to Aunt Agnes’s Ugly Holiday Sweater Party makes you feel awful every year, politely bow out, stay home and plug in your favorite holiday classics with the ones you love to be with!