Physiotherapist calls for a happier, healthier approach to Christmas

Physiotherapist and Owner of Bridgend physiotherapy, wellbeing  and sports injury clinic One2One, Rhian Davies, discusses why the stereotypical ‘perfect Christmas’ could be bad for your health.

I see more clients with stress-related musculoskeletal problems like neck, back, head and shoulder pain at this time of year.  We aspire to create the ‘perfect Christmas’ for our families – but who decides what’s perfect?

As a firm advocate of ‘whole-body’ wellbeing, I’m concerned we may be striving for the wrong kind of perfection.

Every Christmas, adverts, TV programmes and movies depict beautifully decorated trees with hordes of presents underneath. Picture-perfect families wearing matching Christmas jumpers tuck into a feast of turkey with all the trimmings on a decadent, laden table with Christmas crockery, gold cutlery and holly-decorated napkins.  Everyone is having a jolly good time and fun-filled laughter fills the air. Does anyone actually live like that?

Social media says we do.  From Elf Yourself to duckface selfies, we know the rules.  Look like Cheryl Cole, cook like Nigella Lawson and share pics of our impeccably dressed offspring and cleverly filtered food pics.  We don’t see the back pain from injuries sustained falling off ladders as we tried to fix the decorations, or the little burns we got from turning the must-be-perfect roasties. Even our trees have become competitive as grown-ups are racing to post the best dressed tree on Instagram.

Lose the filters and reality looks far more cynical.  TV and social media advertising has one goal – to make you want to shop – and that means creating a void.  If you feel depressed, fat, ugly, guilty, unfulfilled and a failure, in need of buying that ‘last present’, or a huge excess of food or drink ‘just in case’, congratulations!….You are the perfect customer.

We’re being nudged into a mass depression, one photoshopped selfie at a time.

Here’s some unsettling stats on stress from Forth:

Society needs a reality check – the stress of striving for Christmas perfection is an unnecessary assault on our minds and bodies.

Stress can exacerbate heart problems, respiratory conditions and digestive issues.  It can cause ongoing muscle tension, sore backs, headaches, migraines and neck pain and can increase the likelihood of acquiring a sports injury during excess physical exertion.

I’ve lost count of how many people come for a physiotherapy or acupuncture treatment in the New Year saying ‘I’m relieved Christmas is over for another year’.

As someone who works hard to promote overall health and wellbeing, I’d like to remind the world that we don’t have to wait until New Year to relax.  Here’s my tips to help you refocus and relax your mind now:

  1. If you can feel Christmas tension building, ask yourself, 6 months from now, will this matter? – if it won’t, why sweat the small stuff? Relax and put things in perspective. Maybe have a massage or acupuncture session to release muscle tension.
  2. Deep breathing calms your mind, releases muscle tension, lowers your heart rate and relaxes the nervous system. Take a mindfulness or yoga class and learn how to breathe properly.
  3. Sleep well and take time to relax. There’s no point making yourself unwell by not having enough rest and recuperation. Make sure your daily ‘to do’ list is realistic and achievable so you don’t forfeit your down time to get chores done. How many of these ‘chores’ are essential anyway?
  4. Eating and drinking well is vital for your mental and physical wellbeing. Instead of overindulging on processed food and alcohol, set aside time for preparing healthy and nutritious meals and hydrate your body properly. It’s good to drink water in between alcoholic beverages at your Christmas parties to avoid hangovers and feeling low the following day. Keep the focus on body nourishment and notice how great you feel and how much energy you have.  Plus you won’t need to lose those added few pounds in the New Year! See a nutritionist if you need guidance.
  5. Find a balance and stop the social competition. Spending quality time connecting with your loved ones is whats important not wasting time posting pics of your ‘perfect Christmas’. Put those phones and tablets away!
  6. Budget! Don’t spend money you haven’t got or the financial stress of Christmas will follow you well into the New Year. Remember, material things are not important, people are.
  7. Exercise is vital for both physical and mental health and is proven to ease symptoms of depression, anxiety and stress. Don’t just exercise in a gym, reconnect with nature – take a walk or bike ride outdoors and feel the wind on your face. Enjoy it!
  8. Stop feeling guilty. You don’t need to be perfect – just be you.  Your love and attention is the biggest gift you can offer.

I wish you all a truly happy and stress-free Christmas – see you in the New Year!