Last week, my husband and I toted our 2 daughters to the clinic, and put up a Christmas tree, lights, a menora and a beautiful locally made wreath. We did the same to our house the week before, plus added the lights outside, stockings by the chimney, as well as the santa and snowmen collections (We’re BIG Christmas people– totally unabashedly Christmas obsessed!). Last night, we put those same little girls in the car with travel mugs of hot cocoa, and drove to a local lights show. And really, this is just the beginning of our holiday festivities.
Again, I love Christmas. But as you just saw above, holidays (like Thanksgiving, Chanukah, Christmas, or whatever you celebrate!) can lead to big changes in our day-to-day routine. These changes can bring us joy (or stress!), but can create major difficulties for people dealing with pelvic floor problems, like pain and constipation.
Why do holiday flares happen?
There are lots of reasons why the holidays can create unique challenges for people.
I don’t have to tell you that for many people, the holidays are extremely stressful! Changes in routine, combined with added pressures (often placed by ourselves!), events, and financial difficulties can lead to lots of overwhelming feelings. This paired with spending time with family you may not see often (but hey, it’s a pandemic year, so we really shouldn’t be doing that– right?), can lead to people feeling incredibly stressed and overwhelmed. The pelvic floor muscles are known to be threat responders, so this can lead them to overactivate to guard and protect you against all of the stress. The challenge here is that protective pelvic floor muscles can often worsen symptoms like constipation, pelvic and lumbar pain, and incontinence.
Turkey? Stuffing? Mashed Potatoes? Christmas Cookies? Pies? All the wine? I don’t know about you, but my holiday eating and my normal eating are quite different. This leads to us often getting less fresh fruits, veggies and natural fiber in our diets, and often getting way less fluid too. These dietary changes can make us more likely to develop constipation, and if you’ve worked with me, you know that constipation makes alllllll pelvic problems worse! Our habits can also lead to dehydration, as we exchange water for holiday drinks, and scurry around forgetting to get our fluid in.
For many of my patients, they’ve made progress by building habits that support healthy pelvic function. So, this may be an exercise routine they do in the mornings or at the end of the day. It could be taking a warm bath a few times per week with self-treatment. Perhaps it is doing a guided meditation before bed to relax their body. Perhaps it is something else entirely. But regardless, it can be really hard to keep these routines up over the holidays. This leads us to removing some of our self-care from our schedule, and without it, some of our symptoms can start to creep back up.
So, how can you make it through the holidays without worsening pelvic health problems? Well, I’ve got you my friend! Try these 5 tips!
Tip #1: Simplify your holidays
I get it, remember– BIG Christmas person! I’m not telling you to remove your traditions, and stop the things you love. But, I am encouraging you to prioritize what is important to you, and to remove pressures for what you think “should” be happening. Look at your schedule, your calendar, your family, and determine what naturally fits in. And if something doesn’t, gently let it go this year. Prioritize joy, family, and quality-time, and remove any pressures and obligations that you have placed on yourself.
Tip #2: Plan for healthy eating & hydration
I’m never going to tell you not to enjoy those delicious holiday meals, all the yummy pies and cookies, or the celebratory drinks. But, what I’m going to encourage you to do is to plan your day to make sure you’re also eating fresh fruits and veggies, getting adequate fiber, and getting adequate fluid. For many people, this means keeping one or two meals consistent during the day. So, for example, you might choose to have a salad for lunch, and keep yourself hydrated prior to having that turkey dinner that night. You may start your day with oatmeal and fresh berries, knowing that you have a big family lunch coming a little later. For bowel problems, this is especially helpful, as your colon LOVES consistency!
Tip #3: Create a daily stress-reducing routine
Stress can be one of the reasons symptoms tend to flare over the holidays, so I encourage people to be proactive in managing this! Some of my favorite stress-reducing routines include: warm baths with scented candles, guided meditations/relaxation, alone time with a cup of warm tea and journaling, yoga or tai chi, listening to binaural beats while you practice breathing exercises, and gratitude journals. Take some time to think about what feels relaxing and stress-reducing to you, then try to build that in to your day.
Tip #4: Prioritize your self-care
This one is hard as schedules get busy. But, as you plan your days and weeks leading up to the holidays, keep yourself in the equation. Think about the key pieces that are helping you right now, and make sure these stay in your schedule. This can mean keeping up with your exercise routine from your pelvic PT (ahem ;-)), making time to go outside for a walk or a job, waking up a little early to hop on your bike, or whatever it means for you. It’s really easy to let self-care go (believe me… I know), but when we do this, it hurts us and everyone around us. Being our best self means caring for ourselves. See this post on “Prioritizing Self-Care”
Tip #5: Treat flares with compassion
Despite trying these things (or not trying them), you may have a flare. Your symptoms may worsen. You may have increased pain or feel like you can’t poop. And I know it’s easy to go down the rabbit hole of despair. It’s easy to catastrophize, thinking things like, “I’m never going to get better!” “My body can’t even handle Christmas, I’m going to deal with this for the rest of my life.” “I’m headed for surgery…it’s just inevitable!” You get it. Maybe your brain has told you these stories. But, hear me when I say that while flares can feel incredibly overwhelming, they are just flares. So, take a slow, long breath, and let it go. See your flare for what it is– a flare. Recognize what likely caused it (oh yes, I haven’t been doing my exercises, and Aunt Betty was super stressful this year, and I don’t think I drank water for 3-days straight!), then gently make a plan to move forward. It may mean calling your pelvic PT to get an appointment, then jumping on your self-care plan, making some time for breathing and quietting your system, and taking some time for yourself away from Aunt Betty. Build your plan, and start taking steps in the right direction. You will get through this!
While the holidays can create challenges, there is so much beauty to our celebrations! I hope you and your family have a lovely, peaceful and joy-filled holiday season!