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Movement Strategies to Combat the Stress of Pandemics and Politics

I think we can all agree that 2020 has been far from a typical year. We continue to find ourselves in a state of uncertainty — and it’s causing people to live in a constant state of stress.  

Eight months ago, when this pandemic began, we saw a huge surge in back and neck pain coming into the office. At first, I knew it was due to people being stuck at home and off their routines. But now, and especially with the current political climate, I’m seeing a different and more prevalent kind of stress-induced pain in my office. It’s caused by the body’s natural “fight or flight” response and it’s taking a real physical toll. People feel it in their necks, backs, hips, and shoulders and are looking for help to get rid of it.

Why does this happen?

Fight or Flight is a natural (and important) stress response to anything your brain perceives as stressful or frightening. Back in the caveman days, this was essential to our survival. If you saw a lion, for example, and he looked hungry, you needed to be able to quickly get yourself out of danger. Fight or flight is your body’s way of doing just that. Your heart and respiratory rate increase, so that more blood and oxygen can be pumped toward your brain and muscles – where you need it most – so that you can quickly run and flee away from danger. Another consequence of fight or flight is tense, tight muscles. Your body does this to protect you from the threat. Our ancestors would only find themselves in this situation once in a while. The rest of the time, their bodies functioned normally and without this stressful response. 

Fast forward to our modern day lifestyles… our brains perceive threats and stressors differently.

Everything from a big presentation due at work to a difficult conversation with your boss, spouse, or kid’s teacher, to bad news flooding our newsfeeds and email every second of the day can activate this response. Add a pandemic and election cycle on top of all that, and we find ourselves living in a chronic state of fight or flight. And we are evolutionarily conditioned to look for ways to escape these situations to get “out of danger.” 

Even though fight or flight is natural and embedded deeply into our brains, it was meant to be life-saving and reserved for very specific situations – not all day every day. If your body never comes out of this, your muscles become chronically tight, resulting in constant pain and tension. Stretching and massage might help to temporarily relieve these symptoms, but they will come right back if you don’t learn to manage your fight or flight response for what it is. 

How do you manage and interrupt your fight or flight response?

One easy way is to breathe. This is one of the most practical ways to calm your nervous system by lowering your heart and respiratory rate. You can literally do this in 30 seconds starting the moment you feel any kind of tension or tightness in your body. The better you become at recognizing tension in your body ahead of time, the easier it will be to interrupt and stop your fight or flight response. Simple, deep breathing is a signal to your nervous system that you are safe – and that you don’t need to prepare to run or flee by tightening up all of your muscles.

Daily exercise is another easy way to combat stress.

When you’re in fight or flight, your body is preparing to either engage the threat or run from it. If you don’t do either of these things, your nervous system doesn’t know that you’re out of “danger.” Intentional movement and exercise solves this problem and helps to close the loop of your flight or flight response. With regular movement and exercise, you can help better regulate this response since it is so constant in our lives right now. Our exercise of choice is Pilates. It’s a particularly effective exercise system to combat fight or flight because it involves focused and controlled breathing and it works your whole entire body. And since we work with so many folks suffering from neck and back pain, we also love it because Pilates targets your core. Good core strength is one of the BEST ways to keep neck and back pain away.  

If you’re dealing with any kind of back, neck, knee, or shoulder pain that is keeping you from moving in a way that helps you to decrease stress – please reach out to us. And you’ll want to reach out sooner rather than later… because this month, we’re rolling out our annual Black Friday Sale! Once a year we offer new and existing clients an opportunity to get our BEST deals for the entire year on physical therapy sessions, private Pilates sessions, small-group Pilates classes (Zoom and In-Studio), and more. Just click here to get access to the Black Friday sale as soon as it launches on November 22nd!

How to NOT let Aches and Pains Ruin your New Year’s Goals

It’s that time of year, when we start looking ahead and setting goals for ourselves. It’s especially exciting now because we aren’t only entering a new year – but a new DECADE!

Exercising more and losing weight are the top New Year’s resolutions on everyone’s lists year after year. But what if you’re suffering from back or knee pain?  One of the worst things you can do is ignore pain and assume that by simply exercising more or losing weight, your ailments will just go away. It’s certainly a reasonable expectation, however, I typically see an influx of people calling my office right around March because these aches and pains have not only worsened — but derailed their New Year’s goals completely.

I don’t want to see that happen for you. So here are my top tips to NOT let aches and pains ruin your New Year’s goals:

1. Get assessed by an expert:

 

Your first thought might be to go see your doctor if you’re suffering from something like back or knee pain. But most medical doctors are trained to screen you for problems like broken bones or serious pathologies – not to actually assess your movement. You need to know how your pain behaves during everyday functional movements to truly fix it – and to avoid unnecessary procedures and surgery.  X-rays, MRI’s, or simply moving your limbs around on a treatment table won’t do that… but that is what a medical doctor is trained to do. A specialty physical therapy practice will be able to assess your movement in detail, through various movement tests, which will tell a much better story about how your pain may or may not impact the new exercise or weight loss program you’re about to start. Plus, we’ll be able to give you customized modifications so that you can embark on your new goal while decreasing your risk of injury.

2. Mobility before Stability:

This is a saying you hear me say all the time in my office. Your muscles won’t function at their best if you don’t have optimal joint mobility. In other words, you don’t want to strengthen around a stiff joint, or you’ll encourage compensation. Full and free mobility requires adequate flexibility in your joints as well as your muscles. Most people don’t think – or even know – how to assess their joint mobility. If you’re suffering from chronically stiff joints, you’ll want to get them checked before you start a new exercise program. I recommend seeing a movement expert, like those employed in our office, to make sure you’re ready and able to start on that new exercise program you’re so excited about!

3. Stay Hydrated:

Drinking lots of water has two great benefits. It will give you the extra hydration you need if you’re planning to be more active. And it will help you lose weight by curbing your appetite. Some additional benefits of staying hydrated include increased muscle strength and stamina, more lubrication in your joints, more supple skin, better cardiovascular function, and improved energy and mental alertness. One really easy tip to jumpstart your day and improve your daily hydration intake is to begin with 10 oz of water first thing upon waking. Add a squeeze of lemon for extra vitamin C and supported weight loss.

4. Pace yourself:

It’s very appealing and motivating to go “all in” on your new exercise or weight loss goal and 10x it… and I applaud you for it. But remember, you have 12 months, and really, the rest of your life to accomplish your goal in any way that you see fit. In other words, take pleasure and pat yourself on the back for simply setting a goal. That’s a first step that many don’t even get to. Be proud of yourself for setting an intention and envisioning a better quality of life. To give yourself the best odds of staying on that path, I encourage you to listen to your body and take your time in acclimating to a new exercise program. Don’t fight your body if it’s talking to you.  Our bodies talk to us for a reason. If you need help figuring out what your body is trying to say to you – click here to schedule a FREE Discovery Session with us in Portsmouth. We’re happy to translate for you!

Happy New Year – and Happy New Decade! 

Setting Goals for the New Year? We can help!

A new decade is on the horizon, and so are new health and wellness goals for many of us!

Are you already discussing resolutions or considering ways to make 2020 your best yet? The new year is a great opportunity to form new habits that will help us become our healthiest, happiest selves. Setting detailed goals is a constructive way to approach the 2020’s that can help you feel more motivated and hopeful about the future.

The idea of New Year’s resolutions is great, but most people only stick to them for a couple weeks.

Resolutions are so often left unfulfilled in part because they’re usually pretty general statements that are made without much forethought, intention, or planning. At some point we’ve probably all resolved to “get healthy” or “eat more vegetables” or “spend less money.” All worthy ideas, but can you see why people don’t follow through?! There’s WAY too much wiggle room, and nowhere near enough specificity. That’s why oftentimes, setting goals with distinct processes will help you accomplish much more than a run-of-the-mill resolution.

There are two essential factors in goal setting. First, the goal must be attainable. Secondly, you must define concrete steps that you intend to take towards reaching that goal.

Most of us want to be healthier, but what does that actually look like? One person’s journey to becoming healthy could be totally different from another’s. These goals can be made in conjunction with a health professional such as a physical therapist, especially if they relate to mobility, strength, and physical activity. Many of us have intended to “exercise more,” but those two words rarely yield results. A more effective goal might be to enroll in a Pilates class, take a half hour walk outside five days a week, drink the recommended 64 ounces of water each day, or to do ten minutes of stretching every morning after getting out of bed.

A group program such as Pilates can be especially helpful because it gives you a sense of accountability and camaraderie. In fact, our signature Pilates 101 program is relaunching in January, and we are so excited about it! Pilates 101: Get [Your] Back to Health is a one-of-a-kind 8-week program that delivers safe, yet highly effective Pilates-based core strengthening exercises that are easy on the joints, designed to lessen back pain, and help improve your flexibility and posture.

If you can track, schedule, or measure the steps of your goal, you’ll know when you’re making progress. If those steps happen alongside people who share similar goals and under the direction of a movement expert who can support you for two whole months — even better!

So, let’s finish off this decade strong — and don’t miss out on Pilates 101! These spots go fast, so apply now to make sure you don’t miss your chance.