8 Tips for Self-Care During the Holiday Season

The holidays are upon us, whether we’re ready for it or not. With the uptick of events and obligations during the next two months, it’s important to remember to loop in self-care even in the midst of family dinners, travels, deadlines, shopping and everything else that makes the season merry and bright. 

If massage is one of your sanity savers, be sure to get a session scheduled. And while massage therapy can have benefits that last days or weeks at a time, that doesn’t mean you can neglect your body every day in between appointments. To help the effects of your massage last longer and simply to feel better, you’ll need to practice some self-care, which is no easy trick during this busy time of year.

So here are 7 easy self-care tips you can start using today to get you through the holidays until your next massage appointment.

#1: Take breaks

Whether you’re working at a desk all day, standing in one spot, or doing hard manual labor, your body needs a break. Ideally, you’d want to take about 10 minutes for every hour of work, but I know not every work environment accommodates that sort of schedule, so take a break as often as possible. And I mean a real break. Don’t grab lunch at your desk while you keep working, or go from a computer screen to your phone screen scrolling through social media. A real break, one that’s going to benefit your body and mind, is one in which you do the opposite of your work. So if you sit at a desk all day, take a break by going outside for a 10 minute walk on nice days, or at least walk around the office and chat with coworkers about things that aren’t work related. If your job is more physically assertive, take a break by sitting back, kicking up your feet and closing your eyes for a few minutes. Whatever it is you do, give your mind and body a true rest from those tasks, or you won’t feel like you’ve had a break at all.

#2: Stretch

During that break, or even while you’re working, move your body and stretch! Focus on the areas that tend to bother you at the end of the day, even if they’re not hurting right at the moment. Incorporating some small stretches throughout the day will often prevent that pain you may be feeling by the time you’re ready to clock out.

#3: Self-Massage

Back massagers, foot baths, Thera Canes, and more…while there’s all kinds of specific tools designed to help you reach those hard to massage areas, a tennis ball can be just as good. You can use it for just about any area with only your bodyweight as leverage to get pressure. For example, try lying on your back on the floor, with the tennis ball placed under your back (if this is too much pressure, try leaning against a wall instead). You can use your feet to rock yourself left and right, up and down, letting the ball find different areas of tension. When you find a good spot, try to relax and breathe into it until that tension melts away.

While these tools don’t replace the skilled hands of a trained massage therapist, they can help to relieve the daily tension that can build up between appointments.

#4: Get Outside

Fresh air does a body good, and this is actually backed up by science. Research suggests that spending time outdoors helps you to clear your mind, improve your focus, and just feel happier. So whether it’s taking a break during work or making a day of it on a weekend, spend time outdoors.

#5: Meditate / Breathe

Meditation has been shown time and again to help reduce stress and ease tension in the body, but I know it seems like a daunting task for many. Meditation isn’t just about clearing your mind completely (that’s impossible for most of us), but is instead about focusing your mind on something. Some prefer guided meditation to keep them focused, and others enjoy just some quiet time breathing. Find what works for you. There’s no right or wrong about it. To start, try taking just 5 minutes somewhere quiet to breathe. Close your eyes and focus your attention on your body. What sensations do you feel? Focus on slowly relaxing each and every muscle from the top of your head all the way down to your toes. Making even a short exercise like this a normal part of your daily activities not only helps you relax, but it builds your body awareness – your ability to perceive where you are in space, and to recognize the sensations of your own body. This can, in turn help you recognize when your body is close to injury and prevent you from pushing too hard, or help you to isolate a problem area you may need work on.

#6: Turn up the music

Music is good for the soul and can help to take your mind off daily stresses. Studies have shown that playing music causes dopamine, a feel-good chemical, to be released into the brain. This is the same chemical that’s released when we eat chocolate and fall in love. It’s pretty powerful stuff! So while you’re driving to and from work, crank up the tunes and rock out. If you can’t stand the music they play at work (if any), bring your own and put in some headphones. It’ll help you to concentrate and feel good all day.

#7: Get plenty of sleep

Sleep is absolutely crucial to keeping your body in tip-top shape. If your sleep is suffering, everything else will suffer as well. Most adults need a minimum of 7 hours of sleep a night, but many people are far below that. Everyone’s needs are different, so you may be perfectly fine with less than that, or you may need more. The best way to determine this is to go without an alarm clock for at least 1 week and go to bed at the same time every night. This allows your body to fall into a rhythm of what it really needs instead of what it’s been forced to do for so long. You’ll soon see just how much sleep your body requires when you allow it to wake naturally.

And no, sleeping in on the weekends doesn’t make up for a week of lost sleep. Sleep deprivation (those who get less than the recommended 7 hours) can result in a higher risk of cardiovascular disease and a decreased immune system. Not to mention the smaller side effects like loss of concentration, decreased productivity, and irritability. So if you want to feel good throughout your time between massage appointments, make sure you’re getting enough sleep. 

#8: Get Important Self-Care Events on Your Calendar

Make the appointment. Whether it’s a hair appointment, workout, drinks with friend, a massage, or that much needed outdoors time we talked about in #5. Just make the call, text, go online or do whatever you need to do to get the appointment on your books — even if it’s weeks in advance (especially if it’s weeks in advance!). From there you can build your calendar around that date and know that among all of the things you need need to take care of, you’ve already made a plan to take care of yourself. 

Special Announcement: New Location Opening in Hillsboro Village

An incredible opportunity popped into my inbox last month. Emily Pardy with Ready Nest Counseling hatched a plan to expand their counseling services group and she wanted to offer bodywork as an option. I jumped at the chance. Now a few weeks later, this plan is about to go into action. 

What does this mean for you? 
If you’re already a client, this simply means you have two location options. As always, feel free to book online at RestorativeMassageNashville.com or text me at 615-429-5851. If you book online, simply select your location of choice when scheduling your appointment. You do not have to use the counseling services to book at this new location. If you have any troubles booking, just text or call me.

Where’s the new place?

The new location is in the old convent at Saint Bernard Academy. Parking is plentiful. Our suite of offices is on the 4th floor near the elevator and bathrooms (primo location,right??). You’ll receive parking details via email and text with your booking confirmation.

Will the Valleywood Drive location still be open? 
Yes. I will keep options open for Tuesday & Thursday mornings/evenings and one Saturday a month open for clients who prefer the Valleywood Drive. The booking system won’t allow me to offer Tuesday/Thursday morning hours at two locations, so always call or text me and I can work you in. I love my Valleywood Drive clients and want to keep this location available for you!

What are hours at the new location?
Tuesday, Thursday & Friday 10:00 am – 3:00 pm.

What about rates? 
Rates will remain the same at Valleywood Drive, but on average sessions will be about $15-20 higher at the Hillsboro Village. Rates at both locations are inclusive and gratuity is not accepted.

Who else will be in this suite of offices? 
Great question. Ready Nest Counseling supports families through all stages of pregnancy, postpartum, infertility and infant loss. PsycheMed specializes in medication management as a piece of the healing journey to provide holistic, person-centered care.

Amy, who’s this Susan person and why does she show up on the new booking site? 
I am very excited to be sharing this new space with Susan Richter, LMT. She is an independent massage therapist and incredibly talented. She will be focusing on prenatal and postpartum work among other areas. She will be on the schedule Saturdays and Mondays. Feel free to book with her anytime!

I’m sure there will be some bumps in the road with this transition, so bear with me as we work out any kinks. As always, call, email or text me with any questions.

Thanks to everyone for your support. I’ve got the best clients on the planet.

All the best,
Amy

Amy Packer, LMT and Owner
Restorative Massage Therapy

Your Back’s “Gone Out” — What’s going on and how to handle it?

If your back has ever “gone out” you know that dreaded feeling.

For me, I first felt that awful “clunk” several years ago when I was sliding an empty dresser just a few inches. (Just a few inches!) All was well until I added a slight twist to the push, then BAM! A sudden **ZING** bolted down the left side of my back and took my breath away. I paused for a minute hoping it would pass. But instead of a rebounding back to normal, my left side slowly began to lock-up, muscle by muscle. And thus began my first experience with a cranky back.  

So what does it mean when a back “goes out”? Why does it hurt so much, and what should you do? I love this explanation from Ian Harvey, LMT:

There are different explanations for why backs “go out,” which mostly depend on the background of the healthcare practitioner you’re talking to. Chiropractors blame shifting vertebrae and ribs, and medical doctors tend to talk about pinched nerves. As a massage therapist, my main concern is soft tissue (muscle and connective tissue), so that’s the first place my mind goes. When a back gets tweaked, I imagine that one of the many tiny muscles crisscrossing your spine and ribs got tweaked, setting off a cascade of painful events.

Muscular guarding

When your back goes out, the muscles are in full-blown guarding mode. It takes a gentle approach to dismantle these widespread protection mechanisms that are on high alert.

Regardless of which explanation is correct, the effect is the same: severe pain and local spasm. The sensation of the surrounding muscles “locking up” is called “guarding” and it’s something that your body does on purpose. All of the muscles in the region contract, forcing you to move stiffly until you finally give in and lay down. Your nervous system has used your muscles to form a cast, which is kind of clever when you think about it.

A tweaked back also tends to be very painful, making it difficult to stand, bend, or even breathe. This is another tool that your body uses to protect the presumed area of injury. By forcing you to spend a day or two on your back, you’re unable to further injure the area. This makes sense, but it’s also really unpleasant.

So the body’s in full-blown protection mode. Now how do you regain mobility? When you’re in the acute stage, the best thing to do is to rest so you can avoid any additional injuries. Applying a heat can help soften the muscle tissues that are working overtime to protect the injured area. Alternating twenty minutes of heat with twenty minutes of covered ice or cold packs may help promote circulation and soothe the frazzled central nervous system. The stiffness will likely continue for a few days. Avoid intense stretching and try to resist the urge to dig into your muscles to get them to release. It’s easy for these activities to further aggravate the region and keep those guarded muscles on high alert.  

So should you immediately call your favorite massage therapist? Possibly. This is not the time to see someone who tends to be heavy handed with a deep tissue “no pain, no gain attitude.” However, if you’ve got a massage therapist that focuses on slow and steady release methods, then a massage could be very beneficial to the healing process. The type of fascial release that I practice relies on more of a “melting” process that can help guarded backs release more easily.

So will a slow, steady and gentle massage make the pain go away and flexibility return? Probably not immediately. You will probably continue to experience stiffness for several days. When my clients come in with this type of guarding, I usually recommend they try to come back 3-5 days after our first session. Depending on the severity of the situation and activities of daily living, it may take 2-3 sessions (or more) before you feel like yourself again.  

Massage therapy is not a magic bullet when your back goes out, but it can certainly help you on the road to recovery by leaps and bounds.

If you’ve experienced an episode like this and would like recommendations on how to better address it, please contact me. I’d love to help you find answers and help get you back to your normal life.

Is Prenatal Massage Safe During the First Trimester?

Just about every pregnant woman has been given a laundry list of do’s and don’ts for what she should (or should not) do with her body during pregnancy. Generally, people offer this advice with the best of intentions — to make the prenatal experience healthy and safe for mother and child. However, many of these suggestions are based on myth and misinformation. This is especially true for myth that massage can negatively impact pregnancy or cause a miscarriage.

The study of reflexology notes that certain points in the feet, ankles and shoulders can help prepare a woman’s body for labor and influence contractions. However, a trained reflexologist/acupuncturist or acupressure bodywork must hold these specific points for very long periods of time (5, 10, 30+ minutes at a time) before any changes may begin to take place. There are contradictory or inconclusive findings about the efficacy of reflexology/acupuncture in inducing labor, but there is no credible research that indicates simply massaging a woman’s ankles or shoulders will cause the body to spontaneously begin labor, and certainly not in the first trimester.  

The sad and frustrating truth is that the vast majority of miscarriages are caused because chromosomal abnormalities which prevent the pregnancy from becoming viable (American Pregnancy). There are many other causes of miscarriage and, dishearteningly, most of them are out of the control of the pregnant woman. It is natural to reach out for answers to what could have caused the loss of a pregnancy. There may have been coincidences where a woman received a massage in her first trimester then miscarried a day or two later and a mental association may be created between the loss of the pregnancy and the massage. But an association is not a cause.

safety of prental massage during the first trimester

If you have concerns about receiving a massage during your first trimester, make sure to talk with your massage therapist so you feel comfortable with the work you are about to receive.

For the vast majority of women, prenatal massage is a safe and effective option during all stages of pregnancy. There are some contraindications and adaptations that massage therapists need to take into consideration during the first trimester, but that is the case for any number of different health conditions. Any licensed massage therapist can safely give a prenatal massage during the first trimester, but a Certified Prenatal Massage Therapist will be more aware of considerations, positioning and precautions specific to a prenatal massage in all stages of pregnancy.

If you’re in your first trimester and are ready for a massage, contact your massage therapist so you can discuss any concerns that you may have. Most massage therapists will be very happy to listen to your thoughts and answer any questions. Massage can provide great benefits to both mother and baby during pregnancy, but it’s important  that the expectant mother feels comfortable physically and emotionally while she is receiving her massage.

So why do some massage therapists refuse to provide massage for women in their first trimester? I’ll go over some of those reasons in the next post.

Prenatal Massage – What’s the Research Say?

My introduction to power of prenatal massage came very early in my first pregnancy. By seven weeks into my pregnancy I began experiencing the pain and discomfort associated with sciatica. I was no longer able to lie on either side without electric pain shooting from my hips and along the outside ridge of my leg. The nights were long and restless — and it didn’t bode well for the remaining seven months of my pregnancy.

At the suggestion of a chiropractor, I began seeing a massage therapist to help relieve the pain. By the end of the first session, the LMT had identified the source of my pain which had eluded both my midwife and chiropractor. Over the course of several weeks, the LMT treating me utilized a variety of modalities to address the sciatic nerve compression.

Prenatal Massage Kept Me Active

Hiking 7 weeks along during my first pregnancy. Regular prenatal massage helped ease sciatic pain that started at this early stage in this pregnancy.

The remainder of my pregnancy I received massage about every eight weeks, and more frequently as my due date neared.

While at the time I felt this was simply an indulgence, research lead by Tiffany Field at the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami found that the serotonin levels in expectant mothers increased for up to two weeks after massage. This natural increase in serotonin can help ease depression by decreasing the cortisol hormone, one of the physiological causes of depression. Massage therapy increased cerebral flow in different brain regions involved in depression and stress regulation, including the amygdala and hypothalamus (Fields).

While prenatal massage can seem just like a way to get the aches and pains out, research indicates clear benefits for mother and child. With the enormous demands placed on the circulatory system during pregnancy, blood volume may increase up to 60 percent compared to pre-pregnancy levels. Massage increases blood circulation, which provides more oxygen and nutrients to both mother and fetus and stimulates the lymph system, thereby increasing immunity and removal of toxins (Vincent).

Additionally, massage can be one of the best ways to address maternal stress. Stress can interfere with fetal brain and central nervous system development, and negatively influence a higher incidence of miscarriage, prematurity, prolonged labors with more complications, and increased perinatal fetal distress resulting in low birth weight babies, postpartum infant irritability, restlessness, crying and digestive disturbances (Martin).

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When a Terrible Massage Leads to a New Career

Remember when you were a kid and there was a special talent that you had that none of the other kids could quite manage? For my brother it was making a fire truck siren sound so loud and so clear that the neighbors came out of their houses expecting to see a fire truck scream down the street. For me, it was the magic ability of my hands to make my mom, aunts and grandfather giddy with relief as I’d work on their aching shoulders and legs.

Even from a young age people said I should do massage professionally. Did I listen to them? Nope. Not even a little bit. While I liked doing it and loved the way people responded, I didn’t see massage therapy as a career choice. Instead I studied my way through college then hopped around stressful marketing jobs for a decade. For a brief moment around age 24 I considered enrolling in a massage therapy training but passed when I learned that it was a 6 month program — because at age 24 a six month commitment seemed like a lifetime. (File under: Things that you think only in your early twenties)

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On vacation with my young son in 2013, the day after a terrible massage that ironically led me to a career as a massage therapist.

But at the right time in life — ironically after receiving a very lackluster massage which made me think, “Hey, I can do a way better job than this person just did” — I finally got serious about embracing my natural talent.

Seven months earlier I had welcomed our first child and going back to the stress of office life wasn’t a way I wanted to spend my time. During that pregnancy a wonderful massage therapist helped ease some serious sciatic issues that began plaguing me as early as seven weeks. I have never forgotten how her work made my daily life so much better and it’s one of the reasons so much of my work focuses on prenatal and postpartum clients. 

A few weeks after that terrible massage opened me up to the possibility of a new career, I stumbled into an open house at an extraordinary massage therapy school. My training at Cumberland Institute of Holistic Therapies opened my eyes to a new way of understanding the mind-body connection and I’ve been hands on ever since.