The bustling holiday season is a time many people look forward to, but for those who have chronic TMD, or temporomandibular disorder, the added stress can aggravate their condition more than ever. If you are one of these people and are crossing off your to-do list, now is a good time to take stress-relieving steps to ease those TMD flare-ups.
How Stress Impacts TMJ/TMD
Stress tends to exacerbate a temporomandibular joint, or TMJ, condition. This often stems from unhealthy stress responses to cope with pressure, like constantly clenching the jaw throughout your day and grinding your teeth while you sleep, giving your jaw a nonstop workout. Stress can also cause your neck, head and face muscles to tighten painfully. This is problematic for anyone, but even more so when you already have TMD.
Do Not Ignore These TMD Signs
- Soreness in the jaw
- Stiff jaw muscles
- Trouble moving your jaw
- Jaw locking when you try to open it
- Pain in the TMJ radiating out to your face, jaw or neck
- Clicking or popping noises when moving your jaw
- Your teeth do not come together when you bite or clench your jaw
- Pain in or around your ears
- Constant headaches
- Problems chewing
To help relieve these TMD symptoms, look for ways to give your jaw muscles a break. Start by pausing in your daily routine to sit and practice some deep breathing. This instantly triggers a response in the brain to relax your mind. Bonus, taking deep breaths combats generalized anxiety while reducing blood pressure.
While you may be busy shopping, baking, wrapping and decorating, try to fit in some form of exercise that you enjoy to help lessen your overall stress levels. Do something that is convenient and easy to do, whether it is a vigorous walk to get your blood pumping (and your dog excited) or even some gentle yoga stretches that remind you to breathe if time is limited.
Sleep is vital on a good day, but when you are stressed, it is more important than ever to calm your nerves and relax your body. Now is not the time to cut back on a good night’s sleep, so avoid caffeine late in the day and make your bed comfortable and inviting.
Be mindful of the food you eat during the holidays. Crunching down on peanut brittle or nuts (use the nutcracker, not your teeth to open shells) should be avoided right now. Eat more soft foods like well-cooked vegetables, soft fruits, eggs, soups, stews, yogurt, smoothies and pumpkin pie. These can give your jaw a much-needed rest instead of an oral workout.
Less Stressful Travel
Are you traveling to meet up with family or going on a holiday vacation? Driving in traffic or poor weather conditions for hours on end can have your jaw clenching relentlessly, and flying is just as hectic, especially during the holidays. Traversing crowded airports and flying long hours are not relaxing adventures. Try these travel tips to help you feel calmer and less anxious when traveling, whether by car, train or plane.
-Planning is everything! Make sure to budget extra time to reach your destination, go through security checks and plan your driving route in advance to allow time for traffic or weather hiccups.
-Always travel with your TMD necessities wherever you go. Pack your TMJ appliance, pain relievers like ibuprofen, a heating pad, essential oils and a TMJ pillow that improves jaw-joint positioning by providing proper neck, jaw and spinal support.
-Pack healthy snacks that will fuel you, not drain you. This means staying away from vending machines and carrying TMJ-friendly snacks with protein instead. Tuck in some soft fruits, string cheese or sugar-free yogurt snacks that are easy on your TMJ while boosting your energy.
Prepare ahead for the holiday activities and adventures you will be enjoying with your family and loved ones to keep your TMD flareups to a minimum. If you have symptoms of TMD and have not yet been diagnosed, we encourage you to give us a call to schedule a consultation. Our team can help you receive the relief you need for a less stressful and painful holiday.