Easy tips for happy holidays

Summer is here and schools are out, and everyone is ready to have a summer holiday. At this time of the year, most people are ready to shut the door on the year that has been. All I have heard over the last few days (from myself as well!) is how people are just hanging in there, and that they are ready to leave the daily rat race in order to relax with family and recharge their batteries for the coming year.

Planning a holiday can be both exciting and stressful. In South Africa, summer holidays are also Christmas holidays, which means that holidays are filled with loads of activities and dedicated to family gatherings. These gatherings are generally noisy, long, filled with loads of food and sugars, and generally with a large number of people.  A quick recipe for a sensory melt-down!

So how do we consider the different sensory thresholds when planning our holidays?

  • Pick and choose your holiday activities wisely and give family members a heads up regarding outings. Prepare them for new situations and talk them through what they could expect. The easiest way to survive the holiday season is to keep everyone in the loop.
  • Visit tourist attractions at quieter times and plan ahead with regards to food if possible.
  • We don’t have to accept every invitation extended to us.
  • Have clear house rules for every place that you go tolearn the rules of the places that you visit, especially if one is travelling overseas, and prepare your family
  • Check-in with your family members at events – before going to an event, decide on a sign or gesture that will indicate that all is not okay. This will help reassure your family that you will know when a break is needed and it also helps to keep behaviour issues in check.
  • Have an escape space – whenever you get to a place, find a spot that will allow for quiet time and a sensory break. Prepare your family for noisy situations, and have a strategy in place if you need to get away from very crowded places. (e.g. markets, beaches, shopping malls, Midnight mass)
  • Keep a sensory toolbox with you – have a small bag of sensory tools that may help avoid a meltdown. Include headphones, sunglasses, healthy snacks, fiddle toys and comfortable clothing.
  • Give small immediate rewards – don’t use gifts as bargaining tools. Instead, give small rewards for working together, doing chores, and being a good sport.
  • Praise children for good behaviour, as this will mean a lot to the child with sensory, learning or attention difficulties.
  • Give yourself a break and take time to relax. Sometimes it is just okay to stay at home or indoors when things get too hectic.

Family gatherings are the essence of Christmas, but sadly they can become very stressful. Remind everyone to keep calm and breathe…

If you want to know whether you are looking forward to or dreading the holidays… your Sensory Matrix™ self-assessment will help you understand why…

Annabella Sequeira holds a BSc (Occupational Therapy) degree from the University of Cape Town, backed by 22 years of experience in both the public and private sectors.  She has extensive practical experience in the area of Sensory Integrative Dysfunction in children and is passionate about empowering others to improve functionality and quality of life.

Is sitting really the new smoking?

A while ago, a new catchphrase started doing the rounds, namely that ‘sitting is going to be the next smoking’.  And the more I think about it, the more I have to agree – unfortunately!  We all know that smoking is bad for our health.  It’s been linked with cancer, long-term lung disease and heart disease to name but a few.  Smoking is thought to be the greatest cause of preventable death in the world.  So can sitting really be as bad for us as smoking?

What is so bad about sitting anyway? 
Experts are describing inactivity as one of the biggest challenges in health.  A sedentary lifestyle has now been linked to heart disease, diabetes, cancers, obesity and poor mental health.  Sitting for more than 4 hours each day has been shown to slow the metabolism and affect the way the body controls blood pressure, sugar levels and the breakdown of fats.  Unfortunately, the effect is also found in people who class themselves as fit (such as those getting regular exercise), if they also spend long periods of time sitting.

Is sitting bad for business?
Sitting for too long (more than 4 hours a day) is bad for business too.  As well to the cost of absenteeism due to sickness, prolonged sitting reduces productivity and performance too.  When we sit for long periods of time, our level of alertness drops.  As this happens, our efficiency takes a downward slide.  Workers who use sit-stand workstations claim to be more alert, task-driven and positive.  They also report higher energy levels, especially in the afternoon.

What Can You Do?

Here are just a few ideas to cut back on prolonged sitting, and improve productivity at the same time:

  • Have a regular break, get up and move about at regular intervals throughout the day.  I set the alarm on my phone to go off every 30 minutes for a quick movement break
  • Try standing or walking meetings, these help to keep meetings short and efficient
  • Build movement into the day; for example, a lunchtime walk, taking the stairs or walking between meetings
  • Invest in a standing desk, or a sit-stand desk, so that you and your team can spend time standing each day

So, is sitting worse than smoking?
The number of people smoking has shown a steady decline.  In 2013 it was estimated that less than 20% of the UK population smoked, the lowest level in 80 years.  A survey by the British Heart Foundation found that 45% of women and 37% of men spend less than 30 minutes a day up on their feet.  Almost 80% of office workers feel they spend too much time sitting down.

So while sitting may not be as ‘bad’ for you as smoking, there are certainly a lot more of us doing it!  Let’s get creative about activities at the office!

By Tania Barney, a registered Occupational Therapist with the Health and Care Professionals Council (HCPC), UK. Professional qualifications:  B App Sc (OT), M App Sc (Health Sciences), University of South Australia.

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