Enjoying The Holidays With Chronic Pain
Suffering with chronic pain is always difficult, but during the holiday season it can be even more so. There are so many societal and family expectations around enjoying the Holidays that people who are struggling with their chronic pain condition often feel isolated and reluctant to share what is really going on with them. The holidays can also trigger family of origin trauma that increases stress and pain symptoms. Managing these interactions and practicing a good self-care plan is vital. And when you implement some of the following suggestions, your Holiday Season may not be perfect, but hopefully more enjoyable so you can focus on what is truly important when gathered with family and friends.
Finding Peace with your Pain
Chronic pain is a medical condition and it cannot be cured by festivities. Additionally, living with chronic pain can impact a person psychologically and emotionally, so it is equally important to understand and practice emotional wellness. Many people are disappointed when they realize that their condition does not take a break, at least for the holidays. The first step to enjoying the holidays may be to embrace the idea of making peace with your pain condition. Stop fighting it, make it your friend and discover what it may be trying to tell you.
For many people living with a chronic condition, the pain will always be present in some form. Because of this, it is important not to dwell on reducing the pain, but instead focus on easing the suffering. It is the suffering attached to the pain that feeds the symptoms of anxiety, depression, and grief. To mitigate the psychological effects of your pain, it is very important to practice healthy self-care.
Here at A Healing Place – The Estates, we refer to this as “utilizing your toolbox”. These are the non-pharmacological methods of treating the psychological and emotional symptoms of pain. Do not be afraid to excuse yourself from stressful gatherings to practice these modalities.
- Meditation – Meditation is a great tool to keep yourself tranquil and in the moment. Some find it beneficial to focus on where the pain is centralized, then visualizing that pain leaving that area of you body. This can help relieve tension by relaxing the surrounding areas of where the pain is centralized.
- Stretching/Massaging – If you know you are going to have a busy day attending family gatherings, it may be really helpful to bring and use your favorite stretching and massage tools. Foam rollers and massage canes can help you manage muscular tension, and they are small enough to keep in the trunk of your car. When you feel your pain start to escalate, do not hesitate to take a few minutes to yourself and utilize these tools.
- Relaxation Response Techniques – This is yet another meditative practice that helps control and reduce mounting emotional and physical stress. Find a quiet area that also allows you to get as comfortable as possible. Once you are in position, close your eyes and focus on relaxing your muscles starting with your feet. Take slow deep breaths through your nose, and exhale out your mouth. Slowly progress upwards to the next muscle group, and continue this until you have reached your head. Once you have completed this relaxation technique, open your eyes and remain still for a few more minutes before returning to the festivities.
Related article: 10 Holistic, Non-Pharmacological Ways to Alleviate Chronic Pain
Brace Yourself For Resistance
Take time to help family and friends understand your condition. This isn’t always easy. It is difficult to comprehend a chronic condition without experiencing it firsthand. Therefore, it is important to increase healthy communication with those who can empathize with what you are experiencing. Similarly, avoid people who belittle your condition or make remarks like “quit being lazy” or “it’s all in your head, get over it”.
In the case of group activities, always join the group with the caring supportive friends and relatives. Fight one battle at a time. You will lose if you fight both the pain and unreasonable people. Stick close to the loving and keep away from the rest.
Related article: Maintaining Healthy Relationships in Chronic Pain Management
Set Realistic Standards
You cannot compete with other people, or your former self. You cannot achieve the results you did before you were diagnosed with what many call an invisible illness. When it comes to event planning or cooking, do not beat yourself up for not attaining the same results you did ten years ago. Unfortunately, this can be especially difficult for those families with strong matriarchal traditions. I know in my family, mothers begin cooking and prepping two whole days before Thanksgiving!
Some family standards may be beyond what you are capable of accomplishing – and once again, this is okay! Do what you can and do what works best for you. It is not sacrilegious to take shortcuts in baking or cooking, not everything has to be from scratch! Instead of overwhelming yourself with an overwhelming number of tasks, focus on one or two so you can experience a sense of pride and accomplishment. This could be baking a single treat you know everyone will enjoy, or putting together a table arrangement that compliments the holiday meal.
Plan In Advance
Prepare for all events and any eventuality. Prepare for the cooking, the interactions, the resistance, the schedule changes, and everything else. If along the way you realize that you will not be able to go through with the original plan, tweak it to allow you to enjoy the holidays. Planning in advance allows you to integrate the principles of healthy activity pacing into your routine.
In Activity Pacing, all tasks are spaced out in a manner that empower someone to handle them without worsening their conditions. When planning for the holidays, allow yourself adequate rest between activities to give your body time to recuperate. Learn more about Activity Pacing here. When planned in advance, the holidays will prove to be very happy times no matter your condition.
Happy Holidays from all of us at A Healing Place – The Estates! Thanksgiving is a time to reflect on what we value most in life. Our friends, family, and the opportunity to share in this spirit together. Many people find it helpful to write down as many things you’re grateful for – It’s impossible to suffer and be grateful at the same time. We hope you find peace, enjoyment, comfort, and happiness this holiday season.