Chronic Pain Series: Pain and the Holidays

Written by: Alyssa Kiss, M.A.
Chronic Pain Series: Pain and the Holidays

As we enter into the holiday season, there are so many exciting, fun, and busy activities, events, and to-dos on our list. This can be a point for individuals to take a break, slow down, and spend time with loved ones. This can also be a season of stress, chaos, and exhaustion. This can be especially true if you live with chronic pain. The holiday season can often feel bittersweet with precious moments of joy and excitement mixed together with flare-ups in pain and other associated symptoms.

The holiday season can create significant deviation from set schedules and routines which can cause individuals with chronic pain to experience increases in their pain level. This can lead to feelings of grief, anxiety, and depression. The expectations on the holidays, placed by others and ourselves, can lead to a feeling of disappointment and guilt.

Here are a few thoughts about how to get through this holiday season when living with chronic pain.

1. Delegate responsibilities. The holiday season can involve lots of planning, gift giving, and hosting. These added responsibilities can become overwhelming for anybody. This is especially true when there is an experience of pain associated with or alongside these tasks. One way to take care of yourself in this season is by delegating certain tasks to family members and friends. This takes pressure off of yourself and allows space for rest and flexibility.

2. Prioritize activities. Throughout the holiday season, there is an increase in events and invites that one may receive. Spend some time prioritizing the activities that are the most important to you. This list will hopefully provide clarity and make it easier to decide which events may need to be missed this year.

3. Participate in stress-management activities. Doing things such as mediation, massage therapy, relaxing baths, and slow walks are always helpful ways of managing stress. This becomes more important during a time of increased stress such as around the holidays. Find a routine of stress-management activities leading up to the most stressful days of the season to help proactively reduce levels of stress in your body and decrease the severity and presence of chronic pain symptoms

4. Find ways to make tasks easier. Exploring small accommodations for tasks throughout the holiday season can be very beneficial in reducing overall symptoms of chronic pain. It may feel small but over the course of several weeks it can serve to reduce areas of pain. For example, using gift bags instead of wrapping paper or pre-cut vegetables in a holiday dish are some ways that could reduce certain types of chronic pain. Brainstorm ideas that would work for you and your body and give yourself permission to use them.

5. Spend time grieving. There is significant grief involved in the process of chronic pain. The holidays can serve as a painful reminder of limitations and your body’s experience of pain compared to family or friends. It is important to have space to grieve and feel the emotions that may arise with this particular season. It may be helpful to seek a therapist’s help to explore those emotions further.

6. Utilize activity pacing. Activity pacing is a helpful pain management tool that focuses on performing small steps of a task over several days instead of all at once. It seeks to reduce the habit of overworking on days with less pain to help prevent rebound pain and create more consistency. Explore how using activity pacing in your routine might help reduce pain symptoms.