‘Tis the season – for stress, excess, and expectations. No matter what holiday you celebrate, this time of year can be a lot. There are elaborate dinners to prepare, parties to host and attend, presents to find, decorations to hang, families to visit, traditions to respect, and very little time for self-care. But your body doesn’t know that, and chronic pain is, if anything, exacerbated by stress and busy schedules.
Here are some tips to help you survive the holidays, pain or no pain:
1. Be realistic
Tempering the holiday madness may not sound like much fun, but if you start off with unrealistic expectations, then no matter how hard you try, you’ll never quite manage. If your physical ability is less than it was last year, adjust your schedule and chores accordingly. Don’t take on more than you know you can manage – that’s just setting yourself up for failure. Consider what’s practical, and use that as your starting point for all your holiday plans.
2. Share the load
A lot of people try to do it all themselves, but the holidays are meant to be a family affair! So don’t be afraid to share the workload. For parties, consider going potluck. For the main event, share cooking responsibilities by assigning someone to each dish. This ensures that even if you have a bad day, there will still be a good meal for everyone. Ask others to help you decorate, ask the kids to pitch in, or pay the neighbor’s kid to shovel your porch. You do not have to do everything yourself.
3. Shop online
Online shopping is a godsend, especially for those who struggle to fight their way around malls at this busy time of year. And it’s not just for gifts. You can order groceries, alcohol, decorations, and even cards online. This helps streamline your chores and minimizes energy spent.
4. Plan for downtime
When everything feels like a rush, it can be hard to shoehorn in time for yourself. So don’t rely on doing this in the moment – plan for it. Deliberately set aside some time each day to rest and recuperate. Avoid scheduling multiple energy-intensive activities on back-to-back days, and arrange to have a day off after big events. You have to be proactive here, as otherwise your time will fill up without you even realizing!
5. Keep to normal routines
Keeping a routine is tough during the holidays, as many of the touchstones are gone. You may be off work, the kids are home, there could be family staying with you – everything is all over the place! But sticking to your usual, tried-and-tested routines will never matter more. Keep your medication schedule, your sleep schedule, and your exercise routine. This helps you feel as well as you can, each and every day, no matter what else is going on.
6. Be organized
No matter how much you scale back, there is still a laundry list of things to do over the holidays. You can get a lot done, even with chronic pain, if you remain organized. Make a list of all of your tasks, and prioritize them. Know in advance what you can let slide and what has to be done. Set a schedule and stick to it. It’s incredibly tempting to get caught up in holiday cheer and ignore warning signals, so set a hard “out” time for events in advance. This ensures you take care of your body, no matter what your heart may be telling you!
Guilt for dampening loved ones’ merriment can be a big issue, so plan ahead to avoid it. Driving two cars to an event means that you can leave when you need to, without hindering anyone else’s fun. It gives you and your loved ones maximum flexibility. Difficulty driving? Plan in advance to take a taxi or Uber home early.
You are not the only person who will be stressed over the holidays. It’s pretty much guaranteed that everyone else is feeling rushed and a little overwhelmed. This may mean that usually sensitive or helpful friends and family suddenly seem less caring, or too busy for what you need. It’s important to understand that this isn’t about you. Remember to cut them some slack for any thoughtlessness, and be clear when stating what you need and what you can and can’t do.
9. Enjoy yourself
With all this talk about “coping” and “managing” and “chores,” it can be easy to forget the holidays are supposed to be a time of fun. So don’t forget to have some! Make time for yourself and what you enjoy, even if it means saying no to someone else. You don’t have unlimited energy or strength, and you can’t do everything. Be kind to yourself, and choose one or two special activities that are just for you.
10. Remember: It’s not a competition
This time of year can sometimes feel like a never-ending exercise in living up to (or failing) other people’s expectations. But it doesn’t have to be. It doesn’t matter how amazing your neighbor’s decorations are, or the face your mother-in-law makes when she sees your store-bought holiday spread. You are in control of what you choose to care about and where you spend your energy; don’t let other people’s abilities, successes, or efforts impact how you feel about what you can do. Being in chronic pain is hard enough without all of the judgement, so let it go. It doesn’t matter what anyone else has done.