Navigating Chronic Pain during the Holidays

Living with chronic pain can often be the most debilitating during our busiest times. Unfortunately, the holidays are no exception. Here are tips to help you get through this holiday season.

Holiday Flare-Ups

Many times, it feels as though our pain intensifies during the holidays. Between shopping, crafting, and cleaning for guests, this season pushes our bodies to their limits and beyond.

When we think of the term “chronic pain,” we often forget that it can decrease or increase in severity, despite the fact that it is a continuous condition. There are many different reasons why chronic pain worsens during the holidays, including:

  • An increase in strenuous physical activity, such as shoveling or shopping
  • Travel-related injuries and sickness
  • Exposure to illnesses through contact with friends and family
  • Increase in stress
  • Rapid weather changes

As we approach this holiday season, it is important to be mindful of all of these risk factors that directly impact your chronic pain.

How much we are able to do in a given day is drastically different than non-chronically ill holiday-goers. Being aware of how much energy you can realistically spend is the first step to getting through the holiday season.

The holidays are not just a couple of long, intense days. For people with chronic pain, all of the days or weeks leading up to these holidays count, too. This is why it is important to calculate how much energy you can use up before that work party or family get-together.

This isn’t an exact science, of course. There is no perfect equation that will tell us how much energy we can use one day so that we feel well enough for the next event. But remember that you are the expert on what you are able to handle.

Each person has a different tolerance to doing holiday activities with chronic pain, which is why we recommend keeping a record of your own experiences.

Try tracking possible triggers to chronic pain flares, like lifting heavy items or kneeling to wrap presents. You should also document certain movements, activities, foods or drinks, and stressors that typically affect your chronic pain, both negatively and positively.

It might take some time, but eventually you will begin to build an awareness of the patterns your chronic pain takes. This will act as a guide for you and your pain management for future holidays.

Preventative Care

In addition to documenting flare-ups, triggers, and relievers to your holiday chronic pain, practicing preventative care can nurture your body before it experiences an increase in pain. Though it can be quite challenging when experiencing chronic pain, exercising and hydrating are some of the only ways to preemptively build the strength your body needs to handle these holiday events as well.

Other Preventive Care Practices to consider:

Forming a medical plan with your health care providers

Avoiding alcohol or other dietary triggers (and getting them out of your system early)

Routinely using ice or heat packs on trouble areas

Using mobility aids or other necessary medical equipment

Finding medication or alternative treatments that address your specific pain

Too often, our goal becomes to fix an active problem. Yet, chronic pain can’t necessarily be fixed or treated on the spot. These are ways to address chronic problems before they become more problematic.

Accommodate for Your Body

We encourage preventative care to its fullest extent, but it is also important to recognize that these approaches won’t completely stop pain from happening. When a flare-up does happen during the holidays, this is when it becomes time to accommodate your body’s needs.

It can be helpful to document a range of options and resources to use depending on how severe the pain is. Keep a list to refer back to in these moments.

Find a seat or adjust your body to a more comfortable position

Take a break and know when it is time to leave

Use a mobility aid (tip: keep your mobility aids nearby in a car or coat closet for easy access when these situations arise)

Suggest more accessible activities to your needs; for example, watching a holiday movie rather than going to a bar

Ask for help from someone you trust

Creating your own list of go-to options might serve as a reassurance to you in situations where the pain feels intense. Having options in place can also take a lot of stress from painful experiences.

The goal is not just to address the pain in the short-term and protect your body’s wellbeing as we bring in the new year. These measures are also meant as a way for you to find joy, peace, and fun this holiday season and others to come.

Enjoy the Holidays and Feel Good Too

Remember that the holidays don’t have to be a pain. Try to stay positive by doing more of the things you enjoy when possible, and with people who bring you the most happiness. Avoid isolating yourself from the festivities, even if you can’t fully participate in all of them. Believe it or not, your state of mind plays a large part in your pain experience.