9 Ways I Navigate the Holiday Season With Chronic Pain


The holiday season can be a wonderful time of festivities, but for those of us in chronic pain, it can become impossibly demanding. However, if we decide to stay home, we may also be faced with feelings of loneliness and loss.

How can we find ways to participate enjoyably and not send our pain levels through the roof? Here’s a quick list of guidelines and reminders for navigating the holidays that I have found helpful to me in past years.

1. Learn to say no. If you’re in pain, this is not your year to take care of everyone. Say no (kindly but firmly) to planning, organizing, cooking, cleaning up and events that are more like obligations than joys and will wear you out. Be selective.

2. Rest often. Give yourself permission to rest even more than usual.  Holidays can be fun, but they’re also stressful and taxing. Rest before you go out, rest while you’re out (take breaks from the group and find an unoccupied couch), and rest when you return.

3. Ask for help. Ask more of others so you can attend gatherings without wearing yourself out. Ask others to do the organizing, driving, phone calling, gift and grocery shopping, decorating, prep work, cooking, and cleaning up, or at the very least help you with whatever you choose to do.

4. Give yourself a free pass. Give yourself a free pass to say yes or no at the last minute. That means you’re going to respond with a firm “Maybe” when you’re invited anywhere. It means you can leave the decision about whether you’re going or not right up to the moment you’re heading out the door. And it means preparing others to accept that.

5. Let others know it’s not personal. Let coworkers, friends, and family know that your need to not attend or arrive late or leave early is not about them. Ask for their understanding for the whole holiday season. Let them know you really want to be able to be with them, but that you need to take care of yourself differently right now.

6. Put yourself first. When you’re in pain, you may need to put yourself first more. It isn’t doing you or anyone else any good if you wear yourself out and make your symptoms worse trying to do everything you used to do and go everywhere you used to go. Give to yourself this holiday season.

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7. Leave guilt out of it. Do what you need to do for yourself without guilt. This can be hard when you have traditional family, religious, or work obligations around the holidays because you may feel bad about not being able to join in all of them or participate fully. Remember, this can be a time to allow others to do things for you.

8. Be with loved ones when you can. While you’re deciding what you may or may not be able to do over the holidays, try to still stay connected to friends and family. Being with loved ones for special occasions can be joyful when possible. If you are bedridden, consider asking friends and family to bring one or more of your traditional events to you.

9. Find a holiday partner. And, finally, consider recruiting a holiday partner — a friend or family member who understands your situation and can drive you to functions, pick up the slack in terms of bringing extra food or making arrangements, and agree to leave early with you, when necessary and without question.

So, give yourself the gift of saying yes only to those functions you will really enjoy, finding a holiday partner or two who will support you in the ways you need, and a guilt-free pass to say no when you need to so you can more fully enjoy the celebrations you do attend. Take care of yourself and savor the joys and celebrations you are able to share with others in whatever forms they may take.

Wishing you all the happiness of the holiday season!

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Thinkstock image by Kerkez

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