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Happy Holidays? Managing Chronic Pain During The Holidays

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We are in the thick of it, and have another month or more to go. The holiday season can be a time of joy and love, but for people with chronic pain it can be a time of stress, depression, frustration, and increased pain. At North Shore Pain Management, we’d like to suggest some tips to help you cope, reduce your risk of having a pain flare, and get through the holidays with less pain. Most of these pain management techniques are common sense, and obvious if you think about it, but get lost in the hustle and bustle of the holiday season. I hope it’s helpful to have a little reminder!

Pacing, Prioritizing, Delegating:
There is often too much to do over the holidays, but how much do we REALLY need to do? Be realistic about how much you can do, and think about what is really important for you to do. Enlist the help of others to prepare food, decorate, shop, or whatever, so that you have more energy for the things that really matter to you. Embrace the “Less is More” philosophy! If a large project is important to you, break it down into steps, and rest between the steps. For a strategy on how to pace your activities, check the North Shore Pain Management blog post “Activity Pacing for Chronic Pain”. Plan and schedule times in your day to rest, meditate, relax, and recover.

Talk to friends and family honestly about what is important to you, and to them, and what they can do to help you. Some ideas about how to do this can be found in the “Marbles and Spoons” article we wrote about how to visualize and explain the limitations of chronic pain, illness and fatigue. Your loved ones can help find ways to involve you in festivities, or make sure you have some down time. Maybe it’s time for you to teach the next generation how to make that family secret recipe! Maybe you can skip the office party so that you can go to your church service the next day, or vice versa. Get creative about finding ways to have the energy to enjoy the important things.

Here is a good website for helping friends and family understand what people with chronic pain want their family and friends to understand about chronic pain during the holidays.

Mood and Stress:
Depression and anxiety are often increased around the holidays and in the winter, which makes chronic pain worse, and makes it harder to do the things you need to do to manage your chronic pain. If this has been your pattern, start thinking now about how to manage depression and anxiety, before you get too caught up in a downward spiral. What has helped you in the past? What other techniques could you try? If you see a therapist or counselor, ask them to help you plan.

Let go of the idea of perfection. The best memories are about being together, more than how perfect the setting was or wasn’t. Nobody is happy if you exhaust yourself making everything perfect, then aren’t able to enjoy or even attend the party because you have a pain flare!

Practice gratitude. Focus on what you have rather than what you don’t have. Consider volunteering, which can get you out of the house and away from family stressors, while letting you help someone else in need for a few hours. Don’t think you can volunteer? Read more about “Volunteering as Pain Managementhere.

Make a budget and stick to it. Financial stress is draining for anyone, and can be a big trigger for pain and insomnia.

Stay Healthy:
We often engage in a lot of unhealthy behaviors over the holidays, like eating and drinking too much, staying up too late, not exercising. We are also more likely to be exposed to viruses, like the cold or flu, when in a large gathering or traveling. Overindulgence and illness have a direct impact on pain, and can make life pretty miserable. Especially over the holidays, it’s important to pay attention to ways to stay healthy. Limit or avoid alcohol; avoid eating large, heavy meals; reduce smoking. Help your immune system fight off illness by staying hydrated, taking vitamin C, exercising regularly, getting enough sleep, and dressing warmly in layers. Wash hands frequently, and get your flu shot. Stay on top of other health problems, like diabetes, respiratory problems or cardiovascular problems

Travel:
Traveling can be especially stressful for people with chronic pain. Pack carefully, so that you have what you need without lugging around a huge suitcase. Plan medications so that you bring only what you need for the time you will be gone plus one day in case there are delays. The meds left at home should be under lock and key, not just “hidden.” Bring the medication identification slips the pharmacy gives you, for each of your medications, in case there is a problem. Plan ahead with your provider so that you won’t need a prescription renewal while you are away. Over-the-counter heat patches (like ThermaCare) and/or disposable instant ice packs are handy portable ways to use heat and ice therapies while traveling.

Air travel: Pack medications in a carry-on, not in your checked baggage. Check your luggage whenever possible to reduce the amount you need to carry around in the airport. Try to get an aisle seat on the plane, so you can move around more easily. Let the airport help, by taking advantage of wheelchairs and carts. Get to the airport early and plan for longer layovers, so you are not stressed and rushed.

Travel by car: Leave early to allow plenty of time to stop, stretch and walk a little, several times during your trip. Anticipate when and where you might hit heavy traffic, and plan accordingly.

Some people forgo travel entirely, asking friends and family to come to them, or attending gatherings virtually using Skype or Facetime.

Stay Safe:
Make sure all medications are kept locked away from family and friends who may find them accidently or on purpose. “Hidden” is not good enough. Be especially vigilant where children are concerned.

Keep to Your Routine
Many pain medications work best if they are taken on a regular schedule, but this can be hard to do when schedules are disrupted by holiday activities. Use your phone or a medication alarm so that you don’t get distracted and miss medication doses. Make sure you will not run out of medications while your provider’s office is closed over the holidays, and address any potential problems early. Friday afternoon before a holiday weekend is not a good time for an emergency call to your provider’s office!

Sleep and exercise routines are also important for managing pain, and can also become disrupted over the holidays. Stick to your sleep and exercise regimen as much as possible, and be honest with family and friends about the importance of keeping to your schedule.

All of us at North Shore Pain Management wish you and yours a joyous, healthy and safe holiday season.


At North Shore Pain Management we provide advanced, evidence based, multidisciplinary and cost effective pain management. Our goal is to improve your ability to return to the activities you have been missing as well as provide a meaningful reduction in pain.

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