Living with Chronic Pain

12 Tips for Dealing With Holiday Stress

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Stress is often a factor during the holiday season. Seasonal activities like shopping, baking, entertaining, cleaning and various other chores can be overwhelming. Some helpful tips for individuals with chronic pain to manage holiday stress include the following:

1. Be realistic
Perfection is unattainable. Most people just want to enjoy time with family and friends. They are not concerned about the cleanest house or the prettiest decorations. Quality time with family and friends is the most important.

2. Plan ahead
Get things done on days when pain levels are low. Plan menus and write shopping lists ahead of time to make shopping and meal preparation less stressful.

3. Ask for help
The holidays are a time of year to gather with family and friends, so why not gather together to prepare for holiday celebrations? If hosting the holidays, ask others for help with activities, such as cooking, cleaning and decorating. If the idea of cooking a whole meal for guests is overwhelming, make it a potluck. Save valuable energy for enjoyable activities.

4. Simplify shopping
Gift cards are a great gift choice for “hard-to-shop-for” family and friends. While it may seem like an impersonal gift, in reality, it allows the receiver to get exactly what they want, which makes it a memorable gift. If gift cards are not an option, shop online. Save energy for enjoyable activities rather than fighting crowds at the mall. In many locations, groceries can be ordered online, also.

5. Budget
Before shopping, decide how much money can be spent and stick with that total. A memorable holiday does not have to break the bank. If crafty, homemade gifts are great alternatives and have sentimental value. If the family is large, start a gift exchange so only one gift has to be bought. Also, donating to a charity in someone's name is a great option!

6. Just say no
Saying no can be difficult, especially over the holidays when the most invitations are extended. If invitations come with requirements that cannot be met, such as preparing food for a potluck or a long drive, find an alternative, such as bringing a pre-made food item or getting a ride. If the host(s) is not willing to make accommodations, politely decline the invitation.

7. Choose wisely
Invitations to holiday activities and celebrations are often extended from Thanksgiving all the way to New Year’s Day, a long time period for most individuals with chronic pain. Instead of trying to attend every event, choose which events to attend ahead of time. Sometimes, it is impossible to socialize with every loved one each year. Instead, plan to alternate attendance each year so family members do not take offense.

8. Set a comfortable pace
Pacing oneself during events is important as well. Sitting on a dining room chair for hours on end can aggravate chronic pain. Visit for a time period that is comfortable. If it is possible to lie down and take a brief break, do so. The holidays are the perfect time to cuddle with young family members and read a story.

9. Consider dietary issues
The holidays are filled with delicious meals, decadent desserts and yummy snacks. Enjoy holiday food in moderation, but avoid overindulgence as it can add to stress and guilt and, in some cases, pain. If food allergies or intolerances are an issue, bring a snack in case the food offered is not allergen-free.

10. Watch alcohol consumption
Many individuals with chronic pain cannot drink alcohol as it can negatively interact with medications. At many holiday parties, alcohol flows freely, and it may feel awkward to be the only one not partaking. If questioned about not drinking, it is not necessary to explain the reason. Instead, respond with something simple, such as, “The holidays are so exciting. I don’t need anything else.” If drinking, designate a sober driver or use public transportation, pace the number of drinks, and enjoy a non-alcoholic drink after each alcoholic drink.

11. Lay some ground rules
If hosting a get together, it is perfectly reasonable to make it known that the event will have a time limit. It is also reasonable to ask family members for help with set up and take down, to designate someone to keep an eye on young family members, and to make the bedroom and ensuite bathroom completely off limits. If visiting friends and family, let them know if it is possible to contribute to a pot-luck or if the visit has a time limit.

12. Acknowledge anxious or depressed feelings
Feeling overwhelmed, anxious or depressed over the holidays is natural, regardless of having chronic pain. Make sure to take time to relax during the holidays. Focus on favorite activities, practice relaxation and meditation, or try a short social media vacation. If anxiety or depression are severe, contact a mental health professional or crisis line.

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