Living with Chronic Pain

Tips for Dealing With Pain During the Holiday Season


The holidays can be a stressful time of year filled with family gatherings, gift shopping, busy schedules, and meal preparation. Individuals dealing with chronic pain face additional challenges because pain does not take a holiday vacation.

Here are 10 tips for dealing with pain during the holiday season:

  • Give up the idea of perfection. Stressing about every decoration, meal, or gift leads to tension that can increase pain. Going with the flow and embracing imperfections not only makes the holidays less stressful but also less painful.
  • Ask for help when needed. Do not be afraid to ask for help with meal preparation, cleaning, shopping, or gift wrapping. Friends and family are often happy to lend a hand. Another option is to hire someone, such as a cleaning service to clean the home or a neighborhood teenager to help with wrapping gifts.
  • Be okay with saying no. It is okay to turn down invitations or requests that will worsen pain or deplete energy levels. If possible, suggest an alternative that is more reasonable. For example, if accepting an invitation to a holiday party would mean standing for hours and increasing pain, suggest a movie night or virtual meet up with the host at a later date.
  • Ask for accommodations in advance. Small accommodations, such as a comfortable place to sit during a gathering, a parking space near the door, or a food dish that meets dietary needs, can make a big difference in the ability to participate in holiday events. Making these requests in advance not only gives the host time to prepare but also reduces personal stress leading up to the event.
  • Practice activity pacing. Doing too much at once can worsen pain and deplete energy. Instead of saving everything for the last minute, plan ahead and complete tasks over time. Start shopping early, do as much advance meal preparation as possible, or complete just a few holiday cards each day.
  • Find small ways to make tasks easier. Use gift bags instead of wrapping paper. If hand pain is a problem, use arthritis-friendly scissors. Send e-cards instead of hand-written cards. Buy pre-cut vegetables to use in meals. These small adjustments can make a big difference in terms of pain, energy, and stress levels.
  • Prioritize a healthy diet. While enjoying a treat or two is a fun part of the holidays, focus on consuming healthy foods the majority of the time. For some individuals, consuming extra sugar, dairy, or carbohydrates leads to inflammation that can worsen pain. Weight gain can also put additional strain on joints and the spine. Prioritizing vegetables, fruits, lean protein, and whole grains while indulging in an occasional treat is one of the best ways to keep energy high and pain low.
  • Get regular physical activity. Even with a busy calendar, make time for regular physical activity. Even a few minutes of gentle stretching, yoga, or walking each day can prevent stiffness and release feel-good endorphins.
  • Do something kind for someone else. Focusing on others can be a great distraction from pain. Donate gifts to a family in need, write a letter to a family member or friend, or take food to a food bank, and feel good about the accomplishment.
  • Participate in stress-relieving activities. Take time to relax and recharge. Drink a cup of tea by the fireplace, take a midday nap, enjoy a warm bath, or watch a favorite holiday movie. Meditation, deep-breathing exercises, and practicing gratitude can also help reduce holiday stress.

Although dealing with chronic pain during the holidays can be challenging, these tips can help ensure that they are as enjoyable as possible.

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