Living with Chronic Pain

Tips for Helping a Loved One With Chronic Pain During the Holiday Season


The holiday season can be stressful and challenging, especially for individuals with chronic pain. Keeping up with social activities, shopping, gift wrapping, cooking holiday meals, and other events and traditions can be exhausting and can increase pain levels. While individuals with chronic pain may ask for help when needed, friends and family members can be proactive and take it upon themselves to make the holiday season a little easier and a lot merrier for their loved one.

  • Be understanding. First, be aware that chronic pain can make the holiday season a challenge. If the individual with chronic pain seems on edge, remember that it is not personal. Understanding and grace can go a long way.
  • Make sure they are included. The holidays can be isolating for individuals with chronic pain. Missing out on activities or events due to pain can make the person feel lonely. Invite them to participate as much as possible. Even if they cannot go sledding with friends, they may still enjoy sipping hot chocolate after the activity. An individual with chronic pain may not be able to climb a ladder to reach the top of the Christmas tree, but they may be able to put hooks on ornaments from a comfortable spot on the couch. If they choose not to participate, be respectful of that choice, but do not automatically count them out.
  • Go above and beyond as a host. When inviting a friend or family member with chronic pain to a holiday event, keep their needs in mind. Let them know that there will be a comfortable chair or close parking spot with their name on it or that they are welcome to stop by for a short time and leave when needed. During the meal or party, discreetly check in with them to see if they are doing okay or need anything. If the person has to turn down the invitation or cancel at the last minute due to pain, do not take it personally. Suggest a movie night, video call, or other activity for some quality time with them when they are up to it.
  • Make sure they are still prioritizing self-care. It can be easy for individuals with chronic pain to take on too much or neglect their own health during the holidays. If a loved one with chronic pain wants to take on a task or participate in an event, trust that they know their own boundaries and limits. However, gentle reminders to take medications, keep medical appointments, and get enough sleep can be helpful. To avoid seeming like a nag, try things like taking the kids outside to build a snowman so your loved one can nap in a quiet house or offer to watch a holiday movie with them while they do home physical therapy exercises or apply a heating pad.
  • Offer to help when tackling a holiday to-do list. When planning a shopping trip, let the friend or family member with chronic pain know and ask if they need anything. When cooking or baking, ask them if they would like some of whatever is on the menu. Making a double batch of green bean casserole or an extra dozen cookies is easy when the ingredients are already on hand. Suggest a gift-wrapping afternoon at their place. Cutting large rolls of wrapping paper and lifting heavy presents can be difficult for individuals with chronic pain.
  • Ask what they need. Sometimes, the best way to help is to directly ask the individual what they need. Questions like, “What is one thing I can do to make today easier for you?” or “What can I help you with right now?” are likely to give specific, actionable answers. Following through on those requests, even if they seem simple, can make a world of difference.
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