As a chronic pain sufferer, the holidays can seem more fretful than festive. A few days ago, I wrote about coping with holiday stress with chronic pain. The two go hand-in-hand most of the time and can be especially rough during the holidays. Think about it like this: if the holidays are stressful and exhausting for people in perfect health, imagine how hard it must be for those of us living with chronic pain conditions. Add asking for holiday help with chronic pain to that combo and you’ve added yet another layer of stress to pain patients.
Believe me when I say there’s nothing fun about being the Grinch of the family during the holiday season. I’m a chronic pain sufferer and a mom to two young boys. My lower back pain due to a herniated L5 left me debilitated for years. I was also diagnosed with degenerative disc disease, so I still live with back pain on a daily basis. I’ve definitely been Grinch-y this time of year when family and friends just wanted to enjoy the Christmas tree and enjoy spending time together.
Instead of succumbing to those Grinch-y feelings, remember it’s perfectly acceptable for us to be asking for holiday help with chronic pain. That includes us challenging ourselves to have conversations about our pain with family and friends and to seek support.
If that concept gives you the shivers, face facts: it’s time to get comfortable with being uncomfortable for our own good.
Accept that it’s okay to put your needs first
Stress during the holiday season for someone who is chronically ill can stem from practically anything:
- fearing pain during outings with family and friends
- experiencing anxiety over a bad day that may force you to stay home
- figuring out how to juggle your treatment plan and pain medications in the midst of everyone’s good time
- balancing the financial tightrope of gift-giving while managing your medical expenses.
Then there’s the physical pain itself.
To ensure your own happy holiday, focus on what you need to be as pain-free as possible. Don’t stop there: speak out about what will make you feel good as well. This is no small feat for a chronic pain sufferer. But despite our illnesses or conditions, we are strong people. We endure more than most and we tend to do it alone.
“The broader chronic illness community is really good at being aware of other people’s needs and sensitivities, says Abby Norman, a writer and women living in chronic pain due to endometriosis. “I think where that goes wrong, though, is being really good at taking care of each other at the expense of taking care of themselves.”
“Sometimes people do that to such an extreme that they completely lose sight of their own needs,” Abby continues. “There’s this idea that there’s not enough to go around — there isn’t enough goodness, there isn’t enough selflessness, there isn’t enough kindness. We’re all too afraid to admit we need it, and we’re all trying to be really stoic because we just feel like the world is such a hard place to live in. But that’s totally counter-intuitive.”
Stop stressors with open dialogue
Why don’t we like to talk about our life with chronic pain? Why is asking for holiday help with chronic pain such a struggle for us? Because unless you live with chronic pain, you just don’t get it. Many of us feel as if our words will be overlooked or ignored. No matter how compassionate and caring our family and friends may be, we often find it difficult to explain.
We need to rethink and unlearn that approach. This holiday season, set goals to:
- Recognize that talking about your pain can be valuable to us and to our relationships
- Ask for support before the tensions, expectations and pressures begin
- Remember that chronic pain is complex with biological, psychological and emotional factors to consider.
“Understanding and managing the thoughts, emotions and behaviors that accompany the discomfort can help you cope more effectively with your pain,” according to the American Psychological Association. It can even reduce the intensity of your pain.
For those of us who are chronically ill, we can easily start conversations about our pain with family members or friends. Others of us may choose to discuss their chronic pain conditions with counselors, psychologists or psychiatrists first. No matter who you prefer to chat with, make a plan for the holidays and implement it. Make sure near the top of that plan is accepting that asking for holiday help with chronic pain is OK.
Plan a pain-free holiday
If you’ve never been to talk therapy before, it usually involves identifying what’s problematic in your life and then working to figure out solutions. This strategy doesn’t require an expert in mental health. Have your own therapy sessions via conversations with your family and friends.
Consider holiday season planning concerns such as:
- What situations could be problematic for your chronic pain?
- Are you being asked to host visitors?
- If so, does this mean you need to do a deep cleaning of the house before they arrive?
- Do household chores such as vacuuming or mopping trigger pain?
- Are you being asked to prepare a big family meal?
- Will you need to travel?
- Might it be more convenient for you to stay home and have others visit you?
- Does your travel involve long car rides?
Write down a list of your holiday obligations. Use problem-solving techniques to determine what can be done to make tasks easier:
- Can you hire a cleaning service to tackle your home?
- Can family and friends pitch in more with decorating or cooking?
- Can family meals be hosted at someone else’s home or at a restaurant?
- What are the costs of using a local catering service?
Explore alternatives to what could potentially trigger more pain. Remember that you deserve to enjoy this time of year just like everyone else.
Find a support group to ease chronic pain
If you haven’t tried a pain support group, the holidays are a great time to attend. Talking with others who understand what you’re facing day in and day out can definitely sooth your soul. You can attend an in-person support group or reach out to online groups. Research shows that the power of support groups for those of us who are chronically ill can yield positive results. They can be an invaluable part of your treatment plan, providing validation and encouragement as you manage holiday activities and activities throughout the rest of the year.
Don’t let your chronic pain overshadow the holidays this year, so pace yourself and confide in your family. Together, you can set realistic expectations and manage your health to avoid unnecessary setbacks. This holiday season, remember that asking for holiday help with chronic pain does not make you a burden; it means you have made self-care an essential part of your treatment plan.
Who will you ask for holiday help this season?
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