What a year, right? If you’re like most people, you’re eager to put 2020 behind you. But first, you need to get through the holiday season. And this year’s celebrations promise to be unusually challenging as COVID resurges and CDC guidelines tighten up again.
But although this year’s holidays are likely to be more stressful than most, thankfully, with a little extra self-care, you can avoid aggravating your chronic condition while dealing with COVID, and the holidays restrictions. Here’s how.
Talk to Family Members Now
This year, COVID is going to be a stressor for most families. Many family members will find themselves at odds with each other about whether to get together at all.
The CDC has published guidelines for family gatherings that you can review with your own family to assess risk and make holiday celebration decisions. This conversation has particular relevance to people with chronic pain because a chronic condition can weaken immune systems, raising a person’s risk of contracting the virus.
The decision not to attend traditional family holiday gatherings can prompt feelings of guilt and sadness. But many whose families will get together as usual may also struggle with strong emotions, such as fear and apprehension, as social distancing is difficult in an indoor group setting.
In the end, you may have to make the decision that’s best for you and those who live with you. But a family conversation as early as possible might result in agreement that some holiday traditions may not make sense this year. Consider virtual events like Zoom sessions and movie watch parties as potential substitutes.
No matter what your family decides, the holiday season is likely to complicate your chronic pain conditions. As holiday events get closer, you will likely start to feel additional stress and anxiety affecting your body. Pay attention to the signals, and schedule in a little extra rest time as soon as you notice them.
Rest doesn’t always mean sleep, though. Getting enough sleep is essential to managing chronic pain, but extra snooze time isn’t always a realistic goal. If you can’t squeeze in naps, try a few minutes of meditation or other relaxation techniques, aromatherapy, cuddle time with a pet—whatever works for you.
Whether you’re cooking a large meal or buying and packaging gifts to mail, give your body plenty of advance notice. Create a schedule. Focus on one or two tasks you can do each day and stick to the plan. Space out more exhausting jobs or those likely to exacerbate pain symptoms, and allow for light days in between.
Even with an early start, you may need to ask for help. People who suffer from chronic conditions often feel guilty or embarrassed about doing that, and the holiday season is a time where those feelings may be especially inappropriate. It’s reasonable to ask family members to help with holiday planning and prep.
If decorating the house is an essential part of your holiday tradition, ask a close friend or family member to share the labor. Or better still, simplify. If you normally make a special, labor-intensive dish for the family meal, ask someone else to make it, or try something more manageable.
Many of us feel that our holiday traditions are essential to enjoyment of the season. But will anyone remember years from now that you didn’t make Aunt Martha’s candy cane bread in 2020? Probably not. (And who knows? An alternative treat could start a new tradition!)
If you have children, another way to delegate is to give them age-appropriate tasks to do. Many kids love to be involved in holiday preparations such as decorating and baking. Muzzling your inner perfectionist and showing appreciation for their efforts will be a source of gratitude for all of you.
If you are hosting dinner this year (even for your immediate family), consider outsourcing your meal. Many online boxed-meal plans offer holiday meals complete with turkey or ham, a range of side dishes, and dessert. Some offer ingredients you cook yourself at home, and others have precooked, heat-and-serve options.
Many local establishments also offer fully cooked meals, and some deliver. As a bonus, you will be helping your community by supporting a local business struggling through COVID restrictions.
Take Advantage of Curbside Pickup
Because of those restrictions, many small businesses are now offering curbside pickup service. For anything you buy locally, do your shopping online, then arrange for curbside pickup where it’s available. Most businesses provide no-contact service; they will put your packages in your trunk for added peace of mind. Many grocery stores go one step further and will deliver.
Be Prepared for Flare-Ups
For still more peace of mind, consider your triggers and pain-relief needs in advance of those high-stress days. Be sure you won’t run out of medications. If you suffer from migraines, be extra vigilant about avoiding triggers.
Keep any pain-relief equipment such as self-massage items or mobility aids easily accessible, even if you haven’t used them for a while. But try not to focus too much on the process, or you may unleash the power of suggestion. Our brains are only too happy to do what (they think) we tell them to do!
If you normally rely on holistic therapies, such as massage or acupuncture, that you can’t safely do because of pandemic restrictions, have a plan B for flare-ups. Try the tennis-ball-in-a-sock trick or relaxing baths for a few days before the event. Add some essential oils and pamper yourself while you loosen those muscles.
Don’t Forget Exercise
Most chronic pain sufferers know that exercise is essential to feeling our best, but it’s easy to forget when we’re deep in the chaotic holiday season. Even if you can only manage gentle stretching, schedule time for this critical self-care element and set a daily alarm on your phone.
Above All, Be Kind to Yourself
Remember that the holiday season is stressful for nearly everyone. If you need to cut back on some holiday activities and say no to others, frame it as taking care of yourself, not letting others down.
Stay mindful of your body’s signals and provide it with a little extra care this holiday season. Need more motivation? Set a goal to sail through the festivities and be ready for New Year’s Eve—the night we all get to celebrate the demise of 2020.
Now that’s a holiday plan we can all get behind!
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