With Thanksgiving rapidly approaching and the holiday season kicking off, it can be common to see people practicing gratitude. However, finding gratitude is easier said than done when you live with chronic pain. 

My first Thanksgiving after the car accident that caused my chronic pain was tougher than I expected. Reminders to be grateful were everywhere, and yet, all I could think was “pfft they don’t even know” how grateful they should be to live without pain. The healthiest response? Probably not. But it was how I felt at the time.

Now, after more than seven years, I have a new perspective. I’ve learned to focus on the good moments, great people, and important opportunities I’ve had in life. It took some time, but I’ve also developed helpful strategies to enjoy the holiday season and find gratitude throughout it. Here are my tips for feeling grateful during the holiday season. 

Make Sure to Plan Ahead

If you’ve lived with chronic pain for a while, you probably know what triggers your pain and have a routine to counter it. Whether you decide to meditate regularly, exercise, take supplements or make an appointment with your healthcare provider, it’s critical to prioritize the activities that keep your pain manageable during the holidays.

Yes, it’s hard to say no to extra holiday get-togethers, cookie swaps, and events, but picking and choosing which events matter the most to you and declining the rest will give you time to rest and prioritize your own needs.

Don’t say yes to a new invitation on the spot. Instead, consult your calendar to see what events you’ve committed to, making sure you have enough time for self-care. Planning will help you get the most out of each event and keep your pain at a manageable level. When your pain is too high because you’ve stretched yourself too thin, it’s difficult to think clearly and feel grateful.

Let Go of Other People’s Expectations

wrapping presents for holidays

The holiday season comes with a lot of great opportunities, but a lot of expectations too. Maybe, prior to your pain, you’d run a 5k and then cook for your family on Thanksgiving. The expectation to do things you’ve always done is tough to overcome, especially for chronic pain sufferers themselves.

Personally, I know I’m my own worst critic and I’m the one who wants to attempt the special holiday tasks I used to perform. My family is far more understanding than the critic that lives in my own head. They don’t care if I bake or buy from the store. They just want to spend time with me. And that reminder helps a lot.

However, I know that not everyone has a family that is as understanding as mine. Or, they may sometimes say things that are hurtful, even if they mean well. No one can teach empathy, but explaining the invisible pain inside your body can help your loved ones understand.

Additionally, it’s critical to work on your own mindset and remember that doing what’s best for yourself isn’t selfish. Think about which tasks you can outsource and which ones you can ask for help with. Share how grateful you are with the person who helped you manage your pain. They’ll feel good for being able to help you and you’ll feel gratitude for your wonderful support system.

Guard Your Mindset

exit strategy holiday party

According to the American Psychological Association, “Understanding and managing the thoughts, emotions and behaviors that accompany the discomfort can help you cope more effectively with your pain.” If you’re prone to feeling bad about yourself when out-of-town relatives visit (who wouldn’t feel bad, pain or not, when Aunt Ida comments on your weight gain?), then try to avoid those situations as much as possible.

I recommend always having a back-up plan or code to give to a loved one when you need to exit a situation quickly. Even though I’m extroverted and enjoy long conversations, I know that I need frequent mental and physical breaks during parties. Additionally,  mantras and affirmations can help keep you grounded, even when life feels hectic.

Social media is also an excellent way to stay connected, especially if chronic pain leaves you housebound more than you’d like. However, it can also hurt your mental health, especially during the holidays. When you’re scrolling through social media, it may seem like everyone you know is enjoying holiday festivities while you’re home resting and recovering. 

Remember, most social posts are a highlight reel of other people’s lives, not a portrayal of their day-to-day life. If you need to, unfollow certain people or take a social media break for your own mental health. It will help you stay in a positive mindset and keep you from falling into a comparison trap.

Write Down What You ARE Grateful For

No matter what you celebrate, the holidays aren’t actually about gifts, food, or decorations. Reminding yourself of three things that you’re grateful for each day is an excellent habit to start. After all, why wait for a new year? 

It can be as simple as: “Today I am grateful for coffee, my dog, and my heated blanket”.  Of course, you can be far more detailed. I like to write about what I’m grateful for in the morning, so it sticks with me throughout the day.

As Melody Beattie once said, “Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today and creates a vision for tomorrow.”

What are YOU grateful for this holiday season? 

What has your experience been with gratitude and chronic pain?

Share your experience in the comments below.

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