Don't be a Scrooge: When Pain, Relatives, and the Holidays Collide!


Let’s face it. The holidays can be major energy suckers. Don’t get me wrong; I LOVE the holidays. I’m weirdly obsessed with playing christmas music (my fiancé makes me promise that I won’t play any holiday tunes until the first of December) and I go weak in the knees for pumpkin-flavored baked goods. 

But, I also find that I’m extra exhausted during the holidays. There’s usually so much to do and so many people to see. Relatives are constantly asking you how you’re feeling: “Oh, but you look so great on Facebook, I’m so happy to see that you’re all better now!!!” Plus, with all the baking and cooking, gift shopping and wrapping, card signing, and visiting with relatives, it can zap the energy of anyone, especially those who are living with chronic pain or illness. Oftentimes, the stress and exhaustion of the holidays can translate to flare-ups and increased pain. Although, you might not be able to entirely eliminate holiday stressors, I do hope that these suggestions allow you the opportunity to significantly reduce holiday-induced stress and pain in your life. 


There is so much anticipation and expectation wrapped up in the holidays that it can be easy to forget how important it is to take some time for stillness. Each day, take some time to just disconnect from it all: the expectations, the to-do list, etc. What does this look like for you? Perhaps, this means that when you wake up, instead of scanning your phone you take a short walk. Or in the evening, you make a hot cup of tea and do a sudoku, or read a funny short story you like. If you’re at work and the day is getting away from you, schedule in a 5 minute pause for stillness. Go outside and take a HUGE breath of fresh air. Look at the sky, the trees, the buildings across the street. The point is to look at anything other than a screen. Taking the mental break from the computer, social media, texting, and other people’s needs will be good for your head and your spirit, which in turn is great for reducing pain. Five minutes of this can do wonders for shifting your mind and body from “tense and stress mode” to a more peaceful one.


Instead of writing down everything that needs to be done for the holiday, compose a list of everything that is important to you for this holiday. Then ask your family to do the same. Together, make a plan that identifies what specific steps need to be taken to make sure those important pieces are not overlooked. Prioritize those by most pressing to least pressing. Then, make a list of anyone who can help you accomplish these tasks and write their name next to what they can do. Ask them to help see it through.  What needs to happen in order for those to manifest? Are christmas lights lining the exterior on your list? See who can do the physical labor of the hanging, while you uncoil the lights and tell them if it’s straight and if it looks ok. Make sure to schedule and allow for buffer time, which is essential for when you need extra time to rest or recuperate. That way, if it’s in your plan (it should be; this is definitely a priority!), you won’t make excuses for not having time to take care of yourself. One trick is to ask someone in your circle to serve as the “holiday elf”. This person is available on-call to help out in the event that you need something like errand runs, but you are having an off day.

If something just simply can’t be delegated to another person, ask yourself: “Can this be removed from my list of priorities?”. Usually, the answer is YES, especially when you remember that the alternative is to push yourself to complete the task by compromising your own sanity, health, and comfort. However, if the case is that you just can’t fathom removing it from your list, then ask yourself : “What is the easiest way I can possibly get this accomplished?”.              


Don’t over do it. Take breaks. Ask for help. Allow yourself to do what you can. Remind yourself: I’m doing the very best I can but I refuse to harm myself in the process. After all, your loved ones would rather have a functional, healthy, and happy version of you for the holidays, rather than the hiding-in-the-bedroom alternative, so you don’t have to feel guilty for doing some self-care. 


I joke about how, when the holidays come around, it can feel as if everyone and their Madre are expecting you to visit, call, send a card, email, come for dinner, send gifts, etc. 

But, chronic pain or illness can and does often interfere with your social agenda. This can sometimes lead to disappointment, embarrassment, or even guilt. To combat these feelings, I recommend doing a few things to limit your physical obligations without compromising your interaction with your loved ones. Similar to making your list of priorities, make a list of all of the people with whom you want to interact this holiday. What does this look like? What is the best scenario? 

Stay close to home. Do what you can to limit your distances traveled, if any. Maybe this means you invite relatives to your house and ask that they all bring a dish and pitch in to clean up afterwards, so that you can maximize your socializing without burning out all of your energy. 

I’m a sucker for sending and receiving holiday cards in the mail. Ever since the internet took over, snail mail has a special nostalgia to it. It’s a great way to keep in touch with loved ones who you can’t visit.  Take advantage of technology.  Skype, Google Hangouts, Facetime— these are free tools that make it easier than ever for you to connect with loved ones in a super low-impact way. 


Even though your life might get busier and more hectic when the holidays roll around, it is even more crucial for you to continue to maintain your health and reduce your stress during this time of year. Do what you need to do to maintain your healthiest baseline (where you feel the least amount of pain the majority of the time). To do this, maintain any exercise or gentle movement practices that help you feel better, continue to eat healthy and whole foods, stay properly hydrated, mediate, read, do yoga, swim, make art, whatever you need to do to feel strong, and confident in your skin. You do you, ok? 

Stress and exhaustion can and will wipe out your immunity, which makes it even more difficult for our body to process pain and discomfort, which leads to flare-ups and bad, bad times. So, keep up your immunity! Take those vitamin C supplements, get some good SLEEP, cut down on your caffeine, alcohol, and sugar intake (these are major inflammation inducers!), and drink some good-for-your-immunity teas that have powerful herbs like elderberry, yarrow, and echinacea. 


The most important part of the season is to enjoy the time you have with the ones you love the most. Give yourself the time and space to just be with your people; for better or worse, these people love you the most and, given the chance,  they will lift you up!

How do you manage pain during the holidays? Let me know in the comment field below. 

Have a peaceful and pain-less (as possible) holiday!

Screen Shot 2015-12-06 at 3.23.19 PM.png