Chronic pain is more than mere discomfort. For millions of Americans, a chronic pain flare-up means hours and days of debilitating pain and disability, making even the simplest tasks feel insurmountable. Chronic pain is an obstacle to employment and general quality of life – to the point that it can spoil holidays and special occasions. Managing your pain is always essential, but it becomes imperative around the holidays when we’re all eager to spend as much quality time with each other as possible.
To make things worse, special, out-of-routine days like Thanksgiving often lead to greater flare-ups in pain for some people because of tight schedules, extra stress, and compromise. Knowing how to avoid the factors leading to a larger pain flare-up can help you make the most out of your holiday, this Thanksgiving and beyond.
Don’t Do It All Yourself
The first and most important advice is to lean on others to help you. This can range from asking for help with physical tasks to getting more support for some of the cognitive and mental workload associated with preparing a household for the holidays. Suppose you’re involved in much of the daily housework. In that case, you’ll know that something like Thanksgiving takes excessive preparation, such as:
- Extra grocery lists;
- Special meal considerations;
- Cook times;
- Food prep;
- Clean up;
- Guest rooms;
- And much more.
There are many ways you can help make things easier for yourself by delegating, relying on others, and minimizing your workload. For example:
- Turn Thanksgiving dinner into a potluck;
- Use paper plates to reduce the number of dishes and clean up;
- Create and share an online checklist that syncs across all your devices.
Sure, it still takes a lot of planning and coordination – but it’s better than juggling a million things yourself!
Take Time to Manage Your Stress
It’s essential to ask for help, but it’s also important to prioritize your well-being. Some people with chronic pain become used to shouldering their symptoms on days when it might be inconvenient to ask others to slow down or consider their pain. Don’t do that! Not only are you suffering needlessly, but that extra pain can turn the holidays into something to dread rather than enjoy. Ask for patience and understanding, then tend to your physical and mental priorities:
- Sleep hygiene;
- Special diets;
- Mental health therapy;
- Physical therapy;
- At-home stress relief or self-care routines.
Whatever it is you include in your routines and formal treatment plan, don’t compromise or neglect these stress management tools! You’ll be able to enjoy the holidays to a much greater degree if you’re allowed to take care of yourself, even if that means being less involved in the annual holiday prep.
Thanksgiving presents an opportunity to feast and overeat, like any other major holiday. But that doesn’t mean you should take full advantage of that opportunity. Depending on your pain condition, overeating or indulging in too many different foods can intensify symptoms and make it much more challenging to deal with a chronic pain flare-up. If you have difficulty keeping yourself from overeating, you may need to ask for help from friends and family. Instead of preparing a big feast, stick to smaller portions – design Thanksgiving dinner without leftovers in mind, or considerably dial back your original recipes.
Mindset Does Play a Role
One of the central themes of Thanksgiving is gratitude. Gratitude for a bountiful harvest, for a good year, for friends and family, and for countless blessings as we prepare for the winter months ahead. That gratitude can be more than just a tradition, though. Research shows that a person’s mindset can affect their pain perception and overall pain threshold.
Channeling gratitude mindfully can help you reduce your chronic pain by taking on a more positive attitude in the face of your daily challenges. In other words, instead of dwelling on all the little things that annoy you, try to focus exclusively on the things you’re grateful for. What makes you happy this year? What are you glad about? What would you like to honor or celebrate?
Take Plenty of Breaks
There’s no need to rush through the holidays. Take your time each day to:
- Pause and breathe;
- Take frequent breaks;
- Stay hydrated;
- Get your steps in;
- Do each task in ten-to-fifteen-minute increments.
Self-care is essential for managing stress as well as physical and mental health-related issues. While it’s easy for schedules to fall to the wayside when the holidays roll around, it’s important to prioritize them – especially if they can mean the difference between having an excellent time with your loved ones and struggling to keep a straight face.
Stick to the Treatment Plan
Suppose you are working with a professional to address your ongoing chronic pain. In that case, adhering to your current treatment plan is imperative, even if it doesn’t fit into the Thanksgiving holiday schedule. If you’re a particularly giving person, you might be used to giving way when other people’s needs intersect with your own, such as:
- Taking on a more significant load of housework;
- Doing overtime;
- Committing to the majority of the meal prep;
- And so on.
But if a pain-free Thanksgiving is your goal, then that kind of attitude will throw a wrench into your plans. Stick to your treatment, whether that means:
- Attending regular physical therapy sessions;
- Maintaining prescribed at-home exercises;
- Taking and managing your medications;
- Sticking to your anti-rheumatic diet.
More importantly, consider asking your loved ones for help – not just with the housework or meal plan, but with your treatment. Thanksgiving is all about gratitude and family; that means coming together for each other so that everyone can have a great time.