No matter your beliefs or background, culture or unique celebrations, this time of year is filled with people celebrating. From Yule to Hanukkah to Christmas Day itself, to more usual festivals such as Kwanzaa or Hogmanay, and of course New Year’s Eve. Yet for those of us living with chronic pain and illness it can be a daunting occasion and celebrating New Year’s eve, a distant memory.
Our longing to linger with loved ones may be even stronger at this time of year but as we know we’ll be unable to join in with the celebrations as much as we’d like, it can also be a sad occasion. As if that were not difficult enough, because of the nature of our ever-present pain and symptoms, even our limited involvement so easily leads to painful flare-ups and ‘payback’ later on for what so many take for granted.
To complicate things further (and worsen that payback), it’s naturally hard to limit our time with others, especially if we spend so much time in isolation because of our pain and chronic illness. Like so many in pain, even when my body is screaming for me to stop interacting, to stop, rest, lie down in a quiet, less stimulating and therefore less excruciating environment, I am reluctant to ‘give in’ to the pain but whether it’s the monster that is CRPS, fibromyalgia or another chronic pain condition or cause, I know so many in pain feel the same way.
Even when we are so aware of our pain flaring all the greater the longer we push past our limitations, it’s so hard to leave to be alone. Then when our limited interaction causes the pain to escalate so drastically, we are forced to slip away to allow it to calm. To add to the heartache, this may increase others’ false assumption that we can be energetic and vibrant all the time but behind the bedroom door is a very different picture they never see.
Discover how to survive the festivities in spite of chronic pain with these calming tips…
Take Frequent Breaks
If your pain increases dramatically when surrounded by the stimulus of noise and crowds, especially if children running about, take frequent breaks from company and go to a quiet room in your home.
Central sensitisation and the pain of allodynia can make even the briefest time in company a very painful affair. Having somewhere you can escape to calm your pain may result in you being able to enjoy more of the day. Pacing your celebrations is crucial.
Prepare this room for your little visits, by putting a few things in there ready, for example, headphones and an MP3 player for a calming meditation, a book, magazine or Kindle to read, films or shows to watch on your iPad, phone or whatever other gadgetry you may use. Anything that can help create a soothing, calming place for you to recover, rest a little and calm your pain.
If you can lie down and relax, maybe even do some gentle stretches then a relaxation exercise, such as a guide meditation, the body-scan or deep breathing exercises, you’ll be able to pace your way through your time with loved-ones without flaring-up [too much]. If you are a visitor, check with your hostess to see what area would be good for you to take your break in ahead of celebrations. Never be embarrassed to ask.
Be as sociable as your limitations allow
Connecting with those you love always lifts your spirits and endless studies have found that those with strong social networks are happier, have more confidence and a higher sense of wellbeing but with the unpredictability of chronic illness, planning for the ever-elusive ‘good’ days is like predicting weather.
Cancelling at the last moment is always hard and at this time of year we seldom have the opportunity to rearrange as everyone is so busy but if or indeed when this happens, instead of sinking into the deepest sadness and depression, treasure the moments with loved ones that you do share, even if time is limited, and enjoy the connections that the season affords you, whether online or in person.
Know that you’re not alone
The human mind can sometimes be your worst enemy, especially when bottling up how you’re feeling about Christmas and your limitations, both physically and mentally. Although these psychology techniques are always useful when you live in pain, also connect with others online.
Simply letting others know that you’re having a bad day and then hearing them say how they understand what you’re going through can be therapeutic. Talking with others who are dealing with the same pain can be a great way to learn about how they cope when feeling a bit down as a result of their symptoms, particularly at Christmas when it feels like the whole world is having fun while you’re lying in bed.
Take yourself back to the roots of what the day is all about
Originally, the five day ‘festival of lights’ signified rebirth and hope at the darkest time of year to remind people that the light of spring was coming – remembering this takes you out from the modern day expectations.
- Spend a moment releasing the build-up of the incipient madness by mentally attending to releasing all the additional tension in your muscles with a deep breath, exhaling slowly.
- Now lengthen your spine and breath slowly, deeply, gently. With each in breath, feel yourself filling up with the essence of calm; with each out breath, feel the calm radiating out for everyone else to benefit from. While doing so, soften your chest and allow your natural human warmth to radiate from your heart centre.
- Remind yourself that now, more than any time of the year, is about being open to loving people, including yourself – this love is worth 1000 gifts and presents and this love will see you through the season.
Keep your energy levels up throughout all the festivities
Always use the three P’s: Plan, Pace and Prioritise. When you know your baseline pain level, your pacing time-limits and you keep to a strict plan, prioritising your most treasured (and most important) activities, you’ll not only feel less overwhelmed, but will achieve more, also see the Pain Management page and Pacing page for more info and on pacing, which applies to all activity when you live with pain.
The most important thing is always to pace yourself, also endeavour to have adequate sleep, and try to avoid a heavy diet as much as possible. Too much sugar or erratic eating plays havoc with both your pain and energy levels. Try to follow a light diet that focuses on nutrient-rich and natural foods to nourish your body and keep inflammation to a minimum.
Simplify your Christmas
Talk about alternate ways to show you care for your loved ones. If trying to see everyone is too much, figure out a way to spend quality time with those who matter most to you. Free yourself from what you think you should do and be clear about what would bring you peace and meaning.
You need to enjoy the season too and not spend days in bed recovering from them. Plan, pace and prioritise your tasks, ask for help, cut some things from your list, or if you can, ask someone else to do them. Never feel bad about setting limitations and realistic goals, especially this time of year.
Remembering nothing is perfect
Whether Christmas or any other day, nothing is perfect – and accept this and accept yourself for not being perfect either – no longer expecting perfection, while still always doing the best you can regardless, helps relieve you of the enormous amount of unnecessary stress you place on yourself through the deluded belief that it was ever meant to be otherwise.
Do whatever you do with utmost assurance but give yourself space and grace to fall short of perfect as you inevitably will and the day inevitably will. On the other hand, in so allowing, you are then free to discern and appreciate the perfectly flawed nature of existence itself, even in the midst of pain.
Alternative Healing For Christmas
Natural therapies can bring much-needed relief at this stressful time of year, try the following to help rebalance and cope:
- Beech Bach flower essence for intolerance of relatives/disbelief in your illness
- Century essence for an inability to say ‘no’
- Elm essence for feelings of being over-whelmed
- Olive essence for exhaustion
- Gorse for loneliness and depression
- Crab Apple for feelings of unworthiness.
- A few simple therapeutic or restorative yoga asanas can get you back into balance. If you don’t know yoga, any form of stretching will help as it releases tension from taut muscles and gets the blood flowing back into your brain.
- Alternatively, do a jin shin jyutsu pose – hold the thumb of your left hand with the fingers of your right. When you feel a steady pulse in your thumb, release and hold the index finger of your left hand in the same way – again, until you feel a pulse in the finger; work your way through all the fingers, then repeat on the right hand.
- Another two minute tension reliever (see warning below) is to clasp your hands behind your head and let the weight of your hands pull your head forward, feeling a stretch in the neck and all the way down your spine. Don’t pull down, simply relax, let the weight of your hands and head do the work and breathe out with a deep sigh and repeat. Please note that you know your body best: If this is not suitable for you personally, do not do it.
- Sound therapy has some great quick-fixes – try humming gently if you’re stressed, sighing if you’re irritable; or sing and listen to music, which has many healing properties.
- Watsu is amazing for chronic pain relief and releasing trapped emotions; it also balances energy flow and soothes or energises, depending on your need.
- Cranio-sacral therapy is lovely too, very balancing, without leaving you too spaced-out afterwards.
- I’d also always recommend acupuncture but there is a huge variation in therapists so if you can, find a good acupuncturist by word of mouth, ensuring that they have experience with chronic pain patients.
- You may enjoy these Natural Therapies to Ease Chronic Pain.