The demands on our energy, time, and patience are most likely going to become much higher than normal, and we’ll need to make wise choices about what we can and can’t do.
How do we find ways to participate enjoyably and not send our pain levels skyrocketing?
You Don't Have To Do It All
You don't have to be the person you were before you were struggling with pain, and you shouldn't try to be.
Yes, people have expectations of you and they forget that you're in pain. It's no fun, but you're going to have to gently remind others that you can't be everywhere and do everything they expect of you this holiday season.
Tell them that it's hard on you too, to not be able to be as involved as you have been in the past, but that it is very necessary for your healing. Let them know that the best way they can support your healing is to allow you to make the choices you need to make - the choices that may keep you home a little more and out a little (or a lot) less often.
Give yourself permission to ask others to do more than usual so you can attend gatherings without wearing yourself out, and give yourself permission to stay home if you need to.
Let coworkers, friends, and family know that it's nothing personal about them. It's personal about you. You're taking care of yourself.
Give Yourself A Free Pass
Tell friends and family that you may need to cancel your attendance at any event at the last minute, or that you may need to leave early, and ask for their understanding ahead of time. Let them know that you really want to be able to be with them, and your absence has nothing to do with how much you care about them. It has everything to do with taking care of yourself.
Then do what you need to do in that regard, and do it without guilt. Your priority is to find a way to take care of your needs for rest and low stress, even in the midst of this demanding season.
Don't Cut Yourself Off
So, here's my formula: Choose a small number, say 3 to 5, celebrations for the whole holiday season that you feel are the most important to you personally. I don't mean the ones you used to think were important based on obligations to work and family and friends. I mean the ones you truly enjoy, the ones that feed your spirit, the ones you would really miss if you couldn't go.
If at all possible, find a way to get to those and only those. Go for only a brief period, if need be. Attend without contributing to food or preparations. Again, give yourself a guilt-free pass.
Let yourself have the times that are important to YOU, and say no to the rest.
This may sound selfish, but if you're in pain, you need to be a little more selfish for now. It isn't doing anyone any good for you to wear yourself out trying to do everything you used to do and go everywhere you used to go if you will be raising your pain levels, and not enjoying yourself.
So, instead of being exhausted and grumpy at too many functions, pick a few choice ones you can attend with enjoyment. Above all, be kind to yourself and take care of yourself first.
Find An Ally
You might find someone for the whole season, but you might also want to ask a different person for each function. Remind yourself: You need more help. You need to do less.
So, don’t hide away this holiday season if you can help it, but also, give yourself a break by giving yourself the gift of attending fewer functions, saying yes only to the ones you will really enjoy, finding an ally or two who will support you in the ways you need, and giving yourself a free pass to say no when you need to so you can fully enjoy the celebrations you do attend.
Sarah Anne Shockley has lived with nerve pain from Thoracic Outlet Syndrome since 2007. She is the author of The Pain Companion: Everyday Wisdom For Living With and Moving Beyond Chronic Pain and Living Better While Living With Pain. She is a staff columnist for Pain News Network.