How can we find ways to participate enjoyably and not send our pain levels through the roof? Here’s a quick list of guidelines and reminders for navigating the holidays that I have found helpful to me in past years.
1. Learn to say no.
If you’re in pain, this is not your year to take care of everyone. Say no (kindly but firmly) to planning, organizing, cooking, cleaning up and events that are more like obligations than joys and will wear you out. Be selective.
2. Rest often.
Give yourself permission to rest even more than usual. Holidays can be fun, but they’re also stressful and taxing. Rest before you go out, rest while you’re out (take breaks from the group and find an unoccupied couch), rest when you return.
3. Ask for help
Ask more of others so you can attend gatherings without wearing yourself out. Ask others to do the organizing, driving, phone calling, gift and grocery shopping, decorating, prep work, cooking, and cleaning up, or at the very least help you with whatever you choose to do.
4. Give yourself a free pass
Give yourself a free pass to say yes or no at the last minute. That means that you're going to respond with a firm "Maybe" when you're invited anywhere. It means that you can leave the decision about whether you're going or not right up to the moment you're heading out the door. And it means preparing others to accept that.
5. Let others know it’s not personal
Let coworkers, friends, and family know that your need to not attend or to arrive late or disappear early is not about them. Ask for their understanding for the whole holiday season. Let them know that you really want to be able to be with them, but that you need to take care of yourself differently right now.
6. Let yourself be selfish
When you're in pain, you need to be a little more selfish. It isn't doing you or anyone else any good if you wear yourself out and make your symptoms worse trying to do everything you used to do and go everywhere you used to go. Give to yourself this holiday season.
7. Leave guilt out of it
Do what you need to do for yourself without guilt. This can be hard when you have traditional family, religious, or work obligations around the holidays because you may feel bad about not being able to join in all of them or participate fully. Remember, this is your time to allow others to do things for you.
8. Don’t leave yourself out
While you’re deciding what you may or may not be able to do over the holidays, remember not to completely cut yourself off from friends and family because you’re in pain. Being with loved ones for special occasions can be one of the most joyful aspects of being alive. It’s usually better to attend a few special events even in a limited capacity and even if you have to bring pain along, than to cut yourself out of all of them. If you are bedridden, consider asking friends and family to bring one or more of your traditional events to you.
9. Find a holiday partner
And, finally, consider recruiting a holiday partner - a friend or family member who understands your situation and can drive you to functions, pick up the slack in terms of bringing extra food or making arrangements, and agree to leave early with you, when necessary and without question.
This holiday season give yourself the gift of saying yes only to those functions you will really enjoy, finding a holiday partner or two who will support you in the ways you need, and a guilt-free pass to say no when you need to so you can more fully enjoy the celebrations you do attend. Take care of yourself and savor the joys and celebrations you are able to share with others in whatever forms they may take.
Wishing you all the happiness of the holiday season!
Sarah Anne Shockley has lived with nerve pain from Thoracic Outlet Syndrome since 2007. She co-produced and directed Dancing From the Inside Out, a multi-award winning documentary on AXIS Dance Company (integrating wheelchair and able-bodied dance). She has been a columnist for Pain News Network is a regular contributor to The Mighty. Her book, The Pain Companion will be released from New World Library, June, 2018. She is also author of The Light at The Center of Pain, Living Better While Living With Pain, and 30 Days of Living Better While Living With Pain.