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Navigating the Holidays with Chronic Pain

Updated: Dec 22, 2023

Blog post written by,

By Liz gruber, PsyD


The holiday season is often portrayed as a time of joy, celebration, and connection. However, for those dealing with chronic pain, the festivities can bring a unique set of challenges. While others are caught up in the whirlwind of holiday preparations and gatherings, individuals with chronic pain may find themselves navigating a delicate balance between self-care and societal expectations.

 

Importance of Recognizing the Pain-Fear Cycle

The pressure to participate in holiday activities and maintain a cheerful demeanor can exacerbate anxiety related to chronic pain. Anxiety and pain constantly intensify each other

Therefore, it is important to interrupt the cycle by targeting fear, anxiety and stress. This can be done by:

  • Changing one’s response to pain such as sending messages of safety to your brain: “this moment is temporary” or “I’m going to be okay”

  • Gently observe the sensations in your body without judgment

  • Engaging in activities you enjoy and that relax your body


Observing Pain and Anxiety Through a Lens of Safety

Visualization exercises and mindfulness meditation are other ways to create a sense of safety for the brain and reverse the brain’s hypervigilant state seen in chronic pain. Diaphragmatic Breathing, the Body Scan and Five-Senses Mindfulness are helpful techniques with retraining your brain to observe the present moment without criticism, be attuned, and redirect your attention when brain begins to ruminate about uncomfortable sensations. Practicing these strategies will help you respond to pain more effectively instead of reacting to uncomfortable sensations.

 

To Cancel or Not To Cancel

The temptation to avoid holiday plans and activities might be high, but it is important to not cancel plans if possible and to try them out while knowing you can always go home if pain worsens. You can also choose activities that allow you to engage at your own pace, whether it's a quiet dinner with close family or a virtual gathering with friends. Embrace the idea that the holidays can be meaningful without conforming to conventional norms. Avoiding such plans altogether can reinforce the isolation and loneliness of chronic pain, as well as self-criticism for “what you missed out on.”

 

Be Realistic

In contrast, it is also important to be realistic, as people pleasers and perfectionism are common traits seen in chronic pain. Pushing yourself beyond what your body can handle will increase stress, anxiety, and therefore pain. Acknowledge and communicate openly with loved ones about possible challenges and share specific ways they can assist you. Whether it's lending a hand with holiday preparations or simply offering emotional support, the understanding of those around you can make a significant difference.

 

Practice Gratitude

Despite the challenges that can come with chronic pain, cultivating gratitude can help shift one’s preoccupation with pain and feelings of hopelessness. Consider the moments of your life you are grateful for such as being able to hug or laugh with a loved one, going outside and feeling the sun on your skin, enjoying your favorite food, snuggle time with your fury friend, etc.  


Reflect on the positive aspects of your life, acknowledging the support you receive and the moments of joy that arise, even in the midst of pain. Cultivating gratitude can shift your perspective and enhance your overall well-being.

 

The holidays are a time of joy and connection. Responding versus reacting to pain sensations, prioritizing self-care and self-compassion, practicing gratitude, and communication will create a holiday season that aligns with your needs and allows you to find moments of joy amid the challenges.


At Home For Balance, we are proud to be an inclusive practice that promotes, educates and advocates for mental health awareness. We tailor services based on the cultural and individual needs of our clients and have several therapists who can provide services in different languages such as Spanish, Ukranian and Russian. For more information, please contact us today at info@homeforbalance.com or at 561.600.1424 for a FREE 30 minute consultation!




 

Elisabeth Gruber, PhD

Eating Disorders and Chronic Medical Conditions Expert


Liz works to establish a trusting and compassionate spaceconnecting through humor, validation, and transparency. She is currently an EmployeeAssistance Provider through Lyra Health, Inc. and accept Aetna insurance plans.

For more information about her services, please contatc her at drlizgruber@gmail.com or call 561-600-1914 toschedule a FREE 30 minute phone consultation!

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