By Dr. Michael J. Cooney
Clinical Director, Calmare Therapy NJ USA
We’re in the throes of the holiday season and for the first time in two years, we are celebrating like ‘the old days,’ in many cases. But if you live with chronic pain, the unpredictability of your condition can add stress and limit your full enjoyment of the season.
My patients have shared their concerns about being able to participate in traditional holiday events and activities, such as decorating your home, shopping for gifts, traveling near or far and attending holiday celebrations.
I asked some of our Calmare Therapy patients how they handle the holiday season while managing a chronic health condition or chronic pain. Their answers were outstanding and something I’m proud to share with our blog readers. I thank our pain management patient warriors who know better than anyone how to manage day-to-day challenges.
Note: We are publishing each contributor’s first name and first initial of the last name only to maintain their HIPAA privacy. Some replies were edited for length.
My biggest tip for my (daughter) chronic pain warrior is always “it’s okay to say no” and put yourself first when needed, particularly when an event or situation will add unneeded stress during an already stressful time of year!
I have a calming box next to my bed with happy photos of family, my favorite music and Christmas cards I have received from family and friends. Whenever I can’t join in (or can’t sleep, which is most nights) I open the box to remind me I’m not alone and people care about me.
Look for future positive events or things coming up; doing so helps get you through the tough days when you have to miss parties and events!
Karen S. (21 years with RSD)
I really make an effort to attend as many family and friend events as I can. Once I arrive, I often enjoy myself after forget about the pain for a while. Sure, I may pay the price the next day (I have CRPS) but it’s worth it to feel normal for a few hours.
Just say no. It’s something I’m working on, especially with the holidays coming up, and I usually do a TON of baking and cooking, especially in December. But it’s completely ok to say ‘no’; it’s ok to say, “I don’t think I’ll be able to do that this year.”
Do a little at a time, take many “me” breaks. Rock in a rocking chair or walking with arms swinging helps spinal fluid flow for those of us with arachnoiditis. Definitely take one day on followed by one day off to rest your body.
Shar S. (Arachnoiditis)
Do what you can and be proud of it–buy cookies at the bakery to decorate with your kids. Use gift bags instead of wrapping paper. Split up cooking for holiday meals with family or friends. Take it easy on yourself and don’t let guilt get you down.
Saying ‘no’ to other people means saying ‘yes’ to yourself. Don’t feel guilty for saying no.
Find something each day to be thankful for or positive about.
And, remember, prayer works. 🙂
Rest when you can; I’m always overdoing it and paying a heavy price with pain later.
Always remember–you have this dragon– BUT it does NOT have you!
My teenager has post-surgical chronic pain. No matter how bad he may be feeling, I make him get up and make his bed every day. He is still a viable person who needs to preserve his daily routine. He also needs to move his body in some way to avoid atrophy of essential muscle.
Olivia (for son Todd)
The #1 advice I have is to stretch those muscles! What makes it hurt a little less is knowing that you are gaining back the muscles you lost from being in pain for years.
Stretching helps you regain your balance, coordination, muscle strength and helps you improve spatial awareness.
If you have been thinking about working out for years but haven’t because pain stops you, just try. You’ll thank yourself!
Brandi S. (living with bilateral CRPS ankles and feet, 11 years, two months, one day)
Treat yourself to something new to wear–even if you can’t leave the house. Buy a new hat, shirt or a bunch of new socks that don’t hurt to wear them. I like to buy lipstick and hair accessories. It lifts my spirits. If I post a picture or go out somewhere, I have something to boost my confidence.
I agree about online shopping, gift cards, etc. Also, I think it’s important to set boundaries for ourselves and take time away from the chaos of the holidays/family/etc.
Allow yourself to have quiet time. It’s hard to do that sometimes, but I think we do better when we can set limits, when we’re able to retain at least that control, we do a bit better.
Lots of rest, stay low stress and enjoy! Time is a thief of joy! Stay positive and keep moving forward! Enjoy when you can meet people but also maintain your boundaries of self care! We got this, CRPS warriors!
From a caregiver and partner point-of-view: Make sure to always be attentive. Sometimes a simple hug can work wonders to let the patient know they are seen and you are paying attention. Little things go a long way.
I’m coming up on 30 years with RSD and learned so much over the years from doctors and others who also share this wicked disease. We each have to find our own norm, as this illness isn’t one size fits all. I also try to keep as active as my body allows–the more I use muscles and my body–the less pain I have when moving.
Note this doesn’t include flares. (I don’t have control over them, unfortunately).
Tell the hostess you will be there, but your body will tell you when you absolutely need to go home. Most will offer you a bedroom to rest, if needed. There are days that it takes me 3-5 hours to get ready, because of the pain, but I go.
Wear comfy clothes and take a blanket, if that makes you feel more comfortable. Often, being around other people laughing and talking actually lets you put your pain away for a few hours, while other times it doesn’t help at all.
Even if I attend a gathering for 20 minutes and have to leave, I got myself out of my stay-at-home boredom and enjoyed living a normal life for a few precious minutes. It’s more than worth the effort.
Pay attention to your mental health because many of these prescription meds make you an emotional wreck. Implore your pain management provider to prescribe alternatives that may work better for you, when needed.
About Dr. Cooney
Dr. Michael Cooney has been the clinical director of Calmare Therapy NJ USA since its inception in 2011. He is a global leader in the use of scrambler therapy to treat most types of medication and treatment-resistant neuropathic pain. Dr. Cooney has successfully treated more than 1,000 chronic pain warriors using Calmare Therapy. He was featured in the 2022 PBS documentary “Pain Secrets: The Science of Everyday Pain.”