With ghosts and witches stalking the neighborhood streets and choruses of “Trick or Treat!” ringing the air tonight, it can be easy to forget about your chronic pain if even just for a short while. Focusing on happier things is important for dealing with pain, and along with some other tips, you can help take control of your pain this Halloween.
Halloween’s boo-tacular origins
Celebrating Halloween with trick-or-treating and haunted houses is a far cry from the origins of this holiday. Halloween originated as the Celtic holiday Samhain (pronounced sah-win). The Celts took October 31st to celebrate the end of the harvest and prepare for the coming winter. They believed that on this day, spirits could cross the boundaries between the living and the dead and come back to cause sickness or damage crops. They marked the day with bonfires and special treats and dressed in masks to mimic the dead (and scare them away).
In North America, the Halloween tradition of trick-or-treating and dressing up in costume was not recorded in print until 1911 when an Ontario newspaper reported seeing children “guising” (dressing up) and going from shop to shop exchanging songs and stories for candies and nuts. The phrase “trick or treat” did not appear in print until 1934, and the practice only became widespread in the U.S. after the 1950s when World War II and sugar rationing ended.
Tips for managing chronic conditions during Halloween
For most people, Halloween is a harmless diversion, a fun chance to dress up and collect candy. For others, though, the holiday has become a dietary fright due to pain conditions or food allergies. Children especially can feel left out of the festivities if they are living with chronic pain or other conditions that cause them to eliminate or severely limit their intake of sugar. Here’s how you can still have a boo-tacular time.
1. Find some pain-friendly treats
These days there is more information than ever for food allergies and dietary restrictions, though. This gives plenty of options for children and adults who want to participate in the fun without paying for it later. Many people are used to saying no to edible treats due to their food allergies, and more households are offering non-food treats to little goblins and ghosts. Some examples of fun, non-edible treats are:
- Pencils with scary erasers
- Temporary tattoos
- Vampire teeth
- Glow sticks
- Coloring books and crayons
- Silly putty
These treats last longer than candy and can all be purchased online or through local party stores for not much more than a couple bags of candy.
2. Limit your sugar intake
Obviously you want to dig into the bag of candy, but take a moment to evaluate how that will affect you later. Eating sugar has been shown to dramatically increase levels of pain and inflammation. For those with diabetes, high-calorie sugary foods and refined sugars can cause a spike in blood sugar levels, leading to aggravated symptoms.
While it’s best to avoid sugar, it can be tempting to indulge, especially on Halloween. If you do, keep your portions small. Go for fruit or miniature candies. You’ll be surprised at how just a bit of sugar will help calm your cravings.
If candy is a must, check out the Natural Candy Store. This store offers candy without dyes or preservatives, both of which can aggravate pain conditions. They also offer a variety of options for gluten-free, organic, and allergy-friendly candies. These treats can be kept separate so that trick-or-treaters with limiting conditions can enjoy Halloween night treats.
3. Prepare for the extra activity
But what about all of that walking? This can be a major challenge for someone suffering from chronic pain, especially if that pain is highly variable from day to day. The best way to deal with all possibilities is to have a plan.
Being sedentary for weeks before and attempting to walk a mile-long trick-or-treating route is a recipe for disaster! Start walking the route weeks before and keep at it. Do the best you can to stay active and loose in the days leading up to Halloween.
And when the night hits, remember that Halloween is the perfect excuse to go out and get some light walking in with the kids. Pay attention to your body and only go as far as feels comfortable for you on this day. Find routes that have some benches or other seating along the way and take breaks when needed. Even with these modifications, exercise can help you loosen your muscles, improve circulation, and decrease stress.
4. Make a walking plan
Plan to walk with friends. This will help distract little ones from potential snags in the plan, plus it can offer opportunities for rest along the way.
Or, if the kids are old enough, let them walk to the door alone while you wait on the street. This saves some exertion but still maintains safety.
5. Hire some help
If you know you will not be able to walk to trick-or-treat, enlist the help of a young teen who is too old for trick-or-treating but wants to earn a little cash (and maybe snag some candy while in costume!). You can be in charge of handing out treats at home while your witches and rockstars haunt the neighborhood.
6. Look out for opportunities to “trunk or treat”
Many community centers and civic organizations organize these events in their parking lots. Families dress up and bring candy to share, then park in a parking lot while kids go car to car. It is not exactly the same as a long neighborhood walk, but these events are in a safe, monitored, enclosed environment that allows kids to participate without too much walking. Plus, these are generally more wheelchair- and cane-friendly as there is no terrain to navigate.
7. Pick from over 5o pain-friendly costumes
Be creative and inventive if walking just isn’t an option for yourself or your trick-or-treater. Who says the best costumes require standing?
8. Stick with your regular sleep schedule
Chronic pain is only aggravated when we move off of our typical sleep schedule. Plan Halloween festivities to closely line up with your normal bed time and let others know when you plan on going to bed so the festivities don’t drag on longer than you expected. Spend some quiet time at home before getting ready for bed to allow your body to slowly relax and get ready for sleep.
9. Create new traditions
Maybe your house is the final stop for cider and popcorn, and everyone shares a piece of candy or toy as they leave. Or maybe you want to be the place for a ghost story pit stop or a scary movie to end the night. Some families have also delivered special treats for their own child to houses in the neighborhood so that their child could trick or treat but still stay pain safe. The tradition of Halloween has evolved over the years, and there is no reason why you can’t make your own changes, too.
10. Have fun–laughter is sometimes the best medicine
Researchers have found that those who laugh more feel less pain later and that laughing can lead to a higher pain tolerance in the short-term. Enjoy all of the mummies and goblins, laugh at the costumes, and lose yourself in the holiday fun. Your body (and your mind) will thank you for it.
From all of us, have a safe, fun, and low-pain Halloween!