For some people, the holidays are the happiest time of year. But for others, the season’s pervasive cheer can exacerbate feelings of sadness and depression. It can also increase your risk for pain flare-ups especially if you injure yourself decorating or don’t pay mind to the changing of the seasons. Here’s our tips for reducing any chance of additional holiday pain during this season.
Reduce your risk of injury while decorating
Remember National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation? There is one scene where Chevy Chase, as hapless Clark Griswold, is balanced on a wobbly ladder while stapling lights to the house. As he overreaches to put up the lights, he staples his sleeve onto the siding and tries desperately to free himself. This of course causes the unbalanced ladder to completely give way sending Clark backwards where he is miraculously saved by a tree and can propel himself forward again toward the house, crashing into it and sending him flying and grasping to keep himself from falling off the ladder.
Christmas Vacation is a hilarious holiday movie but don’t let that be you this decorating season.
Far too often, real tragedy happens when it comes to decorating for the winter holidays. This NBC News report from the 2013 holiday season shared some details of injuries that are common during the decorating time of year. As it turns out, falls are among the most prevalent injuries usually due to the unsafe use of ladders or standing on items not meant to be used in that manner.
Unless you’re an absolute Grinch or Scrooge, you probably want to decorate your living space for the winter holidays. Decorating doesn’t have to be dangerous. If you live in an apartment you may want to keep you decorations inside only. In this case, table top accessories and a tree will be a great addition to your home and you can keep your physical danger to a minimum. Many injuries occur because of outdoor decorating.
And finally, as it turns out, many people attempt this task while inebriated. Be sure to stay sober and use all the right safety precautions while stringing lights on the house.
Prepare for colder weather
It isn’t just decorating that can lead to injury or holiday pain. If you are already dealing with the effects of chronic pain there are several things that may exacerbate the issues. Cold weather is one of the biggest culprits of added pain and many people don’t prepare properly when they’re out in the cold. Before you go outdoors make sure you have warm socks and boots, a hat that covers your ears, and adequate gloves. A scarf can help keep the cold off your face. Avoiding these steps can lead to long-term pain in the extremities if they are exposed to cold for too long.
The driveway is a hazard in the winter, too. If you live in an area where ice is possible, the driveway, sidewalks, steps, and porch can quickly become treacherous. The first step is to clear the area. If you have a chronic pain condition that can make this difficult, you may be able to talk a neighborhood kid into making a few extra bucks for shoveling or de-icing your walkways. It is essential to prevent falls so you can avoid further injury and long term pain.
Of course, you can only be responsible for your own property. If you live in an apartment complex be sure to hold the management staff accountable for keeping you and the other tenants safe. Be extra careful in public places and be sure to alert store managers or owners to any unnecessary dangers lurking outside their businesses.
Use additional tools to prevent arthritis pain
The holiday season has a number of hazards for individuals dealing with the effects of arthritis, either rheumatoid arthritis or osteoarthritis. Simple tasks from hanging small ornaments on the tree to wrapping packages can cause additional pain. You may wish to consider a pair of arthritis gloves which can help control pain when using your hands for fine, detailed work. Take your time and take frequent breaks. Use tools that can help such as automatic scissors. Don’t be afraid to use stick-on bows rather than tying intricate ribbons on the packages yourself.
Arthritis pain often hits while in the kitchen, too. Chopping vegetables, baking, and using small hand tools can be difficult. There are plenty of kitchen gadgets that can help the cooking process such as food processors or choppers. Involve the whole family to help prepare and cook holiday feast.
Be aware of greater depression risks
If you feel depression around the holidays, know that you are not alone. During these months, expectations may heighten, the increased pace of life brings stress, and any loss or grief can be amplified, especially when everyone else seems so merry. In commercials, movies, and real life, pictures of happiness saturate the senses, making everyone believe life is supposed to be perfect for a few wintry months.
Social worker Tracy Rydzy writes on PsychCentral:
“The holidays only highlights the loneliness and the pain of the past year for most people, myself included… The fact that the atmosphere suggests that I should be happy when I am so sad only makes me feel like more of a failure.”
Increased depression can actually lead to elevated pain levels. If you experience depression around the holidays, here are a few ways to manage it.
1. Manage expectations
You may feel pressured to buy everyone the perfect presents, decorate the perfect house, and bake the perfect, most delicious cookies that will have everyone in the neighborhood talking about what a terrific chef you are.
Throw all those ideas out the window, recommends Dr. Jeffrey P. Stabb, a Mayo Clinic psychiatrist. Trying to achieve vague ideas of perfection will only leave you reaching for unattainable ideals. Let good be good enough and save yourself from depression around the holidays.
Your memories of the holidays will center around how you feel, so make choices that help you feel good. Spend time with loved ones, maybe drinking tea and watching movies, relaxing, or simply enjoying the moment. Pare down other goals, making self-care a top priority.
2. Continue (or start) exercising
Amid holiday festivities and the temptation to indulge in one too many chocolate chip cookies, any pre-existing exercise regimen is easy to let slip. However, exercise is not only an effective tool for managing chronic pain and related conditions, it’s also becoming a better-accepted treatment for depression.
Doctors recommend exercising three to five times each week for anywhere from 45 to 60 minutes, reports The Atlantic. If getting to the gym is difficult because of depression or pain, try breaking the task into small steps recommends Joel Ginsberg, who successfully combatted feelings of social anxiety and hopelessness through exercise. He tells The Atlantic:
“I would think about just getting to the gym, rather than going for 30 minutes. Once I was at the gym, I would say, ‘I’m just going to get on the treadmill for five minutes.’”
That effort helped Ginsberg develop the habit of daily gym visits that helped him manage his mood.
3. Connect to others
Depression may result from feelings of isolation or create an urge for solitude, but reaching out to others, perhaps at church or through volunteering, helps to re-establish the feeling that you are connected to the community. These feelings of connection can help banish depression around the holidays.
The holidays, in particular, provide excellent opportunities to participate in the community. A variety of options are available depending upon your level of pain. You might opt to spend a couple hours at a soup kitchen, help a charity wrap presents, or sort food at a local food bank. Giving back to others and remembering that life is not perfect for anyone, and you are not alone in your problems, can help to lift your mood.
4. Practice gratitude
The holidays and associated buying frenzy leads many people to focus on accumulating material items. The focus on acquiring new things can give rise to feelings that we don’t have enough, or that we lack important things that we need. Feelings of outer lack easily lead to ideas of inner lack—that we are not enough or somehow inferior.
However, material consumption is not the original intent of the holidays. Thanksgiving, of course, is a day of thanks and expressing gratitude for all the abundance around. Hanukkah, if you celebrate the Jewish holiday, is a time to celebrate miracles. A small group of Jewish people thought they had enough oil to last just one night, but it lasted eight. And Christmas, of course, celebrates the birth of that religion’s savior.
Remembering the meaning underneath the sales and chaos, and practicing gratitude can help diminish depression around the holidays.
To practice gratitude, try writing down three things in the week that have gone well for you. You might journal acts of kindness that others have offered or write a letter of thanks to someone who did or said something nice. Why does giving thanks work? According to Psychology Today:
“Scientists say that these techniques shift our thinking from negative outcomes to positive ones, elicit a surge of feel good hormones like dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin, and build enduring personal connections.”
5. Turn off the television
The holidays are replete with advertisements promoting this product or that, commercials depicting perfect people with perfect lives (who don’t really exist), and a lot of negative news. WebMD says:
“Most programs are not designed to make you a better person or even feel better.”
Instead of television, try reading a book, engaging in a hobby, or playing a game with loved ones. You might even take a bath or indulge in another relaxation activity to lessen stress and decrease anxiety. These activities are nurturing and restorative, helping to boost your mood.
6. Maintain your routine
In addition to exercise, try to keep regular habits including schedules for sleep, eating, and taking medications. When you’re feeling blue, it’s easy to let these foundational practices slip. However, they’re important for managing depression around the holidays and other times during the year.
Prioritizing these health-maintenance activities also supports making other healthy decisions. For example, if it’s important to you to get a good night’s sleep, then deciding to leave a gathering at 9 p.m. instead of 11 p.m. becomes an easier choice. That said, if you do fall off track, be gentle on yourself.
Getting regular sleep and staying on track with medications and supplements helps reduce chronic pain, improves health, and alleviate feelings of sadness.
More tips for reducing holiday pain
Here are some additional tips to stay pain-free this holiday season:
- Eat healthy and exercise: While it can be difficult, or nearly impossible, try to make healthy choices when it comes to eating this holiday season. Plan for holiday parties so you don’t give in to the temptation of eating everything in sight. Avoid keeping fatty and sugary foods in your house.
- Stay hydrated: Water is essential. It not only keeps our bodies hydrated but it helps to prevent inflammation in the body that can cause additional pain. The winter air can be drying so drink enough water to stay hydrated. You can enjoy some hot beverages like tea as well.
- Avoid stress: While the holidays are meant to bring us cheer and joy they can be stressful for many people. Keeping up with the shopping and decorating can be exhausting. You may need to gather with family members with whom you don’t get along. Do what you can to alleviate stress this time of year. Meditation or a practice such as yoga can help.
- Get enough sleep: Finally, be sure you get enough sleep. Staying up late at night visiting with family or friends can be attractive but exhaustion can set in quickly, especially during these long, dark nights. In general, try to maintain a regular sleep schedule. Use supplements or relaxing teas to help you get to sleep naturally.
Celebrating the winter holidays should not be painful in any way. Winter is already a difficult time of the year for many people. Adding physical pain to the equation certainly doesn’t help. Whenever you can, ask for help. Your friends, family, and neighbors will understand and can help you plan and execute a lovely holiday to celebrate the season.
What other suggestions do you have for reducing your risks for holiday pain?