The holidays bring with them visions of turkey-laden tables, sugar plum fairies, tables set with all kinds of pumpkin goodies, and chilly nights spent by the fire with a warm beverage. However, some doctors say that all the celebrating, along with the stress and disrupted routines, can worsen feelings of chronic pain. Social worker Patricia Fennell says: “Holidays act like a lightning rod where all the physical and social concerns around chronic illnesses get really highlighted.” If you’re preparing for Thanksgiving and suffer from chronic pain, here’s what you should know. We also feature some healthier food blogs you can go to for holiday meal inspiration.
Can the holidays worsen chronic pain?
Even those who, for most of the year, barely exhibit symptoms of chronic pain and related conditions may find themselves taxed beyond their limit during the holidays. Outside the holiday months, chronic pain patients may scrape by. They may spend energy on working, chores, and other basic life tasks. And, in that time, socializing fall by the wayside because they simply don’t have the energy.
During the holidays, however, hibernating may become less possible. People throw parties, dinners, and other events that require effort to prepare for and attend, Fennell says. People with chronic pain often don’t have that extra effort to spare. Fennell adds:
“Most of the time (people with chronic pain) don’t look sick. When illness flares up, their pain is invisible. Or they have bone-numbing fatigue, so bad that they can’t take a shower and go to the store in the same day. There’s a cultural misperception that says you’re not sick unless you look sick. They need to make their illness visible by talking about it.”
Here are a few ways to manage chronic pain as you prepare for Thanksgiving and throughout the holidays.
1. Be honest
Fennell recommends asking for what you need and being upfront about your limits. If headed to a party, for example, let the host know in advance if you’ve been experiencing pain or fatigue. Tell that person that you may only be able to stay for a few hours, and request that chairs be made available in case you need to sit.
Also, be open to asking for help. WebMD gives the inspiring story of a woman named Rosalind Joffe living with multiple sclerosis and ulcerative colitis who still managed to throw a holiday party for 22 people. Joffe wasn’t a superwoman, one of those rare souls who manage to live with health conditions while never skipping a beat. Instead, she asked for help.
Joffe began planning for the Thanksgiving dinner months in advance, creating a menu and asking people to bring specific dishes. She hired people to clean so that concern would be off her mind. The day before the dinner, a friend arrived to help arrange table settings. She assigned relatives various tasks ranging from serving dinner to helping with clearing the table.
Joffe says that although at times hosting the large gathering was a challenge, avoiding the dinner and not inviting friends and family into her home to enjoy the holiday would have made her feel worse. Joffe tells WebMD:
“What I’ve learned is if I ask for help in advance, even with my own family, people don’t feel put upon. They feel like they’re a part of the event.”
2. Get sunshine
To complicate matters of chronic pain around the holidays, fall and winter months can be linked to episodes of depression, also known as seasonal affective disorder, which may exacerbate chronic pain symptoms.
To alleviate wintertime blues, try opening all your blinds to let in as much sunlight as possible and trimming any tree branches that block light from entering windows, recommends the Mayo Clinic. If you work in a dark office, consider ways to sit closer to a window or walk outside when possible to experience daylight.
Experiment with eating lunch outdoors or taking walks outside during the day. Exercise is believed to alleviate the holiday blues, and breaking a sweat is recommended by experts as one way to manage chronic pain during the holidays.
With so much on your plate, the temptation can be to go, go, go. However, constant movement can lead to burnout for anyone, but particularly for those experiencing underlying conditions such as chronic pain or fatigue. Take rejuvenating baths, lay on the couch with a good book, and try to get eight solid hours of sleep each night.
Balancing activity with rest will help you find a way to partake in holiday festivities while reducing chronic pain symptoms.
With an ever-growing to-do list, it may feel sometimes like you’ll never get it all done. And that’s true. The to-do list will never end. So don’t worry about accomplishing every item. Pick the most important things, those that you can’t get off your mind, and then save the rest for another day.
If you have a flare-up or feel really tired one day and fall behind on the list, don’t worry. The important things will get done. Ask for help if needed.
5. Eat healthy
Sure, you may indulge, but continuing to eat an abundance of vegetables, fruit, and whole grains during the holidays is critical to managing chronic pain. For conditions such as diabetes, eating healthy is essential while eating the wrong kinds of food could worsen the disease, according to WebMD.
With other conditions, such as fibromyalgia or lupus, eating too much pumpkin pie will likely not make the disorder worse, but it could worsen symptoms.
6. Go to healthy food blogs for guidance
A hot, home-cooked meal can chase away the winter chill like nothing else. Food blogs are a fantastic source of regular, new recipes. Once you find one you like, you’ve got a constant source of new dishes to try out. Whether you’re trying to liven up your diet or find a new twist on your traditional Thanksgiving meal, there’s a food blog for you.
Some food blogs focus on dishes that are healthy or food-restriction friendly. Maybe you’re trying to cut back to avoid any holiday weight gain. Perhaps you’ve got food allergies or follow a restrictive diet. Whatever the case, if you’re trying to watch what you eat, odds are you’re getting bored of the typical bland “diet” foods. We recommend checking out the following blogs for recipe ideas.
The Picky Eater
The Picky Eater food blog is run by Anjali, who is a Board Certified Health Coach. According to her About Me page, Anjali grew up eating a very health-centric diet full of organics and fresh produce, but her husband grew up eating pizza and fast food. She balanced both lifestyles by cooking healthy versions of her husband’s favorites, resulting in lots of deliciously healthy dishes.
The recipes at The Picky Eater are clear and easy-to-follow, complete with lots of pictures along the way. Additionally, there’s a lot of information about other health topics, such as healthy baking substitutes, information about soy proteins, and tips for enjoying holiday meals without going overboard.
My Darling Lemon Thyme
The food blog My Darling Lemon Thyme is by Emma. Emma is vegetarian, and both Emma and her children have lactose and gluten allergies, so the recipes on her food blog reflect this. She’s got some great information for anyone who’s new to a gluten-free diet. Additionally, she grows lots of the ingredients for her recipes in her own garden, so there’s quite a bit of information about gardening on the website.
If you have food allergies or restrictions, the recipe list at My Darling Lemon Thyme could be a goldmine for you. Each recipe is followed by a description like gluten-free, vegan, lactose-free, fermented, or sugar-free. This allows you to quickly find recipes that fit your specific food requirements.
I Am A Food Blog
I am a Food Blog is run by Stephanie, a self-proclaimed lover of noodles, bacon, potatoes, and breakfast foods. She takes traditional recipes and gives them an unconventional twist, like bacon grilled cheese pizza, or an Asian influence, as with bacon and eggs yakiudon.
The recipes from this food blog are eclectic and playful, and the photos of the completed dishes always look delicious. The end result often leans toward gourmet, but the ingredients and directions are simple and straightforward.
The Comfort of Cooking
The Comfort of Cooking food blog focuses on fresh and frugal recipes, and there is a huge selection to browse. If you’re trying to watch what you eat, check out the diabetic friendly or light and healthy sections of the recipe index.
There are also lots of tips and tricks and how-tos, if you’re a bit unsure in the kitchen. The recipes here are comfort foods or homemade versions of popular sweets. There are plenty of options to keep you cooking for a long time.
How Sweet It Is
Jessica’s How Sweet It Is food blog revolves around things that taste good. Some of the recipes here are healthy, and others are decadent. Lots are revised versions of the author’s favorites, like the caramelized shallot bacon gravy made with the same method as her mother’s traditional gravy.
There are vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free sections in the recipe index if you’re working with a specific set of dietary needs. Additionally, the author sometimes does lightened versions of classic recipes, like this lightened up fresh green bean casserole.
Top with Cinnamon
If you’ve got a sweet tooth, head for the Top with Cinnamon food blog, which is run by the very young Izy. There are a few savory recipes here, as well as several how-to posts, but the vast majority are baked desserts, muffins, breads, and cakes. Lots of the recipes in the index are accompanied by a short description, like vegan or dairy-free.
Also noted next to many of the recipes is whether or not they contain videos or GIFs (which are animated files or images). These how-to videos and GIFs can be extremely helpful in tackling new recipes. For example, the step-by-step guide to making croissants is accompanied by GIFs illustrating each step, which simplify a rather intimidating recipe.
Food blogs are a great way to liven up your Thanksgiving dinner. There’s definitely something to be said for sticking to the classics, but it’s also fun to mix things up every once in a while. This Thanksgiving, consider adding a few new dishes to your table, even if you just add them to the mix instead of replacing traditional ones.
8. Speak up
Finally, if you need help, or are worried about cooking dinner for eight, or don’t think you’ll be able to stand up all night at Aunt Barbara’s holiday gathering, let people know. Chronic pain is largely invisible to outsiders, and people don’t know how you feel unless you tell them.
Not everybody will accept your limitations, but being willing to ask for help and staying true to yourself will help you avoid pushing too hard. It’s better to prepare and ask for help before you reach the point of exhaustion or frustration to avoid reaching that place in the first place.
What other tips do you have for managing chronic pain around the holidays?