By Ellen Lenox Smith, Columnist
When the holidays are upon us, we tend to go into overload. Our minds are filled with all the things that have to get done. Maybe it’s presents to buy or make, meals to plan, company to prepare for, or packing for travel away from home.
We get so busy wrapping, cooking, cleaning and planning that, before you know it, your mind is spinning. If we aren’t careful, we get so wound up and tired that we can easily slip away from enjoying and experiencing the meaning these times with family and friends should have for us.
For those of us living with chronic pain and illness, it can also unintentionally cause a setback with our health. Life is difficult enough already without adding holiday stress to it.
Take the time to protect your health and learn to make it a priority among all the other things you need to take care of.
Here are seven tips to put peace and calm back into your life, while still enjoying the holiday season:
1) Do your best to stick to your normal routine. Be honest with yourself and your body. If you are too tired or have too much pain, do what is best for you. There is nothing wrong with “not feeling up to it.” Give yourself permission to cut yourself that break.
2) If you have chronic pain or illness, share with people that really want to know the truth. Many friends and family really don’t understand what you are coping with, possibly due to distance. Maybe you have had little contact, they don’t know how to approach what is happening with your life, or maybe they have chosen to ignore and not support you.
It is a painful thing to experience when family and friends slip away. But in time, you will find others living with pain and illness that are more understanding and compassionate. Try to find that network, and learn how to live with and someday forgive those that don’t know how to be around the “new you.” It will someday be their regret for their lack of compassion. Remember, there are many people out there that could use your friendship. Consider reaching out to others in need.
3) Attempt to simplify your life to prevent the exhaustion many of us experience. One way our family has accomplished this is to no longer buy presents for each family member. A few years ago, we began selecting the name of one person and buying a present for them and no one else, except the children in the family. This had to be the most relaxing decision added to the holiday! The pressure is gone, and we now get to gather and just enjoy being together.
This year, we have decided to take this idea one step further. We're donating the money that we would have spent on that one person to some person or cause that we want to help support. We will share, when we all gather together, what we chose to do with our donation. We are all looking forward to hearing each others' choices.
4) Being with family and friends can be both wonderful and stressful. Try to make sure the conversations stay on a positive track. When the topic appears to be getting into testy waters, try to sway the conversation away from negative topics.
We have all had to calm down and regroup from the stress of the election, so try to steer away from anymore negative talk, blame and judgement. The Today Show even suggested that if you are the host, to set the rules and explain that this is a calm gathering. Consider designating a separate room if someone needs to talk politics.
We have all experienced finding out that people we love and respect did not vote as we did. It can be a trial to hold onto these relationships, when there are dramatic differences of opinion we didn’t necessarily expect to find out about. We need to accept those differences and still appreciate the good in each other.
5) If you don’t have a lot of space for overnight company, then be honest and provide them with suggestions nearby where they can stay. You want to enjoy your company and not end up resenting their presence. They could still join you for meals and activities, but provide you some much needed rest and quiet when they step away.
Share the responsibilities. There is no reason why each person can’t help bring part of the meal. Don’t take on so much that by the time your company arrives, you are really too exhausted to enjoy them. Maybe you could consider making some dishes in advance and thaw them out before they arrive. That can be your secret!
6) Try to create calm in your home. Consider playing soft music to fill the air. That can be very relaxing, along with scented candles. Consider asking guests to put their electronic devices away or even collect them, so you can focus on each other and not those screens. There is plenty of time to catch up on messages and postings later. Let this be the time to truly be together.
7) Make a list of things that come into your mind, in advance of the gathering, of things that need to be done that can help make things go more smoothly. Many of us living with pain get “brain fog” and can easily forget. I find this simple task takes the stress off me, knowing that I will read that list and remember all the things I need to keep me safe, medicated and protected.
Being with family and friends can leave us with wonderful memories. But exhaustion, caused by pushing and pushing yourself, ends up deleting the fun. Those of us living with chronic pain and illness can’t afford to set our health back by pretending all is just fine.
Rest, make simple plans, share the responsibility, and learn how to relax and enjoy. You won’t regret it.
Ellen Lenox Smith suffers from Ehlers Danlos syndrome and sarcoidosis. Ellen and her husband Stuart live in Rhode Island. They are co-directors for medical marijuana advocacy for the U.S. Pain Foundation and serve as board members for the Rhode Island Patient Advocacy Coalition.
For more information about medical marijuana, visit their website.
The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represents the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Pain News Network.