The holiday season can be an intense time for many of my patients, with plenty of highs and lows. The pressure of participating in family get-togethers, shopping for gifts, and hosting gatherings can easily turn up stress levels. And more stress often leads to worse pain.
In addition to the extra activities and running around, the holidays can also be a highly emotional time. This can be a time of deeper depression, greater loneliness, and even feelings of loss or guilt. For some, mood changes at this time of year are a result of seasonal affective disorder, a form of depression associated with seasonal changes (often referred to as the “winter blues”). These mood changes can make pain management more difficult.
Seasonal weather changes can also affect the experience of pain. Patients often tell me that the colder weather and changes in barometric pressure increase their pain levels.
Food can create problems, too. The holidays are often a time for baking and gatherings that are centered around food, and along with that come tempting treats and snacks. Many of these goodies may be high in sugar, and sugary foods are typically considered pro-inflammatory, meaning they increase tissue inflammation in places like painful joints. Processed savory foods, like cured meats and crackers, are often high in salt, which can lead to swelling and water retention around painful hotspots. Conditions like arthritis and fibromyalgia can certainly get aggravated by these pro-inflammatory foods, and certain cheeses, chocolate, and red wine, all popular during the holidays, serve as common triggers that migraine sufferers need to watch out for.
If you find yourself struggling more with pain during this time of year, having a special plan in place for the holidays may be helpful. Here is some food for thought in developing an effective game-plan:
- Keep it simple. This can be a hectic time of year, with lots to get done, but adding extra tasks to your busy day may do more harm than good. Avoid trying to do too much by setting aside some down days to regroup and recharge. On your down days, make a point of doing something that you know will help reduce pain and stress, whether that be going for a nice walk, scheduling a visit with the chiropractor, or taking in a yoga class.
- Laugh as much as possible. Some of your social interactions during this season may be stressful – it can be frustrating talking about your pain with friends or family members who aren’t sympathetic. So make a point of scheduling time to visit or call the special people in your life who know how to make you smile and giggle. And have a funny show or movie available for those times when some lightness is most needed.
- Make an anti-inflammatory tool kit. An easy first step is to keep a bottle of plain water with you. Staying well-hydrated is really important, and drinking plenty of water is a good way to avoid overdoing it on sugary or alcoholic beverages. Having a bag of nuts handy is another effective preventive strategy to avoid over-eating pro-inflammatory treats, while filling up on healthy anti-inflammatory fats. Once you have the basics, then consider adding things to your tool kit that you happen to enjoy, like bags of green tea, ginger shots, or a mix of relaxing songs that put you in the right mood.
I hope these tips will help you get the absolute best out of your holiday season!