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Greeting the 2020 Holiday Season

As we prepare for the holidays and New Year celebrations, we may feel a mix of joy and apprehension this year. Undoubtedly, 2020 was a year of significant change and challenges.

This holiday season is especially challenging for people with chronic pain due to the additional stress and hardships related to Covid-19.

Some people with chronic pain have underlying illnesses that weaken the immune system and put them at a higher risk of infection. They may not be able to spend the Holidays with loved ones out of fear of becoming infected with Covid-19. Other people with chronic pain may be struggling with loneliness while quarantining alone at home.

Studies show that higher stress levels make it difficult to control pain. Stress triggers the release of hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol, that amplify pain. Although stress does not cause fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome (INS), or arthritis, it can markedly increase pain levels in people who suffer from these (and other) chronic pain conditions.

If you feel stressed and are struggling to manage your chronic pain, here are some tips to help you navigate this holiday season.

Tips for reducing pain and enjoying the holidays

Stay physically active.

Exercising is crucial during stressful times. Physical activity releases endorphins, the feel-good, pain-relieving chemicals that are produced naturally by your body. If you have been inactive for a long time, begin with light exercises and build up. Yoga, Tai Chi, elastic band exercises, and stretching can help build muscle tone and flexibility.

Chase away negative thoughts.

Before your mind has a chance to begin chipping away at problems, start your day with a meditation or prayer. It will bring a positive vibe to the rest of your day. Appreciate the simple things: your friends, a devoted pet, the basic pleasures of being able to eat, breathe, and move.

Avoid dealing with stress in harmful ways.

Avoid alcohol, illegal substances, smoking, or emotional eating. Alcohol and illicit substances can interact with some pain medications, causing sedation and overdoses. Smoking slows blood flow to areas where you are having pain (such as the back) and deprives them of much-needed oxygen and nutrients. A high-sugar diet causes inflammation and might exacerbate pain in people with arthritis or other inflammatory conditions.

Engage your senses to melt away stress.

One way you can cut down on stress is to distract yourself. Try to engage all of your senses: sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch, in a relaxing way. Use sunlight to increase your energy level. Listen to your favorite music to block sad thoughts. Treat yourself to your favorite culinary treat. Light a scented candle to boost your mood. Enjoy a warm bath in order to engage your sense of touch and to relax your muscles.

Be creative while continuing to do things you normally enjoy.

This year the holidays are different. Maybe the pandemic unraveled your travel plans. Perhaps you can no longer do things you enjoyed, like shopping at the mall. Don’t get down about it. Continue to celebrate some of your cherished traditions. Make your favorite holiday dish. Spend time with loved ones over FaceTime or Zoom. Decorate your house. Try to do the things that bring you holiday joy, even if you have to do them differently.

Talk to your pain specialist.

Your pain specialist can help you avoid pain spikes due to holiday stress. He or she might prescribe an additional fast-acting medication that you can take for brake-through pain or might change your medication schedule. For example, you may be advised to take your regular medications every 6 hours rather than every 8 hours, for better pain control.

The pain specialists at NSPC affiliated practices are here to help you manage your pain during the holidays this year.

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