If you have chronic back pain or are recovering from back surgery, you may be wondering how you’re going to manage the holidays.
The family togetherness is great, but all the events and obligations can make the season exhausting—and painful. Try the following strategies for a less hurried, more comfortable time.
1. Save your energy for what’s important
Before the holidays are in full swing, think about what you really enjoy about this time of year. If a longtime tradition has become more of a chore than a celebration, cross it off your list.
It may be helpful to make a few tweaks in holiday festivities that require a lot of standing or twisting. If you love to bake cookies, for instance, see if a friend or relative would like to stop by and help so you aren’t bending over a hot oven yourself.
2. Pace yourself
It’s easy to get wrapped up in the holiday spirit and end up paying for it later.
To avoid pushing yourself too hard, start thinking now about what can be done ahead of time. That could mean cooking a one-dish favorite, such as lasagna, and freezing it to serve when company arrives. Getting out the holiday decorations and checking to see if any lights need to be replaced now could save time later. If clothes need to be ironed or sent to the cleaners for a big holiday event, take care of that soon too.
Avoid a last-minute scramble to clean up household clutter by tackling a small area every couple of days. Put together a countdown schedule of what should be done three weeks in advance, two weeks in advance, and so on, to stay on track.
When the holidays arrive, pay attention to your pain. Take a nap or sit in the recliner with a heating pad and a movie. Make a good night’s sleep a priority; if you have company, don’t rush to get out of bed in the morning and make everyone breakfast. Set out cereal and bowls so they can help themselves instead.
3. Let others help
You’ve probably had people ask you to let them know “if there’s anything I can do.” This is the time to have a ready answer, whether it’s picking up the ingredients for a pumpkin pie, shoveling the sidewalk, or bringing in the Christmas tree.
Any kind of exertion that could add to your pain or jeopardize your recovery should be delegated to someone else. If you can’t avoid hosting duties, draw up a detailed list of duties well in advance—and leave yourself off the list. Distribute the list to everyone early on.
4. Keep moving—safely
Climbing a ladder to put up a string of lights should be avoided, but don’t abandon your exercise routine. Stretches and gentle aerobic exercises, such as walking, can help improve your outlook by producing endorphins, the body’s natural pain reliever.
Exercise can help counteract depression, which commonly develops alongside chronic pain.1,2 Swimming or doing water exercises in a warm pool can be a soothing, healthy break from the holiday rush. (If you’re recovering from surgery, your doctor has probably outlined the safest moves.)
5. Plan ahead for gift-buying
Standing in long lines at crowded stores is likely to be uncomfortable at best, excruciating at worst.
If you usually exchange gifts, tell family members you need gift ideas right away. Then try to buy everything at one store, or deputize a friend or relative to do the shopping for you.
Ordering some or all gifts online or from a catalog can also give make your life easier. If someone on your list doesn’t give you an early suggestion, don’t let it derail your plan. Buy the person some colorful socks, a scarf, or a gift card and call it a day.
6. Get some meals delivered
A growing number of restaurants and retailers offer delivery. Call your favorite restaurant or check its website to learn about delivery or carry-out options. Some restaurants and grocery stores offer economical dinner packages for a group. Avoiding the bending, lifting, and twisting involved in shopping and cooking for a large group is probably worth the cost of the meal.
7. Consider hiring help
Are the dust bunnies in the corner driving you crazy? A housecleaner may be a good investment to avoid painful positions as you scrub and vacuum.
Ask friends and neighbors who have cleaning help to recommend someone, or check on Angie’s List or Care.com. You may also contact your local middle school or high school to see if there are students who need to volunteer to earn community service hours.
If you already have occasional cleaning assistance, it may be worthwhile to have the housecleaner come more often until the holidays are over.
Setting priorities and doing less can difficult, especially if you're someone who usually takes care of everyone else. By planning ahead and delegating duties, and making a real commitment to honor your own needs, you’re less likely to push yourself too far and make your pain worse.
- Cheatle MD. Depression, chronic pain, and suicide by overdose: on the edge. Pain Med. 2011;12 Suppl 2:S43-8.
- Cooney GM, Dwan K, Greig CA, et al. Exercise for depression. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2013;(9):CD004366.