Living With Pain During the Holiday Season

This article, in a slightly edited form, first appeared on Pain News Network on December 14, 2019.


The holiday season has officially begun, but that doesn’t mean everyone is healthy enough to celebrate. Pain does not take a vacation or even ease up in honor of Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanza, or any other holiday.

People who are in unremitting pain will suffer while others throw themselves into endless rounds of joyous holiday-related activities. For those in pain, and their caregivers, it may not be possible to participate in shopping, decorating, or partying. They may feel disenfranchised, abandoned, and hopeless.

Many People Will Experience Stress

I have received hundreds of emails from people in pain who feel alone, and I understand that. Their doctors often have abandoned them or have been unable to provide medication that can help manage their pain. Family members and friends may fail to empathize even when they have fewer distractions and social obligations. During the weeks leading up to the new year, people in pain may feel even more isolated than usual.

Holiday-themed social media posts, movies, and television shows make it appear as if everyone is, or should be, happy and productive during the final weeks of the year. However, the truth is that the holiday season can be stressful for many people, regardless of their health. Financial burdens, overindulging in food and alcohol, and getting too little sleep can take their toll.

Universal holiday bliss is an illusion for many. Other people may long for the commotion of the season to end, too, so calm and normality can return. If you’re finding the season to be something other than a never-ending winter wonderland, you have plenty of company in feeling that it is not.

Ask for What You Need

Unless you are a professional actor, the holiday season does not require you to pretend that you are not in pain. You do not have to wear a mask of well-being in order to ease the burden of others. It is not your job to fake a positive attitude that you do not feel. Your responsibility is to take care of yourself.

You are not obligated to accept invitations for get-togethers, shop for gifts, or decorate when you are experiencing pain.

While other people may hope that you will put on a brave face, you are not required to fake anything you do not feel. On the contrary, you should be honest about your needs and give others a chance to share part of the holiday season with you.

Do let your loved ones know that you are there, and that you are thinking of them. If mobility is an issue for you, consider inviting a relative or friend to visit you. Be up front about the fact that you could use help with meal preparation and cleanup, sending cards, and the like.

If there is no opportunity to get together with people you care about, perhaps you can arrange an online chat using Skype or a similar service. Ask the children in your life to participate, too. Even active teenagers and sleepy toddlers may be able to find a few minutes to share quality time with you.

While you may not be able to participate in all of the holiday season activities, you can experience some of the love and joy you deserve if you prompt others to help.

Seek Support

Feeling isolated may be one of the most difficult aspects of living with pain during the holiday season. Consider joining a support group so that you can share your burden with people who understand what you are going through. The U.S. Pain Foundation and the American Chronic Pain Association list support groups online that you might benefit from joining.

Caregivers fill a role that I have described as everyday saints and unsung heroes. However, even saints and heroes can experience burn-out around the holiday season.

It’s especially important at this time of year for caregivers to practice self-care. This may include tapping into a caregiver support group and asking family members and friends to provide a short-term reprieve.

Empower Yourself

While you may not be able to invest yourself fully in the holiday season festivities, you still have power to take positive action. Reach out to lawmakers, and ask them to support more humane opioid prescribing policies. Contact your local members of the House of Representatives and Senate. Also, send a letter to the editor of your local newspaper and contact the news departments of your local television and radio stations.

For many Americans, the holiday season is associated with faith. This is a good opportunity to remember that scientists are working on finding better and safer ways to manage pain. Policymakers are beginning to admit that tapering unwilling patients can cause harm. There is hope that the new year will bring us closer to solutions for people with pain.


Lynn R. Webster, MD, is a vice president of scientific affairs for PRA Health Sciences and consults with the pharmaceutical industry. He is author of the award-winning book, The Painful Truth,” and co-producer of the documentary,It Hurts Until You Die.” Opinions expressed here are those of the author alone and do not reflect the views or policy of PRA Health Sciences.

You can find him on Twitter: @LynnRWebsterMD.



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