Coping Over Christmas

  1. Home
  2. /
  3. Information Hub
  4. /
  5. Coping Over Christmas

Christmas can be perfect, but it usually isn’t. We often look forward to Christmas thinking: ‘this year it’ll be lovely and we’ll get it right’ and then we get caught up in obligations and expectations that we can’t say no to, and find ourselves in a heap at the end of it all wondering ‘how did we let it happen that way again’?

Fantasy and Reality
It’s a battle between fantasy and reality. On the fantasy side Christmas can be a time of joy, love and plenty at the darkest coldest point of the year. Fantasy highlights include: sharing, time with family, feeling cosy, bracing walks, time off, good things on the telly, lots of nice food, catching up with family and friends and thinking that next year will be different with new year resolutions.

But, on the reality side it can involve a lot of stresses and strains that can create big problems especially for anyone trying to manage a painful condition. Reality brings: industrial scale cooking, obligations, expectations, family misunderstandings, too long with some people, sitting marathons on the sofa, over heated houses, journeys, other people’s houses, fitting in with other people’s habits and altogether too much of everything.

The real killer for lots of people is dealing with long standing habits, expectations and obligations within the family. These may force us into doing things that we don’t really want to do. This includes both social and physical ‘obligations’.

. . .
Chronic Pain and Other People
A simple fact about Christmas is that we spend more time in other people’s company. Extra time with family may mean dealing with lots of those awkward catch-up comments like: ‘how are you?; you look well; when will you get better?; I’ve got that too; have you tried?; are you really trying hard enough?; is it not just in your head? Many of these comments might be well meant, but they usually end up causing upset. As a way of dealing with these, it’s worth trying to work out exactly why they are saying the things that they are saying. Maybe they just care, or don’t know what to say or are trying to help as best they know.
. . .
Distinguishing Between You As A Person And Your Condition
It is helpful to find a way of explaining your situation in a calm rational way that others can relate to. The fact is, virtually no-one will really understand Chronic Pain, and so this is a good starting point. You could start by saying ‘I know it’s hard to believe….but this is what I experience’. It’s worth explaining what the condition means on a practical level so that people can relate to it e.g. ‘On a bad day it means that I can’t lift heavy things’.

Another good thing to do is to distinguish between you as a person and your condition e.g. I’m ok but my back is giving me a lot of bother at the moment. I know that this doesn’t explain everything, but explaining everything is probably impossible and also something that you might not want to do anyway. And in most cases you probably don’t want to be talking about your health, rather talking about more important or interesting other things like family and friends. So it’s good to be equipped with a simple way to respond to the inevitable ‘catch-up’ health question and then move on to something that you find more interesting.

. . .
Physical Demands At Christmas

On a practical note, Christmas can involve physical demands, which may mean that we end up doing more than we would plan or choose to. This involves the dreaded P word: Pacing. When you look at pacing and really understand it, it’s about making decisions, which are:

    • Decisions about what you choose to do
    • Decisions about how to do what you choose to do in a way that has less impact on you 

The whole point is to put you in a position of having made the decision yourself rather than having had it made for you. In some quarters this is known as shifting the locus of control. Although this might not change the practical situation, it does change how you think about it and that makes all the difference.

With (1) The question is: do you really want or choose to do what you are feeling obliged to do? Do you really have to do it? Is it worth it? Who says you have to do it? With (2) If you do decide to do ‘it’ e.g. cook that big meal. How could you do it in a way that takes less toll on you? Getting help with the heavy tasks, preparing ahead, breaking tasks down and maybe cooking something easier are all options. These sound like little simple things, but we are often trapped by the idea that we have to do things like they’ve always been done.

. . .
Your Ideal Christmas
The key to surviving Christmas is for you to be in a position where you are making the choices, this means that you are in charge rather than tradition or other people. This isn’t a weird technique, it’s simply weighing up whether something is ‘worth it’ and then acting on that decision. It’s not about avoiding pain at all costs, it’s about making sure that you are in control by making the choices that tie in with your values.

And this then brings us back to fantasy. It’s useful to have a discussion about what exactly you really do want. What would the ideal Christmas be? What do you value most? Can you visualise it? And then with this in mind you may need to see how your usual Christmas matches up. And then there’s making choices and problem solving. How can you achieve what you realise is your ideal Christmas? By this I mean that you can make choices and do things differently so that you can achieve more of what you really want yourself.

. . .
What is really important to you?

Many people might say that I’m asking you to be selfish. It’s not that so much, it’s rather recognising what you really value. It’s like many things, if you don’t know what you actually want, you won’t know when you’ve got it or how to get it. You might of course end up doing exactly the same as last time- but hopefully if you go through the ‘Is it worth it?’ process, what you do will be based on making your decisions which is always better than feeling that the decisions have been made for you. For example, you might end up doing everything to please everyone else, but if pleasing others is your value, then you’re acting in accord with what you would want and that realisation should hopefully make the process more enjoyable.

In the tussle between fantasy and reality it is worth looking at both ends of the spectrum. What exactly is your ‘fantasy’ Christmas? How does that fit with your ‘reality’ Christmas? What can you do to let more fantasy in? How could you adjust ‘reality’ to achieve more fantasy? The main thing is to recognise what is important and then you will be more confident in making the choices to achieve it and maybe being more confident in telling others what you want to do and what decisions you have made. The aim if you can bear it is to get more of what you want yourself. This might mean making new choices and compromises (which are choices) – maybe even running the risk of annoying someone, but the main question to ask yourself is what is really important? What are my values? What about me?

And if it doesn’t happen perfectly this year, please be kind to yourself and realise that it’s a tricky business that’s hard for anyone to get right.

Happy Christmas.

© no part of this article may be reproduced without permission


Previous Next
Test Caption
Test Description goes like this
Skip to content