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:
I hope these tips will help you get the absolute best out of your holiday season!