Living With Chronic Pain

Post Holiday Recovery

We all know the saying- I need a vacation from my vacation. It may sound crazy, but all too often any break from our routine can actually exacerbate pain. Time off to relax, decompress and let go of daily commitments is essential. Whether it’s an opportunity to travel, shelter at home or a hiatus from our normal patterns, it’s a necessary component to all our lives. As most of us know, even a few days respite can make returning to our normal daily activities difficult and painful. 

Here’s why:

Poor diet. Feasts and goodies are part of the fun of the holidays. According to a study in Obesity, after just five days of eating a high fat or sugar diet, our muscles actually change the way nutrients are processed, diminishing our capacity to perform well. Healthy eating maintains bone and muscle strength. That’s why is so important to get back on the road to healthy eating as soon as possible after a season of indulging our appetites. Remember every pound gained impacts the lower back and legs. This doesn’t mean we can’t occasionally indulge our desires. Just don’t make it a habit. 

Lack of exercise. It’s supposed to be fun, relaxing and lounging around, not exercising and stretching like we normally do. But skipping for even a week can cause our overall fitness level to drop. Two weeks? Our efficiency and ability to perform as usual decreases, often causing more delayed onset muscle soreness when exercise routines are restarted. This is called “detraining” a phenomenon where you lose the benefits you acquired. Don’t despair, it is reversible, and muscle memory from past workouts makes recovering easier. Start slower to prevent injury. Cut your workout by 20% and increase over the next two weeks before returning to your baseline. And add easier, but still enjoyable activities to the regimen e.g. getting outdoors and walking in the crisp winter air.

Travel. This means wearing different shoes and clothes. Sleeping on different mattresses and engaging in different activities. All requiring us to accommodate to a whole slew of changes in a short period of time. As discussed in earlier posts, each can change how we walk and move which then impacts our pain. Long lines at the airport, tiny, closed-in seats for extended periods of time and pulling suitcases can’t help either. Travel is a wonderful release but filled with its own challenges when it comes to chronic pain sufferers. If you don’t have a day or two to recover let the unpacking and washing clothes sit for awhile. Can’t stand looking at it? Throw it under the bed! Slowly get back to wading through e-mails, cleaning, cooking. . .Give yourself a chance to settle in.

Jet lag. Many went back to flying this season after months of holding off due to the pandemic. But even a few hours difference from one coast to the other can cause us to feel off and lethargic for a day or two as we catch up. Experts agree, flying eastward can cause more severe symptoms than flying westward. Disrupting the body’s internal circadian rhythm, causing digestion issues, fuzziness, insomnia and a feeling of overall reduced physical and mental performance. Get outdoors, light helps the body to know it’s time to stay up. Focus on getting back to a normal sleep cycle. Stay away from caffeine and alcohol and hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. As I’ve stated in multiple posts hydration is key to feeling well. Allow your body time to recalibrate. Pushing through it will just set you up for injury or costly mistakes.

Weight gain. Studies show those who skip exercising, dine out and drink more gain 4-10 pounds during the holidays. This seasonal spread can take months to shed. We all want to relax and have fun during the holidays, often ignoring our usual diets for all the incredible holiday delights. Start with commitments you can adhere to- decreasing alcohol and sweets. Feeling deprived or overwhelmed will just make them harder to adhered to. Get back to basics and restart your exercise program slowly. Eat small but multiple meals throughout the day. Snack with high energy, nutrient packed foods like nuts, fruits, and raisins. Re-establish your routine.

Holiday decorations. Holiday decorations are wonderful, until they need to come down. It didn’t take long to appreciate one neighbor who chose an all year round approach instead! Second to that, remember it can wait a few weeks. Start with baby steps. Maybe the outdoor ones first, because they’re more visible. Then cut the inside in sections and plan to do one or two a week. Or, if you’re like me and seeing a task waiting to be done creates too much stress, take it slowly and stop when your body says enough. That way you’ll get done what you can without adding to your pain. And next year? Maybe rethink the amount of holiday cheer you need to put out. It wasn’t until after my daughter grew up I realized a few well placed items can still say “Happy Holidays”. 

Change in normal sleep patterns. I love awakening at 5:30 AM to feed my dogs- they don’t understand when I have a week off- then crawling back into a warm bed to sleep a few extra hours. A delicacy I don’t get during the work week. But after a week of staying up and sleeping later, my internal cycle is thrown off. Vacations are wonderful but getting back to a normal routine can be difficult. Add to that alcohol and it’s a double whammy since it decreases the deeper stages of sleep and worsens sleep debt. For most of us, a good night’s rest is tough enough to achieve, adding alcohol and a disruption to daily activities often exacerbates it. Reinstate normal sleep hours before you return to work if possible. Already there? Let go of what doesn’t need to be done today. Make sleep a priority along with a healthy diet and exercise. Set time limits and shut the computer down at a reasonable hour each night knowing it’s better to feel ready for a new day than exhausted and in worse pain.

Don’t forget your mental health. Holidays can be an exhausting, overwhelming physical and emotional roller coaster. Many only think of others and forget their own needs. Sadly, it can be the hardest part of the year for those isolated and alone. Before the pandemic it was a difficult time of the year, now it’s worse than ever. Travel and gatherings improved, but the recent Omicron variant keeps reminding us how fragile that bubble can be and caused many to back off joining in the festivities. Take care of you. Skype, talk on the phone, email and keep in touch with loved ones and friends. Take the time to enjoy what you love to do. When we’re stressed, depressed or emotionally fatigued it’s harder to deal with our pain. Get outside and enjoy nature, read a good book, watch a fun movie, write in a journal, listen to music while soaking in a hot tub. . .Whatever gives you comfort and joy. Talk to your provider if more intervention is needed.

Ask for help. One of the hardest things to do is ask someone for help. Too many think it implies weakness, fragility and failure. We put on a brave face claiming the ability to overcome any adversity. But that’s not true for anyone, regardless of their health status. We all need help, just in different ways. Don’t be afraid to ask. Most times people are flattered and thrilled to be able to do something for others. And when they clearly aren’t, don’t let it stop you from asking someone else. It’s when we need and give to others we learn who our true friends are. If no one is available at that moment, wait until they are. Returning that big box of ornaments to storage, the potted tree to its normal position, lights on the roof removed…can be dealt with tomorrow.

Vacations are a wonderful, necessary way to decompress. Don’t let what you left behind overwhelm it’s rejuvenation powers. Allow yourself the time to recover from the holiday fun. Getting back to regular workouts, daily activities, sleeping set hours and eating healthy will make the transition easier.


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