The holiday season can be one of joy and celebration, but for many adolescents with chronic pain, festive gatherings can pose a unique challenge: when connecting with friends and family, how much or how little do you share about your pain?
While there is no single way to navigate talking about chronic pain to family and friends during the holidays, taking a few minutes to think through your strategy can go a long way towards increasing your comfort through the busy holiday season.
3. Be prepared with responses
Caring and concerned friends and family will almost certainly ask how you are feeling if they know that pain has been present for a while. If you choose not to engage in a long drawn out discussion, it helps to have a quick response and then a question to redirect the conversation. Below are some common questions with sample answers and redirection to a non-pain topic.
4. Enlist Support
Sometimes you get stuck in tricky conversations, no matter how hard you try to manage nosy or well-intentioned relatives and friends. Parents, siblings, or friends can help by:
- Backing you up: “Yeah, she’s been so strong this year”
- Helping to change the conversation: “What’s the most surprising thing on your wish list this holiday?”
- Giving you an exit strategy: “Sorry to grab him, but he’s gotta come taste these cookies!”
Having a pre-planned gesture (a tug of the ear, hands on hips) or having a phrase (“I think I’ll grab a glass of water”) can signal to your back up person that you need assistance ASAP!
5. Plan for Breaks
Sometimes it’s hard to work up the energy or courage to go to a party if you think you might be uncomfortable or get stuck there too long. Before heading out, talk to a parent or friend about where you could take a break if needed to use some coping skills to re-energize. Finding a quiet room to do a few minutes of mindfulness, taking a break in the car to relax with some favorite music, or even just popping into a bathroom for five deep breaths can make a difference. Many people also like to know there is a “Plan B” if things are really tough. So, together with your family or friends, come up with a non-pain related pre-planned excuse, such as “Oh, we have an early morning tomorrow, so may need to duck out sooner than planned tonight.” This helps to ensure that you can leave when needed, while not drawing attention to your pain.
Handling the holidays can be tricky. Not every conversation or situation can be anticipated, but with a clear idea of how you’d like for the holiday festivities to unfold and a few minutes of open communication and preparation with parents, siblings, or friends, the holidays can truly be a time of warm connections and social support. Cheers to a great New Year!
Blog by Dr. Amy Hale