12 Ways to Embrace Joy Through the Holidays to Find Peace From Pain

If you have chronic symptoms or disease, it can be challenging to find joy, especially when you are surrounded by others at the holiday who are full of energy, enthusiasm, and holiday spirit. However, it is the perfect time to find peace from pain and symptoms by embracing joy. Rather than seeing those symptoms as lumps of coal in your stocking, here are some tips to embrace joy through the holidays. 

  • Resist the pull to social isolation-While symptoms can be draining, being alone, especially through the holidays may worsen your pain. Increasing social connections can be a therapeutic strategy to counter the effects that social isolation has on increasing pain.[i]
  • Take a break from togetherness to get some rest-Holidays can be exhausting even for the healthiest people. Take some time to make sure you are getting at least 7-8 hours of sleep/night. Too little sleep can increase inflammation and pain sensitivity. Sleep and rest calm the nervous system. Restorative sleep helps people with chronic pain cope better. Sleep deprivation increases pain. [ii]
  • Play-Even if you are physically unable to engage in physical play, watching children play, playing board games can bring fun to your day. Challenge yourself to participate at a level that is comfortable for you. However, be careful to not move in ways that increase pain.
  • Laugh-Enjoy company, share jokes, watch fun holiday movies…it can be distracting and pain-relieving. Laughing provides stress relief, increases your body’s pain-relieving chemicals, called endogenous endorphins, and can increase your mood and even your immune system.
  • Enjoy music-Listen to your favorite holiday music! Music therapy is used in hospital and clinic settings to help decrease stress and procedural pain and is effective according to several clinical trials.[iii]
  • Give to Others-Engaging in altruistic behaviors can decrease pain according to research. The meaning giving provides can reduce neural activation of the pain-related brain areas.[iv] It can also decrease stress and blood pressure, which, when increased can contribute to greater inflammation and pain.
  • Receive Graciously-Be thankful for offered assistance, help, and support from others through the holiday. Both the giver and received benefit from a gracious receiver.
  • Focus on positive emotions to evoke joy-Do your part to focus your mind on positive holiday emotions. While holidays can bring stress with all the togetherness and personality differences, the state of your mind and intentional focus on the positive in gatherings can do wonders to curb that chronic pain.
  • Cheat your diet judiciously– Holidays bring a lot of tempting non-nutritious sugary foods. Don’t go all out on holiday food. Instead, allow yourself reasonable small amounts of holiday food, making sure you still avoid eating foods you may be sensitive to or intolerant of so you don’t exacerbate your symptoms.
  • Take an emotional break-Try taking some breaks to try breathing exercises, meditation, or Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT also called Tapping).
  • Make sure you get exercise-Holidays can lead to too much eating and sedentary activities. Make sure you build in exercise, whether it’s walks with your friends and family or some kind of physical activity. According to a review of research, physical activity is, in general, good for individuals with chronic pain.[v]
  • Commit to finding new and positive ways to incorporate joy and positive health habits in the new year-Stay tuned for my next blog with tips to develop healthy habits.


[i] Karayannis NV, Baumann I, Sturgeon JA, Melloh M, Mackey SC. The Impact of Social Isolation on Pain Interference: A Longitudinal Study. Ann Behav Med. 2019;53(1):65-74. doi:10.1093/abm/kay017

[ii] Krause AJ, Prather AA, Wager TD, Lindquist MA, Walker MP.  The Pain of Sleep Loss: A Brain Characterization in Humans. Journal of Neuroscience 20 March 2019, 39 (12) 2291-2300; DOI: https://doi.org/10.1523/JNEUROSCI.2408-18.2018.

Journal of Neuroscience 20 March 2019, 39 (12) 2291-2300; DOI: https://doi.org/10.1523/JNEUROSCI.2408-18.2018.

[iii] Richard-Lalonde M, Gélinas C, Boitor M, et al. The Effect of Music on Pain in the Adult Intensive Care Unit: A Systematic Review of Randomized Controlled Trials. J Pain Symptom Manage. 2020;59(6):1304-1319.e6. doi:10.1016/j.jpainsymman.2019.12.359

[iv] Wang Y, Ge J, Zhang H, Wang H, Xie X. Altruistic behaviors relieve physical pain.

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Jan 2020, 117 (2) 950-958; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1911861117

[v] Geneen LJ, Moore RA, Clarke C, Martin D, Colvin LA, Smith BH. Physical activity and exercise for chronic pain in adults: an overview of Cochrane Reviews. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2017;4(4):CD011279. Published 2017 Apr 24. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD011279.pub3

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