For those struggling with Fibromyalgia, the added demands and stresses of the holiday season can lead to one that is anything but happy as pain and fatigue levels often flare. How can one navigate the season while minimizing any additional discomfort?
by Susan Fishell
In the seven years that I have lived with Fibromyalgia, I have learned that wisely choosing my activities, enlisting help, taking shortcuts, using magnesium products and scheduling a mandatory rest period can make a significant difference in managing my pain levels. It is my hope that these tips will be of benefit to anyone living with chronic pain who is struggling to make it through the season.
Pick your favorites
The first and most important tip I have learned is to choose my activities carefully. A wise friend recently suggested that I choose the activities that are most life-giving to me. What activities energize you, bring you joy, feed your spirit? Whenever possible, choose those over the ones that you dread doing, that suck you dry or stress you out. Save your limited energy for that favorite activity that brings the holiday to life for you. For me it is sitting in a sanctuary filled with white lights listening to the reading of the Christmas story or a family outing in our old pick-up to find the “perfect” tree. Perhaps for you it is cooking a favorite family recipe or watching much loved holiday movie. Whatever it is, always expend your energy on those about which you are passionate and eliminate those that fill you with stress.
Accept a hand
Secondly, enlist help and take shortcuts. Don’t be afraid to admit that you can’t tackle all the holiday projects that you used to do. Because I loved writing individual notes in all my Christmas cards, it took me several seasons of arm and shoulder flare-ups before I reluctantly admitted to myself that I could no longer manage this activity without help. Now my husband types on the PC for me the letter that I write and also assists in the addressing of the envelopes. Baking and cooking with all of the stirring, chopping, measuring and cleaning up, can easily flare arms, shoulders and back muscles. After learning this fact the hard way, I have sought over the last few years the assistance of my teen neighbors, my son’s girlfriend and my daughter-in-law to assist in baking my Christmas sweets. They go home with bags of freshly baked goodies, and I have a supply to share at family gatherings or to give as gifts to friends – a win-win for us all. For me, nothing can cause pain to arise quicker than a shopping trip especially if it requires carrying items in my arms or pushing a cart. Skip it all by shopping on-line or taking advantage of some of the new services that retailers are offering where they shop for you and then deliver your purchases to your waiting vehicle. Forego wrapping presents by using gift bags or better yet give a gift card or money gift which eliminates either altogether. Instead of decorating your entire house, focus on the room where you spend the most time. If you put your mind to it, I am sure there are many more shortcuts that you can devise to conserve your energy and prevent painful muscle fatigue.
Next, magnesium! Over the past several years, I have discovered the amazing properties of this essential mineral which relaxes muscles and can alleviate pain. Many Fibromyalgia patients are deficient in it so have your doctor check your levels if you have never done so. Whenever I begin to experience the muscle soreness that feels like you have just completed a 10k race, I pull out my Epsom Salts and go soak in a bath filled with them. Not only is it soothing and relaxing, but these soaks plus the application of a magnesium lotion or oil eliminate my soreness within 24-48 hours. Ancient Minerals and Life-Flo are two providers of these products. If you have sensitive skin, apply these products sparingly at first as they may sting when initially applied and can have a drying impact if used for a prolonged period of time. If you have your doctor’s approval, a magnesium supplement may also benefit you. I use a magnesium citrate supplement called Natural Calm as it is more easily absorbed by the body than the magnesium oxide pills that you often find in the vitamin aisle. I mix the Natural Calm with water to make a fizzy flavored liquid that I drink about two hours before bed. As a bonus the magnesium may help your sleep too. Too much magnesium, however, can act as a laxative so it is important to discuss with your doctor the appropriate dosage for you to take.
Lastly, accept that you may need more rest time as you juggle the holiday’s demands and stresses. Allot a minimum of 30 to 60 minutes per day for relaxing your muscles in a place free of distractions and interruptions. If you are not a napper, listen to the music of the season, watch a Christmas movie (Did anyone say Hallmark channel?) or listen to a holiday story on-line or on CD. Make this time a top priority as it is hard to enjoy the holidays if you are in constant pain.
If you find all of the above a pipe dream because it takes all of your energy just to roll out of bed in the morning knowing that every movement brings pain, I get it. I have been there and I pray I never go back! Instead, take a baby step. Make soaking in an Epsom salt bath your first priority. Push yourself to do something easy and enjoyable like a drive to look at Christmas lights and decorations. Don’t let Fibromyalgia win by robbing you of the joy of Christmas! You can get better. I am living proof of that. There is hope! After all, isn’t that what the Christmas story is all about? A tiny baby is born bringing with him hope for us all including the hope of healing and relief from pain. Hold onto that hope now as you begin the baby steps that can lead to a relatively normal life that while not entirely pain-free is significantly better than the place you find yourself now. Take that first step!