In the rush of the holidays and the sprint towards the end of the year, we can all lose track of time. When this happens, we often forget to revel in the important themes of the holiday season, starting with gratitude. Those with chronic pain (and their families) have the additional challenge of dealing with a chronic condition. This is a challenge that can cloud our ability to see the beauty all around us. After all, when your body is in pain and you cannot seem to find a minute in the holiday frenzy to catch your breath, the last thing on your mind may be expressing gratitude. At Pain Doctor, we understand these challenges. We wanted to take this time to wish you and your family a happy Thanksgiving. And, we did it by pulling together 15 tips for enjoying a simpler and more grateful Thanksgiving.
1. Don’t do it all by yourself
The winter holidays bring beautiful things into our lives: family, friends, fun activities, and shared meals. For chronic pain patients, the winter holidays may also bring difficult things: family, friends, fun activities, and shared meals. Thanksgiving is perhaps the first large meal you will prepare and serve to your family and friends for the season. But, don’t do it all by yourself.
There is no harm in asking family and friends to bring a side dish or dessert to share. Turkey is the star of the show but is generally very easy to make. Eliminate the stress of rushing to put together the whole dinner by sending out an email to guests, requesting a pie or side dish. This also helps alleviate the stress on your wallet!
2. Use the crockpot
A crockpot is great for soups, desserts like apple pie filling, and side dishes (like crockpot mashed potatoes). This frees up valuable stove and oven space for things that just can’t be made anywhere else. Every chronic pain patient should have a crockpot, and it can help make life less stressful on Thanksgiving.
3. Use pre-chopped, frozen, or bagged vegetables
For people with chronic pain, Thanksgiving stress may include the very real stress and pain caused by standing on their feet for hours, chopping and prepping vegetables. Save time and lessen fatigue by using frozen or prepared vegetables from the produce section. Give them a quick rinse, and they are ready to go.
4. Keep it simple
The very best meals are the ones that the cook gets to enjoy. Thanksgiving stress is often exacerbated by four kinds of potatoes and six kinds of pie. Simplify your menu to include only family favorites. If a guest has a particular request that you just don’t have the wherewithal to accommodate, request that they bring that as a potluck to share.
5. Cook ahead of time
Many dishes, including pies, cookies, and some side dishes, can be made weeks in advance and frozen. If you start in early November on desserts and sides, then all you need is oven space on Thanksgiving Day! Find all of our pain-friendly Thanksgiving recipes here. Many can be made ahead of time!
6. Get everyone involved
Thanksgiving stress occurs most often because the burden of the meal from start to finish lands on the shoulders of one person. Get everyone involved in simple tasks from opening crackers and setting them out with dip to stripping the turkey bones after the meal is finished. This is a family meal that the whole family can pull together.
7. Take breaks
Build breaks into the day so that you can get off your feet, do some simple stretches, or go outside for a walk. Set a timer to remind yourself so you don’t plow through and end up wondering why you feel so tired.
8. Plan ahead
Plan your Thanksgiving meal ahead of time and start stockpiling ingredients to avoid a huge, crowded shopping trip the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. In addition to being the busiest travel day of the year, the day before Thanksgiving is often the busiest day for grocery stores. Save yourself the Thanksgiving stress of the grocery store by shopping for what you can ahead of time.
9. Change the menu
Yes, turkey is a traditional, American Thanksgiving staple, but the real purpose of the day is to give thanks for the many blessings we all have. If preparing a full traditional Thanksgiving meal is too stressful, mix it up and make something easier. Go full Italian with lasagna and spaghetti and meatballs, or match the football-watching mood with a huge sub sandwich bar (all of the ingredients can be purchased, and preparation only involves setting the fixings out). In the end, the menu isn’t really the point of the day. Gather your friends and family and enjoy their company, regardless of what’s on the table.
10. Host a portion of the meal
Can’t see preparing a full Thanksgiving meal? Offer to host appetizers and cocktails before the main meal or dessert and coffee after. Both of these courses don’t need to be homemade and can still be delicious.
11. Use disposable plates and utensils
Thanksgiving generates a ton of dirty dishes. Take this occasion to use disposable plates, cups, and utensils to cut out some of the cleanup. If you are thinking about flimsy, gravy-soaked paper plates collapsing onto Aunt Hilda’s lap, think again. Disposable dinnerware has come a long way, with fancier and 100% recycled options. They may cost more, so if an entire disposable service isn’t possible, stick to disposable plates or cups.
12. Let someone else cook
You want to host Thanksgiving at your house but just can’t imagine cooking the meal? Many grocery stores offer fully cooked, heat-and-serve Thanksgiving meals that include turkey, gravy, sides, and dessert. You can even get it delivered to your door!
13. Go out to dinner
For some, this is a cardinal sin. The ritual of Thanksgiving may be so deeply ingrained in the family that going out seems like sacrilege. But if you are an empty nester with few guests and chronic pain, consider trying one of the many restaurants that offer a full Thanksgiving meal. Create a new holiday tradition and take a stay-cation that includes exploring some of the attractions in your area. You could even spend the night at a hotel for a real getaway!
14. Take care of yourself
If you have hosted Thanksgiving in the past and just don’t feel able, for whatever reason, to host it this year, just say no. Offer to bring a dish to share or help with the planning, but putting yourself through Thanksgiving stress just because you have always hosted doesn’t make sense.
If you do end up hosting a gathering, take plenty of time in the weeks before and after for rest, exercise, and general self-care. Eat well and stay hydrated to help manage pain and Thanksgiving stress.
15. Find a more grateful Thanksgiving
“Gratitude can transform common days into thanksgivings, turn routine jobs into joy, and change ordinary opportunities into blessings.” William Arthur Ward
We like to take a moment as we are gathered around the Thanksgiving table to share the things we are grateful for. Young and old can participate in this tradition. Gratitude at this time is an important part of the Thanksgiving meal, but we believe that this tradition can be transformative in daily life, helping to illuminate all of the blessings we have every day.
Even when living with pain and other challenges, we are alive in the world. We are capable of giving and receiving joy and love. Gratitude takes small daily acts and transforms them into something that is much greater. By appreciating what we have and sharing that with others, we are changing the way we look at the world and everyone in it.
“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. And, it can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.” Melody Beattie
Enjoying Thanksgiving, even with chronic pain
There is no denying that chronic pain has a very real impact on those who suffer from it, as well as on family, friends, and caregivers. On some days the pain can be so intense as to make even the simplest task seem insurmountable. Navigating the hurdles of medical care – insurance, appointments, and treatments – only compounds the problem on those days. In this chaos and haze of pain, it can be challenging to cultivate a sense of gratitude.
“Develop an attitude of gratitude, and give thanks for everything that happens to you, knowing that every step forward is a step toward achieving something bigger and better than your current situation.” Brian Tracy
But the act of focusing on the things for which we are grateful – instead of painful challenges – can improve our mindset exponentially. It can open our eyes to the great things that lie ahead instead of forcing us to stay focused on our current pain. Thanksgiving may be just another day on the calendar, but it can also serve as a month-long reminder to give thanks for everything in our lives.
We hope you have a wonderful and grateful Thanksgiving surrounded by family and friends. We are so very grateful you have chosen us to be a part of your journey this year, and we wish you a joyful, pain-free holiday season and beyond.