No matter where they might be in their rehab/recovery journey, chronic pain patients can find Christmas to be a challenging time. In particular, it’s a time where re-engaging with everyday tasks can take on a whole lot more meaning.

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Christmas is often a time when we make a special effort to re-connect with family, spend more time with our kids and take part in long-held traditions with our loved ones.

Sure, in isolation all of these things sound pretty standard, but at Christmas time they can take on greater meaning as we stop to appreciate the importance of the key relationships in our lives.

For people living with pain, the positive emotional associations around Christmas can be a great motivator for getting back into some of the “normal life stuff” that has been neglected or forgotten during the rehab process.

Over the years we’ve found that rehab is most effective if it’s focused on the tasks of everyday living. This way, patients are forced to think about what they’ve learned in a practical way and in ways that relate directly to their own life, home and workplace – which is much more engaging and reinforcing.

Increasing the amount of “normal life stuff” that people do builds problem-solving skills and boosts confidence in managing pain (also known as pain self-efficacy), which we know is one of the key contributors to a sustainable return to function over the longer term.

Making a contribution to the family’s team-effort at Christmas is a great way to help boost self-esteem and re-frame someone’s experience of their condition. And the good news is, it need not be anything too elaborate.

Even little things can bring about a sense of accomplishment for someone who’s been disengaged from family or community life during their rehab or recovery.

Here’s an idea of the types manageable yet meaningful tasks that we might encourage pain patients to focus on over Christmas:

  • Cooking a traditional ‘signature’ dish to contribute to Christmas celebrations.
  • Preparing decorations for Christmas lunch. This can be planned and paced out over a period of several months with a small task to complete each day.
  • Planning to attend a function (e.g. problem-solving details to do with travel, seating, how long to stay for, etc.)
  • Thinking of things to talk about (other than being unwell and in pain)
  • Participating in ‘traditional’ family activities (e.g. those ‘traditional’ games that the children in the family play each Christmas)

People learn to cope with chronic pain for a reason: so that they can pursue a meaningful and valued life. The key is to identify the things that are really important to people – both in terms of their values and sense of identity – and staying focused on that throughout the treatment period. At Christmas, the heart is especially focused on who and what matters most to us, and for pain rehab patients, the outcomes can be really inspiring.

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