As we approach the end of the year, most of us will inevitably reflect on 2020 and its unbelievably unusual challenges. Although that’s natural, there’s a more productive way to consider your current situation. Our December motto is Learn & Inspire: reclaim hope amidst difficult circumstances—Dr. Brecher discussed the delicate mental balance of looking at the past and future, maintaining hope through clear boundaries & communication, and the benefit of setting SMART goals for 2021.
Dr. Brecher acknowledged that appreciating progress is a useful exercise and can provide patients with the motivation to continue moving forward. This year especially, we’ll all be looking back and comparing ourselves to where we were prior to the pandemic—and that’s where the potential dangers arise. While improvements are important to appreciate, Dr. Brecher warns that looking back and even looking toward the future can be less productive than simply focusing on the present. Comparing your current status to a pre-pandemic version of yourself is unfair, due to the major challenges of this year. Dr. Brecher recommends focusing on positive steps you can take today and continue to do that with each new day.
Moving your focus away from the present reality can also impact your ability to maintain hope. Dr. Brecher mentioned that if you feel like you are losing hope about your pain being managed among the other difficulties you may be dealing with, “It can be very beneficial to break the dichotomous or all or nothing thinking and to find things that have been unaffected by the pain…moved forward in desirable ways that pain could have impacted yet hasn’t, this could be relationships with grandchildren or children or spouses.” Dr. Brecher used this example to demonstrate another benefit of continuing to look at the present and finding aspects that can help you create an optimistic outlook. Think about parts of your life that have not been severely impacted by pain or the troubles of this year and use those as a source of motivation and cheerfulness.
The holidays can present another set of challenges to navigate, so it’s helpful to have guiding principles for how you will approach the most common issues. One that Dr. Brecher highlighted as especially important is respecting the limits of your body and pacing yourself so that you’re able to enjoy the holidays without getting overwhelmed. Set those limits for yourself and continually listen to your body in order to understand when you need a break. The holiday season can take a lot out of us, so make sure you’re resting when necessary to avoid the stress and pain that can come from trying to move beyond what your body is telling you.
Communication is vital to maintain the boundaries you set. In regards to patients communicating with family members about chronic pain and other medical conditions, here’s Dr. Brecher’s recommendation: “Stick to the limit and still offer ways that they can help that may not cause as much wear and tear…so that the family still feels appreciated. The family still feels heard and knows that the patient wants to still contribute to the holidays and the festivities.” Balance is the focal point in Dr. Brecher’s advice—find your limits, maintain them, and communicate them, while still showing the people around you that you’re willing and eager to participate within your boundaries. Leading with clear, open communication can help you avoid possible frustrations and misunderstandings, creating a more enjoyable holiday environment for everyone.
As you move through the holidays and into the new year, remember that chronic pain is a chronic condition. It may seem redundant to emphasize, but remind yourself that this is a distinct condition that deserves compassion, both from yourself and from others. If you like setting goals to work alongside that compassion, whether it’s at the beginning of 2021 or any other time, Dr. Brecher advises the use of SMART goals—Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Time-Bound goals. Be kind to yourself and do your best to focus on the present with a positive mindset. Follow us on Instagram & Facebook for more on managing your pain during the holidays. Everyone at ReclaimAbility wishes you & yours a healthy, delightful holiday season! See you next month.