Chronically Ill & The Holidays
5 tips to help you get through the holiday season
I love the holiday season. Thanksgiving and Christmas are my 2 favorite holidays. I just love this time of year. But, the stress of shopping, rushing around, planning, and going to holiday gatherings can be taxing on a healthy person, let alone someone living with a chronic illness or disability. During the holidays, in the past, I have pushed myself way past the point of exhaustion trying to get everything done. I would bake for 3-4 days straight, cook fancy meals, entertain guests at parties, stay up late making homemade gifts for family and friends, and go shopping for hours on end to buy Christmas presents for my kids. I would literally run myself into the ground. By the time Christmas came around, I would be so run down and exhausted, I wasn't excited about it anymore. I just wanted it to all be over. I have learned, since then, that I can still enjoy the holidays. I just need to set boundaries for myself, cut back and change things up.
Here are some tips I put together to help make your holidays a little easier.
1. Shop online and have groceries delivered
Online shopping and grocery delivery services are one of my top tips! By shopping online you can use your energy towards other things and do your shopping during your downtime or when you are resting. For me shopping and being out on my feet for long periods of time make my pain spike and chronic fatigue worse. If I overdo it and push my body’s boundaries to stay out and get as much as I can do. I tend to pay for it in the next few days. So by buying stuff online or utilizing grocery delivery services has saved me and helped cut back on the stress it puts on my body along with the stress of rushing around to all the different stores trying to get everything bought in time.
Buying things in advance and also hitting up holiday sales during cyber and other holiday promotions is a huge help as well. Many places online will also gift wrap or put presents in gift bags for you for an extra fee, which can be another big help and gives you one less thing to worry about.
2. Set expectations and know your limits
Know your limits and set expectations and boundaries for yourself. When you set expectations and boundaries for yourself it will help cut down on mental stress and physical stress. By having these set expectations and boundaries, it will give you a guideline and plan for yourself, as well as your friends and family.
It can be hard to explain to someone that you are stressed, in pain, or exhausted and you need help with tasks, or need to cut back on certain activities. But, to maintain good boundaries, you need to know what your limits are, set expectations for what you can do, and have good communication about it.
The people in our lives don’t know what we’re feeling. By communicating what you need ensures that you help your friends and family understand what you need. In turn, they are able to support you and understand your limits and boundaries. This will help you ensure that you are able to cut down on mental stress and physical stress during the holidays.
Some things that will help maintain your boundaries and set expectations are:
Limit the number of events that you will attend. Identify the ones you really want to be part of, whether you’re hosting or attending, and RSVP "NO" to the ones that aren't on the top of your priority list.
Let your family or friends know that you have reached your limit or have a code word you come up with so certain people in your life are aware of how you are feeling. At that point, they can help you or know it's time to go.
Have a plan for when you are out and about or at a holiday gathering. Like having a set time for how long you think you can be out or at a holiday party.
Holiday invitations are often open-ended or set with extended periods of time. This could lead to celebrations that last well into the night. If you are dealing with a chronic illness, this could be overwhelming or lead to putting a large amount of stress on your body. My fatigue and pain are my biggest issues during holiday gatherings and parties. I’ve learned that my limit is usually between 3 to 4 hours max before I crash hard. So, I let my friends and family know how I’m feeling that day and that I may need to leave after a certain amount of time and my husband always helps make sure I'm still doing ok and makes sure we leave when I need to.
3. Prioritize the things
Be wise about how you spend your time and energy. Prioritize your activities, events, and experiences that mean a lot to you. Make a list of things you need to do and events to go to, then, go through the list and prioritize the things you really want to do or go to. This can be a big help in keeping your stress down. Remember, it's ok to skip the things on the list that you're not that into or that aren't as important as other activities or events you want and/or need to go to or get done. It’s okay if your list is smaller or different from your list from a previous year. Go based on how you are feeling and what you want to prioritize this year so you can have a great experience this holiday season.
Making a list for yourself of things you want and need to get done is extremely helpful. Prioritize your list then do what you can, when you can. There are times I tend to push my body too far. Then, I get discouraged when I go to do something, only to get shut down by pain. But, I have learned to work with my body. By organizing your list and doing longer tasks in the morning, when you have more energy, then doing shorter tasks and planning them around your day and energy level will help cut down on your mental stress and physical stress. Also, remember it's ok to ask for help.
4. Make time for self-care
During the holiday season, it is very important to make sure you are practicing self-care! The holiday season is one of the most stressful and busiest times of the year and holidays can be physically, emotionally, and financially taxing. This can take a huge toll on you. It’s very important to be even more intentional with making time for self-care. Prioritizing your needs is a necessity to making sure you don't get overwhelmed and put more stress on your body or your mental health. So, taking care of yourself, communicating your needs, or reaching out for support is important.
A big part of caring for yourself, as you manage your chronic disease during the holidays, is to allow yourself time to deal with your emotions. Taking time for yourself and being compassionate to yourself is a crucial part of self-care. During stressful days it's ok to have a mental health break or even cry and get your frustration and stress out. Having a chronic illness or disability is not easy and it puts it,s own set of stressors on you. This can be emotionally and physically taxing on any day of the year, let alone days that are full of chaos and stress, and emotions from the holidays. So, be kind to yourself and take some time just for yourself.
Also, getting enough sleep is very important. Sleep loss causes inflammation to the immune system. Those who sleep poorly have more intense pain and greater levels of disability. So, having a bedtime routine can be key for people with chronic illnesses, especially during stressful times like the holidays. Creating a bedtime routine will help with sleep struggles and ensure you are getting enough rest to help manage stress and symptoms from your disabilities and chronic illnesses.
5. Simplify your life
When you’re living with a chronic illness, each day is different from the others. Some days, you feel energetic and can do everything you need to do for the day like cook full meals, get your everyday tasks done, make holiday goodies, get presents wrapped, and go to holiday gatherings. On other days, you might not have any energy and can barely get out of bed. By finding things that will simplify your everyday life you will make a huge difference during the holidays and help yourself get through each day without adding extra stress to your body.
You may have certain holiday traditions, experiences, or items that may be important to you. Yet, if you try to do them all, you will wear yourself out, exacerbate your symptoms, or cause your pain to increase. For instance, you may enjoy wrapping gifts but, wrapping gifts for hours increases your pain. You love making homemade gifts or baking cookies or you enjoy eating a traditional Thanksgiving meal but, can’t stand for hours cooking in the kitchen. If you delegate certain things it will make a huge difference. Find support to make the holiday season meaningful without having to be the one in charge of all the logistics. Also, allow yourself to take off some of the items on your list that you’ve been doing but that don’t really bring you or your family much joy or meaning so you can focus on what means the most to you.
Cooking and baking are essential to the holidays for a lot of people and being able to make your family’s favorite meal, cookie, or sweet treat is a great way to celebrate the holidays. Others may be able to power through a long day baking, making their favorite goodies, or spending all day in the kitchen making a multi-course feast but, this is simply not an option for many people with chronic illnesses or disabilities. Prepping your meals, setting a cooking schedule, or utilizing easier ways to make your favorite holiday dish or sweet treat will make a huge difference in cutting down on the stress of your body. On my good days, when I'm not low on spoons, I will make the pies, cookies, and other treats. Then, I cook easy meals or use my crockpot. I also cook extra and freeze the rest so I have a quick meal when I need it. You’d be amazed at how many things you can freeze!
Using a slow cooker, crockpot or roaster will make things a lot easier for you because all you have to do is throw all of the ingredients in, then forget about it. The meal will cook itself without any further effort from you versus you having to stand for a long period of time and preparing a meal. I use my crockpot most days of the week and it is such a lifesaver, especially during the holidays. Using a crockpot, slow cooker, or roaster will free up some of your time so you can use some of your spoons for a different activity. I use a Ninja crockpot, which has settings for oven, cooktop, and crockpot and I love it. It has saved me many times. I cook everything in it from tacos, spaghetti, soups, pot roast, stuffing, and roasted chicken. I also used my roaster for cooking my turkey. All I need to do is prep my turkey, add veggies and turkey, and it takes care of both of them and cuts down on the time versus using the oven.