November 29

9 Tips to Get Through the Holidays with Chronic Illness

Self care during the holidays

You don't have to do it all. Spend your energy on what is most important to you.

The holidays are a wonderful time to connect and nurture your relationships. Getting together and sharing yummy treats, while showing how much you care, deepens relationships and makes them stronger. However, the holiday season can bring challenges for those of us who live with chronic illness. Here are a few tips from my personal experience to help you out:

Address sensory stressors. Stores are busy and filled with holiday smells and other sensory issues that can cause problems. Those scented pine cones come to mind. Be prepared. Talk to your doctor about pre-medication. If you have an epipen, make sure it is not expired. Wear a high quality mask and check your options for entering the store using an alternative route. Wearing sunglasses inside can help lessen the impact of holiday lighting. Earplugs can turn down the volume of music and mute the din of multiple conversations. Shopping at off times can also lower your chances of sensory overload and being exposed to airborne illnesses.

Plan ahead to keep your body temperature stable. The weather has turned cold. While I no longer have to worry about staying cool, staying warm is my new focus. Regular layering with a sweater, scarf and gloves is a good place to start. You have lots of options for adding additional warmth. My favorites are a heated scarf and a heated shirt with rechargeable batteries. Hand warmers are another good option for keeping yourself toasty when the temperature dips down. The less energy your body has to spend on temperature regulation, the more energy you have to spend the way you want.

Pace yourself. Just because this is the season of hustle and bustle, doesn’t mean you have to join in. Take your time. Pay attention to your energy levels. Stop and rest before you have to. If you rest early and often, you will more easily avoid a crash with a much longer recovery time.

Only take on the things that are important to you. Make your list as short as possible. If decorations make your list, choose the ones with the most meaning and put those out first. If you like to bake, choose the one thing that you most want to share. If you have additional energy, you can always add to your plan. You can also order treats from your favorite bakery.

Lovingly decline and set firm boundaries. Saying no can be hard, but you need to take care of yourself and avoid trauma. What is the first thought that pops into your mind when you hear a request? Do you think about how difficult it will be on your body? Do you think it will take a lot of energy? Do you get a feeling of dread? Does it make you feel overwhelmed? If so, lovingly decline. Saying no is OK. Actually, saying no is good! Forget guilt. 

Saying no doesn’t mean you love anyone less. It is about self care. When you take care of yourself by saying no, you will have more energy to spend on your relationships. You only have so much energy. Use it where it is most important for you. If you have difficulty setting boundaries, individual or family therapy can help you figure out a way that feels comfortable and that your family understands.

Give yourself a down day to rest before the big event. Last minute prep and errands are not your friends. If you are unable to finish what you want to get done, either ask for help or let it go. The more rest you can get before you join your loved ones, the more energy you will have to participate. Take good care of yourself with healthy foods and plenty of water. Be sure to take all of your medications.

Plan a recovery day after each gathering. Things can get hectic and you can get overbooked, overwhelmed and exhausted. Seeing everyone who wants to see you during the holidays can be a juggling act. The sooner you can get everyone on your calendar, the easier it will be to schedule your day-after recovery days. Do not give these days up. They are an important part of maintaining function.

Getting ready to go. Plan ahead. Choose your clothes a few days before. Lay them out or hang them together in your closet. Pack presents so they are ready to go as well. Set expectations with your loved ones. Let them know a reasonable time that you will arrive that fits with your energy levels. Also let them know when you will need to leave. This way you can take care of yourself without having to discuss your needs as they come up. Your health needs to be a priority.

Rest or take a break when you can. When you start to feel your energy dip even just a little, excuse yourself. You can take a bathroom break, go get a glass of water, slip into a quiet room, go for a walk . . . just get away. The earlier you take a break, the faster you will be able to recharge. Just 5 to 15 minutes can make a big difference. When you rejoin the party, you will be able to participate more fully. Periodic breaks can extend the amount of time you are able to stay.

I wish you a wonderful holiday season!


Chronic Illness, Chronic Pain, Holiday Get Togethers, Surviving the Holidays

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