Surviving the Holidays With A Chronic Illness

Hello dear friends!

I don’t know about the rest of you, but the last few weeks have been particularly crazy and stressful for me. I’m really sensitive to the energies around me, and the frenzy of the holidays is everywhere. Needless to say, I’ve had to up my self-care game just to counteract the stress that seems to go hand-in-hand with this time of year. Just taking a routine trip to the grocery store has become a lesson in boundaries, pacing, and lots of deep breathing!

During the holiday season, those of us with chronic conditions (illness, pain, etc…) are kind of stuck between a rock and a hard place. On one hand, we want so badly to get out and participate in the festivities- parties, outings, family events- and on the other hand, we want to withdraw in order to save our energy and prevent a flare up. We might use up all our spoons on one Christmas party and pay for it for days afterwards, but if we don’t go, we run the risk of being perceived as grumpy or anti-social, only furthering our usual sense of isolation.

So what are we supposed to do? Well, while I can’t map out the ideal plan for each of you, I can give you a few handy ideas. Keep these things in mind when you are feeling the holiday pressure!

1. Always have a predetermined game plan

This is especially handy if you have a partner, spouse, or other supportive traveling buddy. If you are attending a social event, or even just braving the shopping mall, talk about your strategy ahead of time. If it’s just you, set a reasonable time limit for yourself, or other landmarks to tell you when it’s time to pack up and head home. Be sure to include things like time frames, socially acceptable exit strategies, and what to do or say in the event that your illness becomes a topic of conversation. Being well prepared can save you a lot of stress, and can make outings a tad less scary.

2. Pack an emergency kit

Most of us chronically ill peeps know the value of coming prepared- we’re like the Boy Scouts, except with less dirt and homophobia. Because nobody knows your needs like you do, take a few minutes to brainstorm and gather up a few essentials that you can carry with you. For example, my CFS emergency kit includes: fresh water bottle (an absolute must for those with POTS), Kleenex, essential oil roller ball, ibuprofen, mints/gum, high protein snacks like nuts or jerky, extra vitamins and medications, herbal tea bags, and a few other goodies. Find a pretty fabric bag that you like and that can fit in your purse or backpack, and carry this stuff with you always! It calms my nerves just knowing it’s there just in case.

3. Cut yourself some slack

Some of my favorite things to do are cook, make gifts, and be Martha Stewart in general. But the holidays take that to a whole new (and often unattainable) level, leaving too many of us struggling to keep up with the demands that we place on ourselves. I get the feeling of not wanting to disappoint people, or wanting to go out of your way to do something nice, but you have to set boundaries for yourself in order to avoid burnout. Don’t try to do it all! If you have friends or family that can help, let them, and don’t say “yes” to too many things this season. It’s perfectly okay to show up to a gathering with a store-bought treat, or give easy things like gift cards. It’s also totally okay to stay home in your pajamas, watching Netflix. Just saying…

4. Look for joy in the little things

Too often, we get caught up in the frenzy of the holidays and forget to tap into the quiet joy and wisdom of this time of year. Sure, there can be joy and happiness in parties and gifts and special outings, but there can be just as much in the little everyday things. Practice a bit more mindfulness this season and start paying attention to the beauty of every day- the gently falling snow outside your window, the feel of a warm mug in your hands, a surprise kind text from a friend…these moments are worth just as much in the end. When you let go of the stress and anticipation of traditional holiday happenings, you might be surprised at how much joy you can find in the little things. No extra effort required.

5. Expand your self-care routine

Hopefully by now you have a good solid set of things that you do regularly to take care of yourself. The holidays is the perfect invitation to improve on your self-care, to banish the winter blues, to restore your energy, to reduce stress, and to give your body a little extra help. If you usually practice hatha or vinyasa yoga, try to incorporate a few restorative or viniyoga practices per week. If you can afford it, make an appointment to see a massage therapist or other bodyworker. Try to set aside time every single day that is devoted to you and your health- use this time to meditate, color, stretch, play with your pets, or some other nourishing activity- with no interruptions. And of course, try to resist the urge to throw your healthy diet out the window- this is the time of year your body needs those fresh veggies the most!

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The holiday season can be a wonderful time to reflect on our blessings, to connect with loved ones, and spread good cheer. Luckily, there are ways to experience all of those things without sacrificing our health. So tell me friends, what are some of your go-to holiday survival tips?

With special warm wishes…

~ Hoping you feel as well as possible ~