Every year I both love and dread the holidays with chronic illness and my symptoms. Spending time with friends and family is so lovely, and I really appreciate all the fun, food and laughter. It's a wonderful time of the year (yes, I sang the song in my head as I typed that!) and I'm already excited to put up my tree and add some lights, tinsel and decorations. Just hoping my new kitty doesn't pull it right down again . . .
But as someone with chronic illness, the holidays can also be a little anxiety-inducing. There are often lots of tasks to accomplish such as Christmas / holiday shopping for gifts, preparing food or hosting and many more social events to attend than usual. With chronic fatigue and a whole bunch of medical appointments to attend I've been feeling a little apprehensive this year to say the least.
Last year I made sure I followed these top 10 tips for preparing for the holidays with chronic illness and they really helped me out so I will be making sure I do them this year too. Hope that you find them helpful too!
- 1. Keep to your usual schedule, as much as possible
- 2. Make sure you take your medications, supplements and products
- 3. Prioritise social events and say no when it's too much
- 4. Shop for holiday gifts online
- 5. Rest!
- 6. Talk to friends and family about your needs before a social event
- 7. Pre-prepare dishes
- 8. Delegate tasks!
- 9. Prepare for the hot or cold
- 10. Remember to enjoy special moments
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1. Keep to your usual schedule, as much as possible
During the holidays our schedules can change quite a bit, with people coming to visit, social events to attend if you feel up to it, and extra shopping and cooking. All of which can increase fatigue, headaches and feel a little overwhelming at times.
Keeping to my usual schedule of sleep, as much as possible, is one of the best ways I find to manage my fatigue. Really late nights just aren't going to happen for me, and even if I'm having a good time, I know the 'fun tax' will hit me the next day and I'll be super tired.
The same is true for diet. Whether you follow a low histamine diet as I do, or are gluten-free or dairy-free, it's a good idea to stick to it as much as possible, even with all the tasty tempting treats around the holidays. After all, you don't want to be struck down with a flare-up of symptoms on the big day or when you want to see family or friends.
2. Make sure you take your medications, supplements and products
With social events, shopping trips or other outings if you feel up to it, it is so easy to miss doses of medication or take them at different times by mistake. My best tip is to set reminders on your phone. Most of us have our phone nearby so it's a great way to not miss a dose of your medications or the supplements you take to manage your chronic illness condition(s).
My other top tip is to keep at least one day's worth of spare meds in one of the little Sistema pots in your bag all the time, so that you don't find yourself out at a friend's house having forgotten to take them with you.
And don't forget any helpful items you use to manage symptoms. This can be forms of pain relief such as a TENS machine, hot water bottle or ice hat.
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If you are visiting others, then just check you can put an ice hat in the freezer (I'm sure they will say yes!).
3. Prioritise social events and say no when it's too much
We all know someone who goes to a million Christmas or holiday parties, and shares photo after photo on their Instagram. But that doesn't have to be how you enjoy the holidays!
Whether it's parties or dinners held by friends and family, work events if you are employed or socials held by clubs you attend, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed by a pressure to be 'social' at this time of year. My advice is to prioritise social events and attend those that you really want to, and hopefully with at least a day's gap between them to recuperate.
Do you really need to attend something held by an acquaintance you barely know? Or have dinner with a distant family member that you find emotionally and physically draining? It can be really tough to make those choices, but you deserve to have fun during the holidays and that may not happen if you have a flare-up of fatigue or other symptoms from trying to keep up with lots of social events. It's much nicer to spend your time with those you really want to enjoy time with.
4. Shop for holiday gifts online
Online shopping is the best! Rather than trying to battle around the shops with lots of other harassed shoppers, you can find the gifts for your friends and family while sitting on your sofa in your own home. You can even play holiday music while you're 'adding to basket' if you fancy it! It's so much more relaxing to get all or some of your gifts online and delivered to your home.
Why not have a look at my spoonie holiday gift guide for some inspiration?
It's so easy to feel a ton of pressure to be doing much more than your usual activity levels during the holidays. With shopping, cooking and seeing friends and family, it can be easy not to prioritise yourself and your health at this time.
But you deserve to feel the best that you can so you can enjoy the special moments that you wish to participate in. So make sure to prioritise rest for yourself, and take even more than usual if you need to. Whether it's a mid-afternoon nap, a bit of Netflix or doing a ten minute meditation with the Calm app, see how you can schedule rest time into your days and make it a non-negotiable.
6. Talk to friends and family about your needs before a social event
One of the things that I find most helpful for social events is to talk to friends and family before the event itself about your needs or limitations and how the holidays with chronic illness can be stressful at times. It's so much easier to give a 'head's up' before a dinner or party than during it, when you may feel less comfortable to ask.
- Give a time that you will arrive and a 'hard' deadline for when you will be leaving.
- Ask if there is a room where you can have some rest time for longer occasions.
- Request that music or the TV volume is kept low (or off) if you suffer with headache or migraine.
- If you have younger family members, suggest that a TV show or film is put on for some 'down time' at least once so that the adults can have some quieter moments.
- Ask if noisier kids toys be played with at home, and not when opened if you are swapping gifts.
- If needed, ask if a set mealtime could be kept to rather than a loose 'we'll eat when we feel hungry'.
7. Pre-prepare dishes
If you are hosting a dinner or party yourself, or are cooking for your household, then it's a great idea to prepare any dishes that you can in advance. There are lots of meals that can be made before the big day, and hopefully on lower symptom days, that can go in the freezer and just be de-frosted when needed. I always have soups, pasta sauces and dishes like stews in the freezer for nights when fatigue is high.
And don't forget that that you can get things like packets of rice that can be easily heated up in the microwave, as well as jars of cranberry or mint sauce. Heck, if it comes to it, just pour the jar of sauce into a serving jug - people may not even notice you didn't make it!
For my low histamine friends and everyone else(!), you may find some inspiration in my Low histamine Christmas / holiday meal plan!
8. Delegate tasks!
Get your family and other guests to do some of the work! Hand them a dressing to drizzle over a salad, get them to pour some wine or stir some dishes on the hob. I often find that people actually like being given a little task to do, plus then you can chat in the kitchen rather than being in separate rooms while you prepare food.
Or ask people to bring a dish along for your dinner or buffet. I always ask my sister to being a dessert over. She likes being able to contribute and I like not having to make one 😉
9. Prepare for the hot or cold
My mantra in the colder months when it comes to clothes is layer, layer, layer! With Raynauds making my hands and feet cold, and mast cell issues making my face and body too hot, it's never a good idea to wear one thing that I may end up too hot or cold in. Plus when visiting over the holidays you never know when someone's house will be sauna-like (my sister is the biggest culprit for this!) or igloo-like, so layering clothes is a great idea. I'm all about cardigans, jumpers and scarves.
At home I have a few ways to keep warm or cool down. When head pain is flaring a headache and migraine relief hat is a great idea as you fill it with ice and it helps calm that hot head feeling a migraine can cause.
For my cold Raynauds hands, gloves are essential and I also love the Hot Hands hand warmers for added warmth. Slip them inside your gloves for ten hours of warm fingers! Especially good if you are taking a winter's walk.
A hot water bottle is another essential, and this cute Aquapapa non-toxic red heart hot water bottle feels festive too!
10. Remember to enjoy special moments
When symptoms are flaring and everything 'holidays' feels overwhelming it can be easy to think of the holidays as a chore to get through rather than a time to enjoy. I like to try and focus on the special moments and hold those close to my heart, whether it is the kids opening their gifts and seeing their faces light up about the latest Peppa pig toy or enjoying the dinner I took time to make. It's those moments that become memories after all.
I really hope some of these tips for preparing for the holidays with chronic illness will help you feel more rested and able to enjoy lots of special moments over the holidays.
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Please follow the advice of your doctor as to all medical treatments, supplements, and dietary choices, as set out in my disclaimer.