Six Tips for Treasuring the Holidays with Chronic Illness

Feet warming by fireplaceThe holidays stir up all kinds of emotions, some positive and some not-so-happy. This time of year can be fun with family gatherings, work parties, and tree-trimming. But too many obligations can cause stress and anxiety for many people. Not being with loved ones can increase depression. Ernest Tubbs and Elvis Presley knew all about having a “Blue Christmas.”

If you’re coping with a chronic medical condition, you may already feel pulled in different directions balancing treatments, appointments, and family life. Adding social events and the holiday rush can double the stress. So, how can you balance personal challenges with the holiday stress this year?

Tips for treasuring the holidays:

  1. What are you doing New Year’s Eve? We may receive several invites from family and friends in the upcoming weeks, and we may feel obligated to say yes to each one. However, stretching our time too thin or disrupting our routine can exacerbate medical problems, increase exhaustion, and cause irritability (and who wants to be irritable during the jolly holidays?). TIP: Pick one or two events to attend and politely decline others.
  2. Forget the fruitcake. It’s always important to be aware of what we’re putting into our bodies, especially when there is a medical condition present. Holiday events inevitably involve food—most of which is made of sugar (cookies, cakes, candy) and gluten (bread, pastries, pasta). These kinds of foods can cause increased pain and inflammation, increased blood sugar, and gastrointestinal problems. It’s OK to enjoy a bite or two, but fill your plate with healthy choices. TIP: Bring a healthy dish (like salad or roasted veggies) to the party.
  3. Limit the hot buttered rum. Many of us enjoy toasting our loved ones by the crackling fire or ringing in the new year with some bubbly. Be aware that alcohol not only lowers inhibitions, but also can cause problems with sleep and attention. It can cause inflammation to achy joints and can increase blood sugar. Alcohol can also interact with prescription medications, which can be a dangerous cocktail. TIP: Raise one glass or shake up your own “mocktail.”
  4. Run, Rudolf, run. I get funny looks when I go out for a jog on Christmas morning, but I know it will help reduce anxiety, lift my mood, and burn a few extra calories. Exercise is the best antidepressant and antianxiety agent around! Plus, going for a walk after a big dinner can help aid digestion. Going to the gym or for a walk around the block can give us a mental break from the family fun. TIP: Get off the couch and get moving!
  5. Settle in for a long winter’s nap. So many events and parties can be exhausting. Maintaining our regular sleep routine as much as possible will help us recover and get ready for the next day. Not getting enough rest can result in irritability, increased anxiety, or a depressed mood. Don’t be afraid to sneak out of a party early, especially when you’re feeling fatigued. TIP: Stick to your regular sleep routine as much as possible.
  6. Baby, it’s cold outside! Plan a night at home (preferably without TV, computers, or smartphones!) and enjoy each other’s company. Take time to snuggle up with your loved ones. Play a board game with the kids, light the fire, or make up your own family tradition. Isn’t family what the holidays are all about? TIP: Take a breather from the hustle and bustle.

The holidays don’t have to be stressful. We can enjoy our time with family and friends by setting limits with ourselves and others. Take time to take care of yourself and make time for those you love. Enjoy this holiday season!

© Copyright 2013 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Andrea M. Risi, LPC, therapist in Denver, Colorado

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Kirah

    Kirah

    December 10th, 2013 at 3:27 PM

    Yes this is a time to think of others but it shouldn’t be a time to forget about yourself, especially if you are sick and are already trying to manage that condition too.

    Just remember that there is no better way to take care of other people than by remembering that you and your own needs are important too!

  • Sandy

    Sandy

    December 11th, 2013 at 3:40 AM

    So hard to even think about having your holidays marred with the spectre of serious illness hanging over your head. But I would have to think (hope?) that if this was happening to me I would want to take the time to savor every moment and live it up while I could.

  • barb

    barb

    December 12th, 2014 at 3:10 PM

    In all honesty, the holidays are a time where although I’d love to savor the moments etc, I’m just not physically capable anymore. That reality makes this time of year all the more difficult to get through. I’d give anything to be able to play with my nieces, cook a nice meal or attend a holiday party… Truth is, I’m barely able to stand most days, let alone celebrate with loved ones. Doesn’t matter how badly I’d like to do things, enjoy family, make the most of whatever time I have left, but I just can’t, and it kills me.

  • Andrea M. Risi, LPC

    Andrea M. Risi, LPC

    December 11th, 2013 at 8:41 AM

    Absolutely Kirah! Taking care of ourselves should be a priority. Which of these tips work for you?

  • Andrea M. Risi, LPC

    Andrea M. Risi, LPC

    December 11th, 2013 at 12:34 PM

    I agree, Sandy…that’s why my tips don’t exclude anything. It’s a mater of balancing out what you can tolerate during this time of year ;)

  • Kirah

    Kirah

    December 12th, 2013 at 3:40 AM

    Well I have to admit that there are times when I have to be kind of creative when declining to do some things at this time of year, but there comes a time when you just have to. I have kind of come to understand my own limits, what I like to do and what I don’t, the people I like to hang out with and those who make it more of a chore. So I try to be pretty selective when accepting invites, not because I want to be a recluse or anti social, but because I know what I can take and I try to draw the line at that. And a little wine every now and then doesn’t hurt either lol!!

  • stressmom

    stressmom

    December 13th, 2013 at 3:45 AM

    I like the idea of trying to remain thoughtful about the food that we eat and how much we drink. There have been those years when I have seriously overindulged and end up feeling terrible the next day! So I do try to be a better role model for my kids now that there has been proof of what all of this staying up late, eating bad things, and in general ignoring all of the rules of taking care of yourself can do to you. This is a time when most of us need to have our best game plan on… not an alcohol or food hangover!

  • Andrea M. Risi, LPC

    Andrea M. Risi, LPC

    December 13th, 2013 at 8:07 AM

    Tip #1 works well for you, Kirah. I know it’s not always easy to decline, but I appreciate that you know how important it is to prioritize your invitations. Cheers!

  • Andrea M. Risi, LPC

    Andrea M. Risi, LPC

    December 13th, 2013 at 8:43 AM

    Agreed stressmom. It’s difficult to not indulge like others, but it’s oh so much nicer to feel well the next day!

  • Shorty smalls

    Shorty smalls

    February 28th, 2014 at 9:56 AM

    With both parents gone and husband too, I’ve been left alone. Except for my newly divorced daughter who is trying to get her life together I don’t feel like celabrating. My friends r my pets the TV, books on tape or downloaded my so called friends don’t even send Christmas cards,invites or anything. I guess I’m a shut in now, I loved my work and am unable to do it anymore ?? What am I supposed to do now?

  • Andrea M. Risi, LPC

    Andrea M. Risi, LPC

    March 1st, 2014 at 9:22 AM

    Hello Shorty –

    It sounds like you’re feeling lonely and down about not being able to do some of the things you used to do. I hear this all too often, how life changes with a chronic illness.

    You might want to look for support groups or a therapist near you for help and guidance on dealing with these concerns. Getting outside support is one proactive way to cope with your condition.

  • Andrea Risi

    Andrea Risi

    December 15th, 2014 at 9:36 AM

    I appreciate you sharing your challenges, Barb. You are not the only one who finds it difficult being unable to do some of the activities you did before.

    Are there ways to adapt the things you’d like to do, with the help of others? Is there a way to bring others to you? If you cannot physically be present, can you Skype or call while the others are together? Finding ways to be included can help ease the pain…

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