Thanksgiving and Christmas are coming!
I know that people always comment on how fast the holidays get here after the year prior, so I wanted to write a post to provide some resources for navigating the holidays when you have a chronic illness. This way you can be prepared as you move into the holiday season!
Last year, I experienced my first Thanksgiving and Christmas post-diagnosis. Symptoms had come and gone for years prior to diagnosis (and I can actually remember multiple Christmases of not feeling well), but last year was the first time things were debilitating enough to change the way I participated in festivities.
When I started thinking about the holidays, I honestly felt sadder than I did when thinking about my daily way of life. My treatment protocol was intense, but adding dietary restrictions, depression, and low energy levels to the mix caused uncertainty about participating in anything.
While there were certainly some low points for me during the months of November and December of last year, I learned some things about navigating the holidays when you have a chronic illness.
Here are some keys to help you participate in holiday festivities while still considering your needs as you treat chronic illness.
7 Keys for Navigating the Holidays with Chronic Illness
1. Plan in advance
As Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years get closer, it’s a good idea to start thinking about what you’ll do and where you’ll go. Think through the things you usually participate in and plan your schedule around the items most important to you. It’s a good idea to prioritize the things you most want to do because it might not be possible to do everything you’d like. If you usually host friends or family at your home, start planning now to do so or ask others to do the honors this year.
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2. Schedule rest
If you know your body usually gets worn down from being out and about, schedule time to rest before and after the days you will be participating in holiday festivities. Also think about the day of the events and how you need to ration your energy to have the greatest chance of being able to participate. Extra stress can take a big toll on those with chronic illnesses, so be sure to build rest into your schedule.
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3. Bring your own food
I know it can be hard to pass on those chocolate chip cookies at Grandma’s house, but if you’re serious about keeping your health in check through dietary choices, resisting may be necessary! Bring along things you enjoy eating so that you feel better about food choices. One weakness of mine is crackers. These are my favorite GF/Paleo friendly crackers. Eating them helps satisfy my cravings!
4. Be honest
If you’re going somewhere else to celebrate and you have energy limitations, let your host know that you may not be able to participate fully in the activities. If you aren’t able to host at your house like usual, ask others to chip in and host instead. Being honest with people in your life about your limitations can be helpful for avoiding hurt feelings later. Think through what you need to explain to others ahead of time to allow the events to go smoothly.
5. Bring a teammate
Enlist the help of someone else to be part of your team during the holiday festivities. This should be someone who knows you well and will be able to read your responses to situations. This person will help you feel safe in the situations you’re entering and will watch for any indication that you aren’t feeling well.
My fiancé, Jonathan, serves in this role for me. Another friend or family member could also do this. Basically, Jonathan notices when I’m getting worn down and my health is going downhill. He’s particularly aware of neurological symptoms that flare and helps get me the additional treatment I need. I also know I can tell him I’m ready to go and he’ll take me home immediately if I need to leave.
6. Be okay with your plans changing
This one is a big part of normal life with chronic illness. Health challenges can worsen at a moment’s notice, so it is important to be flexible. Even if you have everything planned and scheduled with the hope that things will run smoothly, do yourself a favor and release expectations. Prayerfully plan your schedule but then hold those plans loosely. Ask God to give you His perfect peace in whatever situations you may encounter with your health over the holidays.
7. Laugh as much as you can
This one is one of my favorite pieces of advice. Laugh. Just do it. I’ve found that no matter how horrible I feel, laughter can be a source of medicine for me. Laughing helps lift my spirit and makes me feel more alive. Try to enjoy yourself while you celebrate the holidays, and be sure to include laughter in your days!
If you’re looking for support on your journey with chronic illness, please know you don’t have to walk through this tough season alone! Grab your free copy of my eBook, Finding Hope Through the Fog, and join our email community of hope!