Surviving The Holidays With Health Challenges

Melissa’s Rap: Despite who you are and what field of work you are in, the holidays are always hectic. More events, more things to do and buy. It can overwhelm even those of us who are the most organized holiday lovers around. When you throw a chronic health condition into the mix, the holidays can increase or exacerbate symptoms, making them difficult and seemingly impossible to endure.

When I was younger, I often found myself getting depressed at the holidays. I struggled to maintain the same level of energy and cheer that my family and friends radiated. It took so much energy to get through my everyday life, that the increased demand the holidays puts on us caused me to shut down more times than not. As someone who loves the holidays, and listens to Christmas music year round because of the peace and joy it brings me, this annual struggle was difficult to understand and cope with.

Over the years, as I have discovered my many health conditions, I have learned a few things that have helped me through the holidays. If you suffer from chronic health conditions or are a highly sensitive person and the holidays are a challenge for you (or they are just a challenge because it is your regular life on steroids), before curling up in the fetal position, try incorporating some or all of these recommendations:

Do What You Want To Do
One thing I have learned is that we often lock ourselves into things and don’t question whether or not they are even something we even want to do. It may be a family tradition you have done for years, or something you once decided you must do every year (like send Christmas cards, for example).

Take some time this year to evaluate those things and decide…is this something YOU really want to do? If not, why are you still doing it? And what do you really want to do that these traditions or habits keep you from doing? It may be another tradition you want to start, or it may be sleeping more than four hours a night. Do you really need to send out a card before Christmas? Maybe take the pressure off and send a Happy New Year’s card instead. Heck, send a 4th of July card if the summer is less stressful for you or that is your favorite holiday. Think outside the box! What would make you happy and make the holiday season more doable.

Either way, you owe it to yourself to figure out what you want. Remember Julia Robert’s character in The Runaway Bride? She realized she had to figure out who she was (and what kind of eggs she liked) before she could truly be happy in a relationship. Figure out what you want your holidays to be like, and do what you can to make that vision a reality, so that you can enjoy them. Life is too short to not do what you want to do!

Get Organized Ahead of Time
Months before the holidays kick into full gear (or before a big event in your life is scheduled), take some time to plan and get organized. This would be a good time to evaluate what you want to do and perhaps take steps to ensure things go as smoothly and as close to plan as possible.

Who is going to host this year? We rotate the holiday dinners in our family, so talking about it well in advance can not only take that step off your list, but give the person who will be hosting time to plan as well. In addition, will you be traveling to celebrate the holidays with distant relatives? If so, knowing this ahead of time can be helpful, since travel can also be stressful for those with health conditions. It can also be beneficial because you can monitor pricing on flights and rental cars, so that you can save money (and since finances are often one of the top stressors in life, saving a few dollars can help your stress level as well.)

What will I need to buy? It is never too soon to start a shopping list! Who will need a gift this year? Do you have all the supplies you need (wrapping paper, décor, shipping supplies, etc.)? You can add to this list as the holidays (or events) approach and pick things up along the way, perhaps even saving money when you find something on sale! I Christmas shop all year. Sometimes I find the best gifts right after Christmas because there are often huge sales between Christmas and New Year’s. This is usually when I buy Christmas wrap as well, because you can’t beat the prices. If Halloween is your favorite holiday, or you plan to celebrate it in costume this year, consider purchasing the costume in the summer when you don’t have to rush and prices are better.

While I have spent much of my career in retail management and do not want to hinder brick-and-mortar retailers, I must also say that shopping online has been a key for managing my stress level at the holidays. I can scout out the best price, shop off of the gift recipient’s online wish lists and ship it all to my home for free. And I can do all that while drinking coffee and eating a paleo muffin in my pajamas. I can’t recommend this option enough for reducing your shopping-induced stress this year.

What kind of activities do I want to do? Baking Christmas cookies, attending a local tree lighting ceremony or holiday concert, caroling at a local hospital, and watching your favorite Christmas movies as a family may top your list. For someone else, it may be holiday-themed arts and crafts, taking family pictures and sending an annual holiday letter to family and friends. For me, part of my holiday overwhelm was the sheer increase in stuff to do. Taking the time to actually write things out, and perhaps even prioritizing them, so that you ensure you do those things that are most important to you can be a huge stress-reliever. Fitting in the items at the bottom of the list would just be a bonus, and you can hopefully accept letting those things drop off the list if you find yourself getting exhausted and overwhelmed.

What else can I organize? A word of caution with this one: sometimes over-planning can be stressful too. It can not only feel like a job, but when things don’t go your way, it can backfire on you. However, if you are like me, and seeing things in black and white better helps you prepare for the craziness of impending events, like the holidays, the more organized you can be the better. Are you decorating this year? What will you need and do you need to add it to your shopping list? If you are a parent, decide ahead of time which parent will attend which events (if both are unable to). If your employer has an optional gift exchange, decide if you will participate. Knowing ahead of time what to expect can dramatically reduce your stress levels when the time comes. Remember, these things don’t have to be written in stone. Be flexible and empower yourself to control what you can.

Do the Bare Minimum
This one isn’t for everyone, but for some it will be the key to surviving the holidays (or maybe just a particularly difficult year). If you can only manage one or two things this year, understand that this is OK. Forcing yourself to do things your body cannot handle has the potential to set you back exponentially. If you are going to pay for it for weeks or even months, is that event really worth it? Probably not. Can you buy store bought Christmas cookies this year instead of pushing yourself to make them? Yes! If attending your child’s concert is important to you, but you are all out of spoons, can someone in attendance video or live stream it for you? Your family and friends would love to have you present at every single event, but more than anything, they want you to be well. Pushing yourself over a cliff to meet other people’s expectations (or even yours) can have long-lasting effects that are rarely worth it.

Honor Your Body
That brings me to my next recommendation: honor your body. As a yoga instructor, I often say this in my classes. It is the single most important thing you can do, in a yoga class and in life. Listen to what your body is telling you. This may be a new concept for some of you, but I assure you, your body has been talking to you all along. It tells you when you are hungry, tired, happy/sad/angry and when something feels right (and when it doesn’t.) Listen. And then act in accordance. I know that sometimes we are tired and we have to push through. I realize that we can’t always eat when we are hungry. I am a mom and a recovering workaholic. I get it. But, the more we can honor our body, the better life we will have. Period. This goes double for stressful events like the holidays. So, make a plan this season to listen to your body and honor its wishes whenever possible.

Be Vocal About Your Boundaries
Perhaps one of the most difficult things to do for some of us is to be vocal about our restrictions and the boundaries we need to put up to protect ourselves. If your family has a decades-long tradition, it is possible that some family members will not understand if you choose to bow out this year (or every year for that matter). Your friends or co-workers may not understand if you choose to skip out on their soiree or gift exchange. Your kids may not understand why you won’t bake cookies this year. Guess what? That’s OK. If you are the type to drown in guilt for not meeting others expectations, I feel your pain. That is me in a nutshell. But, I have worked really, really hard to accept my limitations and share them with those who may be impacted in order to protect myself.

No one can understand your needs and restrictions as much as you, or the importance of setting boundaries. You need to stand up for yourself, even when it is difficult.

Sometimes the biggest stress of the holidays comes from not being able to indulge like others can. If you have decided to attend an event, speak up on your food restrictions, or ask if you can bring food you can eat. If you never get to eat dessert at events, because they are typically chock full of ingredients you can’t tolerate, sign up to bring a dessert, ensuring you can enjoy a sweet treat while you are there. If the event is typically held at a local restaurant, suggest some great locations where you know you will be able to eat safely. If a certain time of day works better for you health-wise, like morning, perhaps suggest doing a brunch instead of a dinner event. If you are sensitive to chemicals, ask if the host can forgo scented candles this year. Does the host have to do what you ask? Of course not, but it doesn’t hurt to ask. You can always graciously decline the invite if it will be detrimental to your health for you to attend. If you are worried about what they will think, remember what I said above: you have to look out for you. You are worth it.

Make Time For You
Regardless how much you take on this holiday season, make sure you have time to restore and recuperate. This looks different to each of us. For some it is yoga and meditation a couple of times a week. For others it is a daily practice. Exercise helps create balance for some, while rest is the key for others. Quiet time isn’t just for kids. The holidays can be loud and over the top. Finding time to sit in silence can work wonders for restoring your peace.

My preferred “therapy” involves Chinese food, red wine and cheesy Christmas movies. Whatever your method of restoration, make time for it this year. Schedule it in if you have to. Honor your body. It will drastically increase your chances of surviving the hectic pace and demands of the season.
Sometimes life gets hectic and hard all on its own, not just around the holidays. These recommendations can be a great way to get you through those times. Incorporating the steps in your daily life can also help you create them as habits, ensuring their effectiveness when you need them most.

From our family to yours, we wish you a wonderful holiday season. If you have any other suggestions on surviving the holidays with health challenges, please comment below! We look forward to rapping with you.

1 thought on “Surviving The Holidays With Health Challenges

  1. Pingback: Helpful Steps to Managing Anxiety | The Sister Rap

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