The Ultimate Guide to
Handling the Holidays
with Chronic Illness
Even for the most holiday-loving person the holidays bring stresses and challenges that just aren’t there the rest of the year.
For those of us with chronic illnesses like Fibromyalgia, Lyme, and CFS/ME the challenges and stresses are even greater. However, we can still enjoy the holidays and time with friends and family despite the challenges and stress.
Here are a few of the biggest challenges we face and some tips on how to minimize the stresses associated with each.
Challenge #1: Gift Giving
Shopping can be one of the biggest challenges of the holidays. The stress of finding the right gift, the crowds in the mall and all that goes with them can really aggravate symptoms related to fibromyalgia and other chronic illnesses.
Buying the right gift doesn’t need to send you into a flare. There are ways to minimize this stress, or eliminate it altogether.
Tip #1: Start shopping early
Shop for Christmas and birthdays throughout the year. More and more stores are doing Christmas in July sales now, as well as other sales for various holidays. Look for great deals on gifts throughout the year and avoid the stress of waiting till the last minute.
Tip #2: Shop during off-peak hours
Save yourself some stress by shopping during off-peak hours. Avoid Black Friday and other special sales, shop during off-peak hours, and local events that typically keep people away from the stores. If you are a night owl, hitting the stores later in the evening is a great option to avoid the crowds.
Tip # 3: Keeping a running list
One of the greatest hassles of shopping is often just finding the right gift. The best way to avoid this stress is to start with a list.
Don’t wait till November to go randomly looking for that one thing that will be perfect for that one person, know before you go. Throughout the year take note of what your friend or loved one enjoys and things they mention that they’d like to have.
Ask the people you are shopping for if they have an Amazon wishlist. This is a great way to find items that they want but may not be willing to buy for themselves.
Tip #4: Opt for Gift Cards
Many people hesitate to give gift cards because they feel this is impersonal, but they are also one of the most requested gift items simply because they allow the receiver to get just the item they want. The key in giving gift cards is to make sure it’s a gift card they will use.
Don’t give a gift card for a specific restaurant or store store card unless you know it’s one of their favorite places to shop or dine.
Tip #5: Shop Online
Avoid getting out into the busy stores by shopping online. You can get the same great deals online that you can find in the stores, and shop from the comfort of your couch and pajamas.
By shopping online you can have the gifts delivered directly to you (or to your loved ones), wrapped, and ready to give. Not only do you get to avoid the crowds but you save yourself some extra time and hassle.
Tip #6: Skip the Gifts
I know several people who have stopped giving holiday gifts altogether. For some it’s a financial decision and for others it’s more about feeling that Christmas has become too commercialized and they don’t want to take part in that.
I have one friend who doesn’t give Christmas or birthday gifts. Instead she buys and gives gifts whenever she sees something that makes her think of that person. As a results she cuts the stress of waiting till the last minute to scramble and find the “perfect gift” (and creating stress in the process).
I think most of us would rather know we are thought of all year long and enjoy quality time with those we love than to feel we are just remembered once or twice a year.
Challenge #2: Decorating for the Holidays
I love holiday decorations, but I hate putting them up and taking them down. The amount of decorations that go up are completely in proportion to how I feel at the beginning of December.
Some years I don’t decorate at all. There have been years, though, where I was hosting a gathering or had someone visiting and felt that I needed to put up decorations despite how I felt.
There are ways to decorate for the holidays without making myself feel worse.
Tip #1 Keep it Simple
There is no reason you need to climb on top of your house to string lights, nor do you have to cover every inch of your living space in tinsel. There are great options for simple holiday decorations.
The holiday laser light shows are a great way to decorate the outside of your home.
Instead of stringing the lights on the tree, opt for a pre-lit tree. These are as simple as unfolding a few limbs and all that’s left is hanging the decorations (which you can do while siting in a chair, or let the kids do it while you watch).
Tip #2 Don’t try to do it all yourself
There is really no reason you have to do all the decorating yourself. There are services now that will come out and decorate not only the outside of your home but the inside as well.
If that’s not in your budget, ask your family to help. Kids love to decorate and will enjoy being a part of the activity. If you don’t have kids of your own perhaps you can borrow a niece or nephew to help. Or, invite a friend or two over to help you decorate.
Just keep in mind that those decorations have to come down at some point, so don’t go overboard.
Challenge #3 Hosting a Holiday Dinner
Tip #1 Don’t do it
There is no reason you have to host the holiday gathering. Even if you’ve always done it, it might be time for someone else to take the reigns. Reach out to other family members and ask them to take over.
Tip #2 Outsource dinner
Instead of hosting the holiday dinner in your home, outsource. Find a restaurant that is open on the holiday (or opt to host your holiday gathering on a date when things are open) and have your family meet there.
Alternatively, reduce the work by having the meal catered. Buying a prepared meal from a local restaurant or grocery will greatly reduce your work and stress.
Tip #3 Enlist Help
Instead of providing the meal, make it a potluck. Let everyone else bring the food, after all you are already providing the place and will probably have to clean up.
Letting them bring the food will cut your work in half. If each person brings a dish you will have more than enough food. You can either ask someone else to bring the main dish, or you can have that portion of the meal catered.
Tip #4 Skip the dishes
There’s no need to pull out the fancy china and then wash it all. Opt for disposable plates and cutlery. You can even find some nice disposable products that look like fancy dinnerware if you want your table to look festive.
Challenge #4 Holiday Travel
Holidays are prime travel time and that means that more people will be on the road and in the airports than any other time. More people means more stress on those of us with chronic illnesses. The best option for dealing with holiday travel is to avoid it altogether.
Tip #1 Limit holiday travel
It seems like the norm for holidays is to try to visit every family member in a 100 mile radius over the course of a single day. This is rough for even healthy people.
Instead of trying to visit everyone in the course of a few days, choose just one place to visit, or have them come to you. Perhaps visit one portion of your family at Thanksgiving and another at Christmas. Or, better yet, visit with your family outside of the holidays.
Tip #2 Don’t wait for the holidays
Why do we wait till a holiday to visit our family? Why not visit them during another time of year when you can enjoy them (and them you) without the added stress of the holidays? You’ll have more time to visit and less competition for your attentions.
Tip #3 Choose the best travel method
Choose the travel method that works best for you. If dealing with airports and crowds and sitting in uncomfortable chairs just wipes you out, but sitting in your comfortable car doesn’t, it may be worthwhile to take extra time and drive the distance instead of flying.
Whether you fly or drive, don’t forget the things that help you feel extra comfortable (like a favorite pillow, sweater, and of course pain meds).
Tip #4 Allow adequate recovery time
Whether you are travelling just across town or across the country make sure to allow for plenty of recovery time. How much time really depends on your body, but you’ll likely want to allow for time after you arrive to recover from the initial travel, as well as time after you return home.
Schedule your travel plan to allow for at least a day after you arrive at your destination and a day after you arrive home just for relaxing and recuperating.
This can be hard as we often feel guilty for taking time away and we feel like we have to spend every moment with our family once we arrive. Planning for recovery means getting the most out of your trip.
Whatever the holiday challenge you are dealing with, you can handle it if you make a few adjustments. Just remember to listen to your body, pace yourself, and don’t try to push through. Take care of yourself first and the rest will follow.
- Surviving the holidays with chronic illness
- Tips for holiday stress relief
- Tips for travelling with chronic illness