Surviving the holiday’s with a Chronic Illness

The holidays are meant to be a time filled with joy, love, family, and friends. But in reality, the holidays can be a stressful time for those living with a chronic illness. If you have a chronic illness, the holidays might be a time where you feel pressure to perform, to cook or host meals, to socialize, to drink and eat things that make you feel bad, and to always ‘be on’. But, it doesn’t have to be this way. In fact, often, it’s the expectations we put on ourselves that cause the most stress, rather than the expectations we perceive our loved ones to be putting on us.

By planning and setting expectations before the holidays, you can make the holidays more enjoyable. Rather than feeling stressed out, you can feel supported by those you love most, and enjoy social time with those closest to you.

Here are my top yogi tips on thriving, not just surviving, during the holidays:

1. Don’t over-commit yourself.

Even if you’re hosting the holidays in your home, or at a family member’s home in your city, don’t volunteer to do more than you’re able. You can ask others to bring dishes and create a potluck dinner. Most guests will be happy to do this!  Another idea is to ask your friends to come over and help you cook your favourite recipe. They might do the cooking work while you sit down, supervise, and help them find things in the kitchen. This can help lessen your work during the holidays while also opening up new time to spend with your friends and family. If possible, try to have most meals at someone else’s home so that you’re not in charge of the preparation and clean up.

Not overcommitting yourself also goes for the number of holiday events that you go to, or how late you stay. Are you up for 4 family meals in 2 days? If you only want to commit to 1 or 2, that is fine as well. If you explain the reasons to your family and let them know you are prioritizing your health this year, they will most likely understand and be supportive when you need to leave, or can’t come to an event.

2. Ask for help.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Whether that’s cooking as mentioned above, shopping for gifts, or spending time with your grandchildren or nieces and nephews.

If you’re spending time with children, ask your partner or another friend or family member to be there with you. That way if you need to take time to rest, the kids will still have someone to play with.

The internet is also a source for help. Shopping for gifts online can take away a lot of the stress of going to crowded shops and having to fight your way through the aisles and stand in long lines for gifts.

3. Take time to rest.

Just because there are other people around, it doesn’t mean you can’t excuse yourself to go lie down or meditate if you need to. Even in the middle of a meal or family event, if you need to take a timeout, give yourself permission to do it. If you think this is something you might need to do, it can help to warn your family and friends before the event you might need to duck out to rest. If you’re going to someone else’s house, you can also ask them to prepare a room for you that won’t be being used that you can go to rest in when you need it.

4. Take time for normal self-care.

The holidays are a busy time, so it’s easy for us to let go of the things that make us feel better in order to get through the holidays. Maybe you no longer have time for your yoga practice, or you eat fast food because you don’t have time to cook or you’re craving comfort food. While this may seem like an okay idea, it can actually make the holidays more challenging. You don’t want to crash because you ate something that triggers your symptoms or didn’t take time for your normal self-care practices.

It can help to schedule out your times with blocked scheduled in for self-care. Then, just as if it’s an appointment at the doctor or a meeting with a friend, keep the appointment with yourself. Do your meditation practice, cook a healthy meal, take a long bath. Your family will survive without you for an hour or two.

5. Let others take care of you

Chronic pain and fatigue disproportionately affect women. Women also do a disproportionate amount of the work around the house and for the holidays. If you are a woman who likes to take care of others, it may be hard for you to let go of some of the things you enjoy doing for others around the holidays. However, taking a step back to let others take care of you can be rewarding. Asking for help from your partner, siblings, parents, or children can be a nice way to relax over the holidays while still having meaningful interactions with family and friends.

Research shows that giving gifts, is just as rewarding for the giver as it is to the receiver. So allowing your loved ones to do something kind for you can be a gift that you give your loved ones as much as they give you.

Another idea is to ask for ‘time gifts’ for the holidays from your loved ones. Instead of getting new socks or a new gadget, you can ask for someone to gift you a holiday meal, a cleanup, or anything else you know you’ll need help with.

6. Reduce toxic interactions

While most friends and family members will surprise you with how supportive they are, not everyone will be supportive or understanding of your illness. Some will not want to help you. They might call you lazy, ask probing questions, ask you for favours, and make you feel bad about taking care of yourself. While you may not be able to or want to, cut these people completely out of your lives, I recommend limiting your interaction with them as much as possible, especially over the holidays.

Setting boundaries are important for any relationship but become even more important when you’re chronically ill. Let the family member know if there are conversations you’re not willing to have with them ahead of time. For example, if you have a family member that always asks why you’re not working, let them know you won’t be having that discussion over the holidays. If they try to bring it up, just politely remind them of your rule. If they insist, you can remove yourself from the situation, or simply not respond. I know things like this can be awkward, but if someone is causing you stress and dragging you down, they are not deserving of your politeness - especially at a detriment to your health.

7. Enjoy

Most of all, the holidays can be a great time to enjoy being with loved ones, eating good food, and taking time away from our normal daily obligations. Be sure to allow yourself to relax and enjoy the holidays!

Whatever you are celebrating this month (or if you’re just enjoying the festive spirit) have a very happy holiday season!

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