When the holidays are upon us, we can have lots of stress. With the added stress of a chronic illness, is there a way we can enjoy the holidays? Here are 10 tips to enjoy holiday festivities with (or without) a chronic illness.
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From the first day of Fall until the first day of January, I’m in a heavenly bliss. Fall is my favorite season because of the changing colors of leaves, cooler weather, and the excitement of the upcoming holidays back-to-back. Our community where we recently moved adds to the joy of this time of year. There are scores of kids Trick-or-Treating, decorating contests for homeowners, and various community festivities.
But with this joyous time also comes added commitments, social engagements, and specialty foods. It also brings STRESS. And lots of it in various forms. Unfortunately, stress is a major trigger for a fibromyalgia flare. However, there are ways to avoid the stress and enjoy your holiday festivities. We discussed the common dilemma in the Fibro Parenting group, and here’s what we had to say about reducing flares over the holidays.
Set boundaries with ‘No’
It’s important to establish boundaries with everyone in your life throughout the year. But during the holidays or special occasions is when it really counts. Saying yes to special requests during the holidays is so easy to do. Everyone is excited and has the spirit of helping others, and saying no would be a Scrooge thing to say. However, the word ‘no’ could be your greatest ally in the defense against flares.
Only commit to the activities you truly want to do and would enjoy fulfilling. This will reduce any physical, emotional or mental stress on you and your body. If you have trouble saying a flat out ‘no’, use other phrases instead, such as, “I would love to, but my schedule isn’t open right now.” If the person accepts your polite decline, that’s great. If the person does not accept it or gets upset about it, it’s better you didn’t do it in the first place.
Dump the guilt
Do not feel guilty about setting boundaries and saying no to the million requests or temptations to accommodate others. Spreading yourself thin to meet others’ requests will only increase your body pains. Which is more important – your well being or that batch of cookies you made for your child’s class? Your kids, family, and friends will understand if you limit yourself. Say no, dump the guilt, and move on. And guess what the best part is? You become better at saying no and not feeling guilty.
Skip the sweets
Sugar and white flour are food culprits of flares. Those foods can aggravate the digestive tract causing secondary pains throughout the body. Avoid foods that contain sugar in any form and any other foods that trigger a flare in symptoms. If you’re going to a holiday gathering or party, avoid the temptations and eat before you leave the house. Filling up on good foods will mean you’re less likely to fill up on the sugar-filled ones. (Read more about fibro foods.)
Hand over the decorating duties
Our home is laced in Christmas decorations during December. It takes me nearly two weeks to finish the decorating, and I’ve been known to continue decorating up to Christmas day. I love the twinkling lights, the warmth of the trees (yes, plural because I have several), and the nostalgic feeling the decor brings to life. What I don’t like? The aching back, tight muscles, and swollen joints.
One of the members of the Fibro Parenting group suggested handing off the decorating duties to family members. Light bulb moment for me! This is a great idea! Giving some of the task of decorating to my kids is a win-win situation. Win #1: My kids will feel valued because they are being trusted to do a task that was always held by mom and dad alone. Win #2: I will have less physical demand on my body and will be able to enjoy the final result even more.
Bake in spurts and freeze
So you haven’t said no to every request, and that’s okay. But now you’ve got two dozen cookies, a pie, and a few other treats to bake. What is the best way to tackle this baking task while minimizing the flare? Baking in segments for a limited time, and then freezing for later will help reduce the strain of standing for long periods. Frozen treats can last 6-8 weeks in the freezer if stored properly. Standing on a memory foam mat or a softer mat will help reduce pressure on the knees and back. Be sure to put on some music to uplift your mood and keep your energy going.
Exercise and eat healthy
Speaking of keeping your energy going, eat the right kinds of foods and exercise when possible. Snack on nuts or dried fruit and stretch your body between errands or baking. Stiff and swollen joints often times need extra movement to improve function. It hurts to move, but not moving will cause further damage. To get the exercise without dreading it, work into something you already enjoy doing.
For me, it’s walking at the mall during the holiday season. It’s not necessarily the actual mall I enjoy, but rather the lights, music, and festivities all in one place. This is a great way for me to exercise, but I make sure to take plenty of breaks to rest. Enjoying the lights and festive decorations will reduce stress levels while getting moderate exercise.
Ask for help
Just as you have handed over some of the decorating duties to lighten your workload, do the same with other tasks. Ask your kids to help with baking and let them do the mixing, measuring, and pouring. They will love the one-on-one time and you’ll be making memories with them, too. Ask friends and family for assistance in their areas of expertise and there’s a good chance they will add a perspective or resource you didn’t have before. The best part is that you are making them feel important to you.
It seems like there is an activity, party, or other social engagements every week during the holiday season. A few obligations are stressful, but several can be too much for a fibro body. One Fibro parent suggested discussing which ones are important to attend and which ones can be politely declined. For the social gatherings you do attend, say farewell earlier in the evening. Staying up late can interfere with your sleep routines and result in an increase of pains.
Wrap gifts as you get them
Gift wrapping is my ultimate nemesis of the holiday season. No matter how early in the season I purchase gifts, I usually wait until the last minute to wrap them. This results in me having to wrap an insane amount of gifts in one sitting, and – I’m sure you can guess – a major flare. Moving in any way is limited in the days following my wrapping extravaganza. To avoid this situation, be smarter than me and wrap the gifts as you acquire them. Your body will thank you.
Relax and dress comfortable
Who doesn’t like their comfy pajamas? I could stay in mine all day, every day. Wait. I already do that. Which brings me to my next point – your selection of clothing for the holidays. Whether it be a holiday party, gift shopping, or wrapping gifts at home, dress the way you feel most comfortable. Stay away from those two inch heels if they cause stress on your back, legs, or other body part. Nothing says sexy like a comfy pair of gel inserts in shoes you can walk in.
And relax! Enjoy the season! Don’t stress over what to eat, not eat, how much to bake, or which social engagements to attend. There is food you can enjoy, just be more aware of your choices. Friends and family will still enjoy your company even if you choose not to attend each festivity. Take short naps, relax on the couch watching your favorite holiday movies, and rock your pajamas each moment you do it!
Join Fibro Parenting!
Do you want to join the fibro parenting* conversations? Join us in our closed Facebook group at https://www.facebook.com/groups/fibroparenting/
*Fibro Parenting is a term I coined as a way to say parenting with fibromyalgia. Read more here.
This article was original published in the December edition of The Fibromyalgia Magazine.