Tackling the Holidays, Chronic Illness Style

Remember when holidays were times of magic and joy? You know, back before you were in charge of bringing said joy to the table? The good old days, when the turkey arrived at the table surrounded but trimmings with but the smallest bit of effort from you. When gifts magically appeared under the tree while you slept. Before you knew just how much work goes into creating anything magical, when you could look forward to them with nothing but joy. Those were the days.

Staring down the barrel of what I have come to think of as the holiday gauntlet that is winter in North America, it is easy to become overwhelmed with everything that needs to be done to create that illusion of holiday magic. The hunt for the perfect gifts, hours in the kitchen prepping delicious foods, cleaning, decorating, attending parties, visiting relatives, preparing for visitors…the list just goes on and on and on. Add in a chronic illness that limits your ability to keep up with “normal people” and it is easy to see why so many chronic illness sufferers feel like they are not up to the task. The truth is, they probably can’t do it all. The good news? They were never meant to.

Searching the history books (okay, I used google) and the brain of my history/anthropology buff eldest son, I have discovered something really important that all of the high holidays and feasts have in common. They are rooted in community. Each and every one of them began as a community celebration, a time to come together and share. Traditionally, the days leading up to those festivals were spent working together to prepare for the festivities, whatever they may be. The key word here is, together. Not one of the upcoming holidays began as a one woman sprint to do it all. Not one. Which leads us to the first step we will take for holiday survival with chronic illness.

Stop Trying To Do It All

Repeat after me, “this isn’t a one woman show”. Know how I know? You are preparing to celebrate with people, those people, should also be preparing for celebrations with you. Time to work on two skills everyone with chronic disease needs to master, delegating and asking for help. Start by assigning the things that really don’t need your personal touch to someone who can get them done. Yes, the wreath needs to hang on the door, no you don’t have to personally place it there. Sure, someone needs to run to the post office to mail packages, certainly doesn’t have to be you. Take a look at your to-do list, choose the hardest things on the list for you to accomplish, and ask for help. Invite your kids and spouse into the kitchen to help with the prep work, hand the vacuum to the teenager and allow their version of cleaning be good enough for today, ask a friend to come help you dig out the holiday gear. You might be surprised how helpful your loved ones can be, once they know you need their help.


While you are pondering that holiday to-do list, consider if you will, an alternate world where half that list doesn’t even exist. Lightens the load doesn’t it? What could you do with the time and energy you will spend at the neighbors’ annual party that you dread every year but attend anyway because it is expected? Would ordering the cookies from the bakery leave you in better shape for attending the event you don’t want to miss?  Consider the things you are expected to do, invited to do, and want to do, and make a plan that makes more room for the latter. It is okay to say no. Even during the holidays. Even to your family. Something many of the makers of magic seem to have forgotten, its is YOUR holiday too. It should feel like it!

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Pace Yourself

Speaking of feeling like it, you will feel much more capable of surviving the season if you pace yourself. Trying to do it all at once will only lead to pain and failure, so set yourself up for success. Planning to space out the things you need to do will make you much more likely to get them done. Avoid the pain and suffering of an all night gift wrapping session by wrapping a few things at a time over a week or two. Do a little bit of several different projects a day to avoid physical burnout. Remember that your daily energy and strength are limited resources and make a plan that respects them. Limping into the holiday feeling miserable because you overdid it getting there is not the goal! Enjoying the time with those you love, that is the goal here.

Don’t Forget Self Care!

With that goal in mind, be sure to leave time in your holiday schedule for self-care. This is no time to skip all the self-care rituals that keep you moving!  If anything, it is a time to double down on self-care so you can find the energy to get through it.  So, take the supplements, build downtime into that hectic schedule, take a nap, eat real food between all those lovely treats, and try to get some sleep at night.  The holidays will be so very much more enjoyable if you do.

While there is no doubt that holidays can be challenging to get through, it doesn’t have to feel like an uphill battle. Taking time to care for you, pacing yourself, delegating, asking for help, saying no, and paring down on the things you have to do will make it much less of a battle.  Save the battling for the really tough stuff, like washing your hair.

What gets you through the busy times in life? Drop your holiday survival tips in the comments! Looking for the perfect gift for a loved one with chronic pain/arthritis? Keep an eye out for the 2022 gift guide!

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