Blog, Lifestyle

Handling The Holidays With A Chronic Illness

Preparing for the holidays with chronic illness


It’s the holiday season! This really is my favorite time of the year. I hate winter and the cold, but I love the magic of the season and all the fun holiday-themed activities. But this time of year also means that we attend or host gatherings. And sometimes, all these events with friends or family can trigger symptoms for those with a chronic condition. In this blog, I’ll share ways to help you handle the holidays with a chronic illness. 


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Take a Seat in the Kitchen


Do you love to bake during the holidays? Are you hosting a holiday gathering that involves cooking a meal? Or maybe you’re attending a gathering and bringing a dish. Whatever it may be, save yourself energy, and pain from standing, by doing as many tasks as you can while seated. 


Start by simply setting up a workstation at your table. From there, you can do all your chopping, measuring, mixing, and prepping. There’s no need to stand over a counter or kitchen island to do these tasks! 


I find that this really helps motivate me when I’m too tired to cook or bake. As someone with POTS, sometimes, just the thought of standing for kitchen prep makes me not want to do it at all. But knowing that I can do most of my holiday cookie baking while seated brings the excitement back to the activity for me. I’ll also wear compression socks, like those made by VIM & VIGR, so that my heart rate stays below 100 and my foot pain stays low when I do need to stand for things like cleaning up. (Ugh!)


Ask For Help


You don’t need to do it all. And you shouldn’t have to. If you’re hosting a gathering, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Share the cleaning responsibilities with people you live with. Or, if you live alone, break up how much tidying you do in one day. Ask guests to bring a dish or dessert to pass so that you don’t need to cook a big meal on your own. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, think about how you can divvy up tasks between yourself and others.
 

It can be difficult for us to ask for help often because we don’t want to admit that we actually need it. (Or, at least in my case!) We’d like to think that we can do everything on our own and do it fantastically. But that’s not realistic, even for someone without a chronic illness. It’s OK to ask for help. It does not make you any less fantastic of a person! 


Here’s a quote I found on Pinterest that I really love about asking for help: “Don’t be shy about asking for help. It doesn’t mean you’re weak, it only means you’re wise.” – author unknown 


Time Management is Crucial


The most important thing about handling the holidays with a chronic illness involves time management and planning. You cannot stuff all your to-do list items in one day. Not only does that set you up for a potential flare but it also takes the fun out of the holidays by adding more stress to your plate. And I don’t know about you, but I want more food on my plate not stress! 


Managing your time well starts with knowing the dates of your holiday gatherings well ahead of time. Figure out who will host and what time the event will occur. Then, you can list all the shopping, cleaning, cooking, etc. you’ll need to do. Finally, spread all these tasks out over several days, being mindful not to schedule too many activities in one day.
 

For example, going grocery shopping and running errands takes about all my energy, especially if I drive too. I know that I cannot bake two different kinds of cookies after coming home (even if I do mostly sit down). Instead, it’s smarter for me to schedule all my errands on one day and my baking on another. I also often buy baking ingredients well in advance because most of them don’t spoil. This allows me to divide my time and energy better near the event’s date.  


Plan Ahead For Holiday Meals


Depending on your chronic illness, holiday meals can affect your condition. For example, POTS can take the post-meal coma to another level. That’s because after big meals blood flow increases to the digestive tract, which can trigger POTS symptoms. That being said, try not to plan for any high-energy activities after a big holiday meal. Suggest to put on a movie and get comfy on the couch. Or, let people know that you won’t stay long after the meal. 


Some people with chronic conditions have special dietary needs or food allergies. If you’re attending a gathering, alert the host ahead of time of any dietary restrictions you may have. Doing so increases your chances that they can make accommodations for you. You may even offer to bring a dish that you can safely eat. At the very least, the host can be aware of your needs and know which menu items you should avoid at mealtime.


Handling Comments From Relatives


Sometimes, it seems like there’s always one person in the room who doesn’t understand your condition or what the term “chronic illness” means. And some people just don’t understand that you may not want to talk about your condition at the crowded dinner table. It’s my favorite part about the holidays with a chronic illness. Not!


Once, my grandma (love her dearly!) asked questions about my health and commented about my weight at Christmas dinner. The awkward silence that followed had me wanting to crawl under the table. But that wouldn’t be an appropriate response, now would it? Instead, once the awkward silence passed, I said something like, “I’m managing my condition, thanks for asking.” Then, I promptly changed the subject. 


In fact, that’s how I’d recommend handling most comments from relatives or friends. Thank them for their concern (These comments or questions often come from a good place.), give a response that you feel comfortable with, and change the subject. Better yet, if discussing your condition is a talking point you’d like to avoid in front of everyone, let guests know ahead of time. Or, if certain people typically ask for a health update, you can request that they speak to you privately. 


Prioritize Rest TIme


While the holidays are meant to be spent relaxing and enjoying time with loved ones, they can cause stress too. And with the worry of having a symptom flare that interferes with celebrations, the holidays with a chronic illness can become more stressful. So, don’t forget to actually take time to rest and relax! Even if your to-do list seems endless, make time for yourself to do whatever you’d like — even if that’s nothing at all! Try some of these methods to stimulate the vagus nerve to activate your body’s relaxation state. 


Taking breaks becomes even more important on the day of your holiday gathering. Preparing for and attending the event can drain your energy. Make sure to take plenty of physical and mental rest breaks, whether that’s getting off your feet for a while or stepping away from conversations to recharge (any other introverts here?). Set healthy boundaries with yourself so that you don’t spread yourself too thin and take the fun out of the holidays.


  

handling and preparing for the holidays with chronic illness

I’m not sure if I’ll write another post before the holidays. I am planning some of my own relaxation time to spend with family and work on my fiction writing. So, I hope you all have a wonderful holiday season and that you not only handle but enjoy the holidays with your loved ones. Talk to you all soon!


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XO,

Laurie

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