When Chronic Illness and Anxiety Go Hand in Hand During the Holidays

If you believe the majority of Facebook posts, greeting cards and annual newsletters, then you believe the holidays are a time of unadulterated joy, peace and merriment. They are a time to connect with loved ones, to eat and drink too much, and to fill our love tanks to overflowing. That all these good things leave us recharged with enough love and energy to launch us well into the new year, a fresh start, and a clean slate.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying these things don’t exist, for I have experienced many of them and I know most of my personal friends genuinely do, too… at one level or another.

But I also know that for a huge chunk of them, through this holiday period, there are more triggers than Christmas lights, more forced or lost interactions than loving or warm ones, more work than pleasure, more heartache than joy. I also know that in the name of not wanting to spoil the mood or fun of everyone else, they put on their “happy masks,” hide their fears, speak nothing of their anxieties and pretend to be “just like everyone else.” And those are just my healthy friends.

In the chronic illness community I have spent more of my encouragement energy the past few weeks on this than any other topic. Anxiety can go hand in hand with chronic illness, and the combination of high happiness expectations, financial commitments, and energy-sapping activities with low spoons, tons of triggers, large crowds, more and more hype each year than the one before… no wonder the words I hear more than any others are anxiety, panic and worry. The holidays aren’t over yet, and I wonder where all the “self-care” I kept hearing about this year went. I believe it’s because society is not yet ready to let us be vulnerable at this time when we are supposed to be nothing but both thankful and merry.

I know people are all trying to do their best, but the reality is that we still live in a world where saying no to holiday events isn’t always accepted. We can be sore and sick and struggle the rest of the year, but at this time it can feel like we are expected to put aside our illnesses, forget about our traumas, pack away the fallout of our abuse or neglect. It can feel like no one wants to know about our grief or our losses. It can feel like no one wants to see our open wounds or the scabs barely beginning to heal.

During an anxious time for so many people, when we need extra love, support and care, we often get it the least. Anxiety is soaring right now, and the holidays aren’t over yet. Let’s give ourselves the self-care we need.

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