mother reading a book in front of christmas tree

10 Tips for Getting Through the Holidays With a Chronic Illness

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Is it that time of the year again? I don’t know about you, but it seems to me that the years just fly by. If anyone knows how to slow them down, please let me in on the secret. So, I thought I’d try something new… or at least new to me. We’ve all seen the articles with lists on how to accomplish just about anything. I thought I’d make up one with tips for making it through the holidays with a chronic illness. Here it is:

1. Make Lists: Lists of things you need or want to do. I have a baking list, house-cleaning list and a gift-giving list (actually, I have a gift-giving app this year which I love!). OK, now throw them all away… just kidding. Prioritize those lists. Delegate and let some things go. Find shortcuts. And don’t be a perfectionist. There’s no room for perfectionism in a chronically ill person’s life.

2. Ask for help: Ask for specific things. I don’t like to depend on anyone for help, but if it means making the holidays more manageable, I think it’s worth it. Sometimes, people will offer to help, but they don’t say what they are willing to do. Having a list ready with ideas of what others can do for you will come in handy when people make those kinds of offers. Do you need help with laundry? Running errands? Housework? How about help with wrapping gifts? Think about all of your regular and holiday tasks and delegate some of them to family members and willing friends.

3. Pace yourself: If you know you have a party to go to in the evening, that morning is not the time to scrub out your tub. Ask me how I know this. This is another area in which I struggle. Pace yourself throughout the day and over a period of several days. If you are planning on going shopping with friends on Saturday, plan on Friday and even Thursday being light activity days.

4. Plan meals: I normally try to cook four or five nights a week. We usually eat out once a week, and the other nights we have left-overs. But cooking four or five nights a week can be a lot during the holiday season. To make things easier, I prep as much of the meal as I can in the morning when I’m at my best. For example, If I’m going to make a casserole that evening, I will chop the vegetables up and brown the meat (if needed) in the morning. I also love to use my slow cooker this time of the year. It’s so nice to put everything in there in the morning and have nothing or very little to do come dinner time. One thing I’ve done to help with meal prep is to cook and freeze chicken breast for casseroles, salads, etc. I put 3 or 4 pounds of breasts in the slow cooker with some seasoning and chicken broth and cook them for about four hours. Then, I shred the chicken and freeze in two cup batches. I have a few bags thawing in my refrigerator now for a casserole I’m making later in the week. I always try to make soup once a week this time of year. And we occasional have a sandwich night just to make things easier. I’ve also been known to have a Stouffer’s lasagna in the freezer for a quick and easy meal.

5. Eat right: It’s OK to have some sweets in moderation (so I hear), but make sure you eat enough of the good stuff. In the past, we’ve actually bought and cut up vegetables and had them ready to eat in the refrigerator. It’s time to do that again. Seasonal fruit is a healthy snack or a great addition to a meal. I always try to buy a bag or two of the ready salads at the grocery, but to make them a bit more nutritious, I make a stop at the salad bar and fill a box with more lettuce and a variety of other vegetables. Yes, it costs more this way, but it’s so much easier to buy the pre-cut vegetables. It saves time, and it’s easier on my aching joints. Make sure you have a few sources of quick protein available. Healthier protein bars, nut butter, yogurt, boiled eggs, cheese, etc.

6. Keep managing your chronic illness: In other words, go to your scheduled doctor’s appointments and take care of yourself. It’s so tempting to cancel this time of the year, but, if you can help it, don’t. If you are due to have any tests, lab work or surgeries, try to get them scheduled before the end of the year if you’ve already met your deductible. That’s stating the obvious, but it’s the smart thing to do. Make sure you are taking your medications as prescribed. If you are traveling, be sure you have enough medication for the duration of your trip. Find out if you can get a refill at a pharmacy where you are vacationing if need be. If you have special dietary needs, keep them in mind when eating out and preparing meals. Now is not the time to go off a medically necessary diet (not that there ever is a good time).

7. Connect with others: Not just the family you are expected to be with for gatherings but with friends. Have a quick get together at a coffee shop, have a girlfriend over to watch a sappy Christmas movie. Make an effort each day to reach out to someone. Text, Facebook, instant message, make a phone call. You don’t have to carry on an hour-long conversation, just a brief connection can be enough. I know when I go a few days without connecting with a friend, I feel down. Friends truly are good for your health.

8. Find “me” time: Whatever it is that you enjoy doing, keep doing it. I love to read, and I usually try to read some holiday-themed fiction books. If you are crafty, find a small project you can do. Watch holiday specials and those Hallmark Christmas movies (even if you know how they are going to end). Anything that gives you pleasure and keeps your mind off all you need to do and how you are really feeling is worth doing.

9. Make time for your spouse or significant other if you have one: It’s so important to keep communicating, especially if you aren’t feeling so well. Be honest about how you are feeling and ask for help when you need it. Go on inexpensive “dates.” Drive around and look at the Christmas lights, stop for some hot chocolate, attend a Christmas program together. Just enjoy each others company.

10. Remember the reason for the season: It’s so easy to get caught up in the baking, partying, shopping, decorating, etc., but that’s not really what it’s all about. If you are a religious person, keep attending church services and go to the special holiday programs. If you’re unable to attend, watch or listen to services online. Chances are if your church doesn’t offer online services, another one in your area does. Listen to religious Christmas songs along with the pop tunes. If you aren’t particularly religious or are a nonbeliever, find other ways to nurture your spiritual side. Meditate, attend holiday community events, just find peace somehow.

Well, there you have it. I hope you found something you can take away from the list. No doubt, you’ve heard some of these before. But it never hurts to hear them again.

Until next time, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

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Thinkstock photo by Choreograph

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