How I Help My Chronic Illness and Lower My Stress During the Holidays

The holidays. A time to relax, spend time with those that love us most, share a lovely meal, and just rejuvenate our soul.

Or not.

Let’s face it, the holidays can be stressful and overwhelming, and that’s not just for those of us with a chronic illness. It seems like everybody is missing the mark on having the perfect Hallmark holiday. But for those of us with chronic illness, this stress is serious because it can be devastating to both our physical and mental health. In other words, stress steals our joy, robs us of the moment, and sets us up for a flare.

But thankfully there is an antidote to all this stress, it’s called mindfulness.

Mindfulness is just making sure to pay attention to the moment in front of you instead of letting your mind dwell on the past or future, causing you stress. See? It’s not hard or weird; it’s just about where you put your energy.

Great, now that we have cleared that up. Here are some ways I’ve developed to help keep my focus and energy on what’s in front of me so I can enjoy the holidays and protect myself from stress.

1. Store up energy. I’m an introvert. And even though I’m spending time with family, my introvert self still sees them as a group of energy suckers. Even my sweet grandmother. So I make sure to give myself time in the morning and throughout the day to get away from everyone and recharge.

In the morning this looks like locking myself in the bathroom for 10 minutes and doing a guided meditating using a tool like the Headspace App. Throughout the day it could be going for a walk, offering to run an errand or making up an errand to run, or maybe just finding a place to hide and do some deep breathing. Remember energy is like money – you don’t have endless supplies, and if you don’t spend it wisely, you can end up hurting.

2. Say “Nah.”  Speaking of spending your energy wisely, feel free to say no to things in favor of taking a rest. It’s OK to be too tired not to do all the things. I know that this can result in feeling guilty, resentful, or just having plain old fear of missing out. But you’ve got to take care of you.

Even when I’m feeling great, I try to assess what my body needs because I know that the highs and lows of chronic illness can be difficult to navigate. When we say “yes” too often, we tend to regret it the next day because we are spent. Learning to navigate the highs and lows of energy isn’t easy, but it’s not going to happen unless you start getting present with yourself.

3. Help. Getting out of your own head and back to the now can be hard, but being of service to others helps.  This could mean anything from volunteering to dish out food at your local homeless shelter to finding someone who looks lonely and asking them questions about themselves to show them they are loved. Even if you are not feeling your best and aren’t up for moving around, you can find a way to be of service to others. Don’t underestimate your power.

4. Lower your expectations. We often create stress when our reality isn’t living up to our expectations. I know I have these fantasy about smooth six hour road trips with two kids, and lovely, relaxed meals with family.

But in reality, road trips with kids can suck and holiday meals mean schlepping an entire meal across the state of Texas because of my dietary restrictions. So I manage my expectations. I know I want to get from point A to point B, and I know want to spend time with my family. These are simple things that are not rooted in the where, when, and how of it all, but still allows me to set and meet my goals – attainable ones.

5. Be present for the good stuff. I really do lovely the holidays. They provide an opportunity to do something out of the ordinary and to be around people you love. Things, good things, do happen – and they don’t need our stress to happen.

Follow this journey here.

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Gettyimage by: Fion Anggioni

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