15 Gift Ideas for People With Chronic and Mental Illnesses


I called in sick today. I hate to call in sick, but I have not felt well all week, and last night I had a severe anxiety attack that pushed me over the edge. I knew I was not able to get out of bed this morning and deal with screaming toddlers. I needed a day to recover.

When I touched base with my mom this morning, I shared how my boyfriend’s arm around me had helped ground me as I was coming out of the attack. It is not only his affection and nearness, I explained. The very weight of his arm across my body is calming. My mom nodded. “Now I know what to get you for Christmas – a weighted blanket,” she murmured thoughtfully, “I think it would help.”

I was pleased with her thoughtful suggestion. It would not have occurred to me to ask for a weighted blanket, although I have read that they simulate the effect of a hug and release the same calming hormones in the brain. They also provide comfort for patients with fibromyalgia and other chronic pain conditions. As someone who deals with clinical anxiety, hypothyroidism, chondritis, and scoliosis (as well as allergies, asthma, and reactive hypoglycemia), a weighted blanket could be just what I need on days I stay home sick.

Shortly after that conversation, I received this month’s writing challenges from The Mighty, which prompted me to create a “wish list” of holiday gifts for someone with my health conditions. Peace of mind, unconditional support, and an end to the stigma surrounding mental illness are three wishes that come to mind. However, since those are not items you can wrap and place under a tree, here is a list of gifts that might help me manage my symptoms instead.

1. Scented candles or wax melts. (If the gift receiver doesn’t have sensitivity to scents.)

Calming scents like vanilla or eucalyptus can be very grounding, and the act of burning a candle creates an atmosphere of relaxation.

2. Home-baked goods.

Home-baked treats are a thoughtful gift for anyone, whether it’s the holiday season or they are not feeling well. Fresh baked goods are especially comforting to me, because I associate them with fond childhood
memories of my mom baking bread every week. Just make sure they’re allergen-free!

3. All natural spa treatments.

Natural lotions, shampoos, scrubs, and balms are an invitation to take an evening off and relax. They can also be soothing for people with chronic pain and sensitive skin.

4. A photo album or scrapbook of shared memories.

This personalized gift can become an anchor on days when my mental illness is acting up or when I feel alone. It reminds me that I have people who care about me, many happy days to counteract the hard ones, and more of life to look forward to.

5. Journaling materials.

Writing is one outlet for my anxious feelings, so journals, pens, stationary, and notepads are all welcome supplies. A journal from a friend is doubly meaningful, as I am reminded of their care and understanding each time I open it. For your loved one, whether their outlet is writing, art, music, photography, or something else, you can give gifts that support them in expressing their feelings.

6. A heartfelt note.

If you believe in me, tell me. If I matter to you or have impacted you in some way, tell me. If you pray for me or think about me, tell me. If you love me just the way I am, by all means, tell me. And tell me on paper. Your tangible words will become my defense to combat anxiety’s lies whenever I am feeling unloved or unworthy.

7. Movies for a night in.

My combination of illnesses doesn’t allow me much energy for nights out with friends. Classic movies are a main source of entertainment. Kudos to you if you remember my favorite actors. Double kudos if you include popcorn and come watch with me!

8. Self-help, devotional, poetry, or humor books.

Volumes of encouraging words are especially helpful on days when I don’t have the strength to encourage myself. Another possibility is a book of funny stories to take the edge off a hard day. They say laughter is the best medicine!

9. Soothing music.

Different sounds soothe different people. For me, this means instrumentals, smooth jazz, hymns, and anything with Patrick Monahan’s voice in it!

10. Soft blankets, comfortable clothes, fuzzy socks, slippers, etc.

Who doesn’t love something soft and cozy during the winter? These gifts serve several purposes. First, the different textures can help to ground me in moments of anxiety. Second, they help me get somewhat more comfortable when I am in pain. Third, they are a way of saying, I want you to be as warm and cozy and comfortable as you can be.

11. Gift certificates for free massages.

Massage therapy reduces stress as well as chronic back and neck pain, but it can be too expensive for regular use. A gift certificate for a free massage may be just what I need on a rough day.

12. Herbal tea.

Drinking hot tea on a cold day can be so comforting. Peppermint seems to clear my head, and chamomile is particularly relaxing.

13. Healthy snacks.

For someone with blood sugar problems, healthy snacks are a thoughtful alternative to sugary treats at the holidays. For those with food allergies, nut-free, gluten-free, egg-free, and other allergen-free is the way to go!

14. A small comfort item.

Some people with anxiety, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, or other mental health conditions use small items they can carry in their pockets to help calm themselves. It may be a fidget toy, a religious icon, or a trinket that has special meaning to the two of you. Personally, I like fidget cubes, miniature animal figurines, and small metal keys.

15. A personal message.

Even if you don’t know what to say or buy, just a shout-out to say you’re thinking of me means a lot! It lets me know you value my friendship, even though I don’t have the energy to hang out often. A simple message has the power to turn a bad day into a good one.

These are just a few suggestions for what to buy the person in your life who has chronic health concerns. Hopefully they will inspire you to think of a few more for your loved one. You may have noticed that half of the gifts on this list involve comforting sounds, smells, textures, or other sensory experiences. The other suggestions are more personal, involving words, pictures, or trinkets that hold special significance to the giver and receiver. Both these types of gifts are appropriate for anyone who is overwhelmed, tired, or in need of some encouragement or self-care. They might be particularly meaningful to someone with health concerns, as a way to say, “I see you, and I’m in your corner.”

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Thinkstock Image By: Zaikina

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