5 Tips for Surviving the Holidays With Chronic Illness


‘Tis the season of ugly sweater parties, dwindling bank accounts and Mariah Carey Christmas songs. It’s the most wonderful time of the year, am I right? For the most part, I agree with this sentiment. There’s something so magical about the holiday season and everything that comes along with it. I’m a real sucker for festive lights and Christmas movie marathons, and I wait patiently all year for December to roll around.

But the holidays are a stressful time of the year, too. Trying to keep up with the never-ending shopping lists, social events and holiday cheer is a challenge for the average person. For someone dealing with a chronic illness, surviving the holiday season can seem like an impossible feat. Living with Crohn’s disease, I’m faced with an extra set of obstacles while navigating this time of year. I’m constantly worried that I’ll be unable to participate in my favorite festivities due to my illness. It’s a tough balance between embracing the holidays and prioritizing health.

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed with the holiday season when you deal with health issues. Hopefully these tips will make your spirits bright and help you survive and thrive during the most wonderful time of year.

1. Take it all with a grain of salt.

Family gatherings are filled with questions about your job, your love life and your five-year plan. Add chronic illness into the mix, and you’ll be spiking your eggnog before the Christmas ham hits the table. Prepare yourself for questions and commentary that may cross a few lines. Last Christmas, my aunt tried to relate to my struggles with Crohn’s disease by comparing it to her issues with lactose intolerance. Relatives mean well even if they totally miss the mark. Just remember that they love you and have the best of intentions.

2. Know it’s OK to say no.

Your social calendar will probably be jam-packed this time of year. It’s tough to find enough time, energy and ugly sweaters for the endless get-togethers. Fatigue goes hand in hand with many chronic illnesses, and I often don’t have the energy to participate in every opportunity that comes my way. Remember that it’s OK to politely decline an invitation if you’re not feeling up to it. By saying no to some things, you will be well rested and able to enjoy the things that truly matter.

3. Stick to your guns.

Holidays usually revolve around overindulgent eating and drinking. Some of my family’s Christmas staples include homemade mac ‘n cheese, sugar cookies and bottomless champagne. As someone who follows a specific diet to manage my condition, I️ struggle with events centered around food. If you follow certain dietary or health practices to maintain your health, don’t compromise them because of pressure around the holidays. Decide in advance what your non-negotiables are and stick to them. Likewise, if you want to let loose and enjoy a few extra treats or glasses of wine, you do you! You don’t have to justify your choices to anyone.

4. Remember what’s important.

Don’t get too wrapped up in the gift-giving and party-throwing and forget about the reason for the season. Regardless of what holiday you celebrate, this time of the year is about coming together with loved ones and counting your blessings. Your health might not be perfect, but try to look at all of the wonderful things you have to be grateful for in your life.

three friends at a christmas party

5. Enjoy every minute.

The good, the bad and the merry. Embrace every uncomfortable and wonderful minute of the holiday season. Laugh with that one relative who drinks too many glasses of wine on Christmas Eve. Smile at your neighbor who tries to set you up with her perpetually single son. Feel thankful if you are in a healthy place and be gentle with yourself if you’re not. Take it all in because before you know it, Santa will make the rounds and retire back to the North Pole for the next 365 days. And if you’re anything like me, you’ll probably find yourself starting a countdown for next year.

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