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6 Tips for Managing the Holiday Season With Chronic Illness

I live with chronic pain and chronic illnesses. These are my tips for managing the holidays.

1. Communicate with your family and friends about your limits.

You don’t need to give health specifics, but relay that you have an illness and x, y and z are difficult. If you can’t stand and help do dishes, let people know. If you’d prefer to skip hugging and kissing everyone as your immune system is low, let people know ahead of time. People like knowing clearly what you can and cannot do. Ask for understanding.

2. Plan for travel and arrange as best you can for comfort.

I have found it helpful to request a wheelchair for airports even if you don’t regularly use one. Airports are typically large, so if walking the airport will exhaust you, ruining the following day, get a wheelchair. The attendants are professional and should not ask for proof of disability.

Bring empty bottles to fill with water in the airport to keep hydrated. If flying, consider nasal saline gel to keep your nose hydrated to potentially avoid getting sick later. Bring favorite snacks. Consider leaving a buffer day at the start and end of your trip with a cleared schedule for recuperating. Arrange for grocery delivery the night of your return home so you have essentials fresh and ready for you.

3. Adjust your expectations.

Holidays will be different after chronic illness, as your limits have changed. You can still have fun. Different doesn’t mean worse. Consider making new traditions. Perhaps rather than a hike through the woods to cut down a tree, you can sit inside a warm home and craft homemade ornaments. Maybe you can’t visit multiple homes on Christmas Day, but perhaps you can visit other family members a different day that week or when the season is less busy.

4. Keep gift giving simple.

If you can, avoid malls and busy stores. Mall shopping is exhausting to even think about. Do as much of your shopping online as you can. Buy gift bags in assorted sizes at the dollar store to make wrapping easier. People appreciate the thought and effort of gift exchange. If your financial resources are less this year, consider giving ornaments and a heartfelt note of gratitude or appreciation for those in your life.

5. Consider scaling back holiday cooking.

Maybe go to a community or temple based latke making party rather than cooking at home. Swap out laborious dessert recipes for simpler recipes or consider store-bought items. Explain to family and friends that you just can’t handle the cooking as you did before.

6. Get enough sleep.

Sleep can be disrupted with the holidays, and even more so if you are traveling. Try to stick to the same sleep schedule if you can. If traveling, consider earplugs or a white noise machine.

Getty image by Svetlana Cherruty.