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How to Help Your Chronically Ill Loved One Get Through the Holidays

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The festive season is upon us! Cue lots of excitement, lights, parties, family gatherings, noise and colder weather (in the northern hemisphere). It’s all hustle and bustle on the main streets and Christmas commercials are on constantly.

For those going about their yearly routine, it is easy to forget about some members of society. We are encouraged to check on elderly neighbors, the vulnerable and the lonely, but when was the last time you checked a little closer to home?

If your loved one or friend has a chronic illness, here are some tips for helping them during the festive season.

Going Out

Don’t expect them to go to every party, family gathering and drinks with friends without there being consequences. Remember: just because they did it today doesn’t mean they can do it tomorrow. Space out social gatherings, suggest quieter venues or, if you are going to visit friends or family, find out if there is somewhere they can go when everything gets to be a little too much.


Traveling is exhausting, even if they are just a passenger. Long journeys of sitting in one position, potholes and busy public transport can all be very overwhelming. At the end of the journey, a rest and some quiet can make all the difference.

Music and Lights

Constant Christmas music and bright, flashing lights can be seen magical at this time of year, but for some with chronic illnesses it is complete sensory overload and can cause a flare, stress or anxiety. Help them by limiting the time you spend around places that are an assault on the senses.


Christmas shopping. Too many people, too much rushing, too much time spent in lines and too much time stressing over what gift to give. You may find you enjoy it or perhaps you don’t? Think like a person with a chronic illness or a disability for a moment… How far do I have to walk? How long do I have to wait in line for?

  • Where are the toilets? Can I get to them in time?
  • Where can I rest?
  • Is it really accessible for people with all disabilities?
  • How long can I cope with people muttering because I’m too slow, because my wheelchair/walker is taking up too much space or because I have to constantly stop since people cut across me?
  • Is there anywhere quiet to go if I feel anxious or panicked?

Online shopping is so much easier, but if you still need to go to the shops, make a list of what you need, take plenty of breaks and try not to them stress about how long it’s taking, etc.

mantel decorated for christmas with garland, ornaments, and a santaPreparation

Just because a person with a chronic illness is at home all day or is able to work doesn’t mean they can do all the Christmas preparations, too. Be fair; share. Sit and down and work out what really needs to be done and what is achievable.

Don’t take over and do it all. You might think you are helping but in reality, this might leave your loved one or friend feeling left out and inadequate. It can make them focus on their inability to do even simple tasks or feel railroaded into celebrating in a way they don’t want.

Having Christmas dinner at home? Prep the vegetables, etc. the night before.

Wrap the presents as you buy them, or at least don’t leave it all until Christmas Eve (guilty!).

The Big Day

Have a big breakfast and a late Christmas Dinner. This works for me as the kids playing after breakfast gives me time to rest before helping with the dinner. Having a cat nap is even better.

Have older children? Set a time that is reasonable for getting up and give your loved one time to wake up properly. Have a cup of tea before or during the unwrapping frenzy.

Having guests or family/friends stay over? Get everyone to help out as much as they can. Many hands make light work! Give everyone their own work space (if possible).

Advocate for your loved one. Chances are there will be someone who won’t get what a chronic illness is or how hard it can be. Arguments about it aren’t needed; they just add to the stress. Pull that person to one side and have a quiet word. Choose your battles: this could be left for another day. Instead, be there for your loved one or friend and let them know you understand.

Just Ask

Do you know someone who is spending Christmas on their own due to their illness? Invite them over after all the hoopla of the morning, even if it’s just for a cup of tea. People with depression, mental health issues and anxiety are often forgotten. If they aren’t up for a visit, give them a call.

If in doubt, ask. Sometimes honesty is the best policy. Say, “I’m not sure what you need to get through the festive season,” or ask, “What can I do?”

Then listen.

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Originally published: December 5, 2016
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