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How to Prioritize Health and Wellness During the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

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The holiday season is meant to be filled with family and joy. It can also be a time of great stress, especially for families with chronically ill loved ones. Becky Hunt shares her experience with losing a child to CHD as well as managing her own illness, and explains how to de-stress from it all around the holidays.

Ah, December! It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Time for enjoying the festivities of the season! Exciting, right?! Well, for many of us, the next few weeks bring along added stress that can dampen our spirits and make the season a little less bright. Making travel plans, buying gifts, driving the kids to this party and that program, it’s nonstop! Most “wonderful” time? Talk about most stressful time of the year!

Christmas was always my most favorite time of year. That was until my world came crashing down on me many times over. My story starts with a little girl named Gracie. My baby girl. Gracie was born August 2nd, 2012 with hypoplastic left heart syndrome, or “half a heart.” She lit up my life for 82 days. The girl who changed my heart inspired me to start a non-profit organization that creates dream cakes for kids with congenital heart defects to brighten their lives. Five years later that non-profit, Cakes From Grace, is thriving and growing and reaching more and more heart families by the day.

hanging ornament with a picture of a baby on the tree

Three years after we lost Gracie I heard the three words that no one ever wants to hear: “You have cancer.” Cancer? Me? Haven’t I been through enough? Why me? Why now? I have cakes to bake! But the truth is, for me, cancer seemed to be nothing compared to losing my child or even seeing her struggle the way she did in the hospital for 82 days. But I am here two years later, have gone through several surgeries, two years of treatment and there’s no cancer in sight.

After Gracie passed away I dove right back into work. Started five different businesses (like one wasn’t enough). And just buried myself in it. At first work was my place to hide, to escape. It was a distraction, a place I could numb the feelings and avoid the hurt. My obsession with work grew and soon it turned into an obsession with stress. I couldn’t escape. I felt like if I stopped then the world would crumble beneath me. Like I was letting people down. Constantly giving of myself, my services, my time, never saying no.

Christmas was always my most favorite time of the year. That was until we lost Gracie. I found myself angry that there wasn’t a spot at the table for her. No gifts under the tree for her. She wasn’t there to decorate the tree with me or sing our favorite Christmas songs I always sang to her. The holidays for me started to turn into a chore. The lists, the gifts I needed to find. My loved ones started to become a checklist. OK, that person is done, three more to go, and one week to get it done before Christmas!

mother, daughter, and young girl

The endless amount of things on the calendar. Christmas concerts, parties we were invited to, family get-togethers, gift shopping, ugh, and the standing in lines! When am I gonna have the time to put up a Christmas tree?! 23 days of December just are not enough to fit it all in! Everything constant, work, grief, the to-do lists all piling up! Then how in the world do you fit it all in? How in the world can you de-stress?

1. Master the Art of Saying “No”

You don’t have to attend every party you are invited to. Make a list of all the parties you and your kids were invited to and have them pick one or two to attend, not all of them.

2. Skip the Lines

You don’t have to go out and stand in those lines waiting to purchase the one thing you came here for! Shop online if that stresses you out! Put up your feet and cuddle up at home! Let the USPS guy bring it to you!

3. Take Time for You

Instead of giving your spouse a list of things you would like for Christmas, as a gift, ask him to take the kids out for a few hours while you read a book or watch a Christmas movie and drink a glass of wine in a quiet house. Ah, doesn’t that sound nice?!​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​

4. Write a priority list, not a to-do list!

Instead of freaking out over the things you need to get done, try to organize your list in order from what the top priority is/what needs to be done right now to what can wait for a bit.

5. Put the work down.

For some of us we can make our own hours, like myself. For others, you don’t have that luxury. But if you do have the option, carve out at least one hour during your day to do something for you. Something that makes you happy. You’ll go back to work feeling refreshed.

6. Acknowledge Your Feelings

The holidays can bring up a whole bunch of emotions from sadness and loss to anger and frustration. It is OK. Just because it’s the “happiest time of the year” does not exclude you from feeling those emotions. Forcing that “happy” on yourself can weigh you down even more.

woman smiling and sitting on steps

What I’ve learned is you can’t take care of your house, your kids, your to-dos if you don’t take care of you first. Life is so darn short, kids grow fast and days grow faster. I challenge you this season. Take more time for you and your loved ones. Maybe this is the year you start new traditions of making homemade gifts and cookies and treats instead of spending the time to shop, spending that time away from laughter and joy. Or in my case, just bake cake! Laugh more, live more this season. I dare you!

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Originally published: December 28, 2017
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