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How to Survive the Holidays With Fibromyalgia

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The holidays can be a stressful time for everyone. In my family, we celebrate Christmas. There is so much pressure to have the perfect holiday season: the perfect dinner, the perfect gifts, shopping, baking, wrapping, bills, debts, family, kids off from school… It can be overwhelming for healthy people. When you have fibromyalgia, you need to plan ahead in order to make it through the holidays in one piece. For me, the worst part of this illness is the fact that I need to make big lifestyle changes that affect more people than just myself.

I am important enough that I need to set my boundaries so I can also enjoy the holidays.

When you “look fine,” it is hard to explain why you can’t do what others expect you to do. The honest-to-goodness truth is that you actually don’t have to explain yourself to anyone. If you can’t help with the dishes, as guilty as you may feel and as much as you may be beating yourself up in your head, you do not owe anyone an explanation about your body. At the same time, I totally understand the guilt, the need to explain and the frustration at not being able to explain. I understand the pressure of family obligations and of responsibilities. That’s why I decided to come up with a holiday plan that will allow me to have the energy I need to participate fully in the festivities of the season.


Baking is a tradition with my mom. She bakes so many different recipes throughout December and uses the treats for company, for visiting and for gifts. One of the tips I learned from her is to bake throughout the month and freeze each batch as it is completed. This gives you multiple options without leading to fatigue or aggravating a flare. And, quite frankly, there are so many bakeries and grocery stores that have a decent selection of baked goods. If baking is too much, just don’t do it.


I make the mistake every single year of waiting until the last minute then rushing around trying to get everything I need in only a couple of days. Rushing leads to stress, worry and exhaustion. There are various ways to avoid the shopping crunch:

  • If you do your shopping online and have it delivered before Christmas Day, then there is no rushing around. If you do not have a credit card, many online stores accept PayPal (this is also great for avoiding debt).
  • Going to one store a day is another way to spread out the shopping so that you aren’t using up all your energy.
  • You can also go to a large department store or “superstore” that has all the things that you may need, including groceries.
  • Find a grocery store that delivers.

Pace Yourself

I get it. There are many events, parties, family dinners and preparations that happen over the holiday season. Then add to that the multiple obligations to fulfill. My parents are divorced and my in-laws are divorced. This means we have four dinners just with immediate family. Our families are spread out across the province which means we also have a great deal of driving to do. In the snow. If I were to try to fit in all of that in one week, I would be dealing with the consequences for an entire year afterwards. Spread it out! It is essential to plan breaks and rest days into your holiday.

  • On Christmas Day I plan to get up and stretch, have a long hot shower and a steaming hot cup of tea. We will open presents and have some breakfast. Then I plan to watch a movie on the couch. I will have cooked my dinner contribution at least the day before and can bring it with me to heat up at my mom’s house.
  • At my mom’s, I plan to lay down in the late afternoon before dinner. After dinner, I will go for a small walk to the closest open coffee shop.
  • Boxing Day will be a rest day.
  • I will try to schedule visits every other day. This will give my body time to rest and recover.


Some families are very affectionate and like to give lovely, warm, tight hugs. Then there are the “touch talkers” – you know, the ones who pat your arm or whack you while they tell a story. Be honest if physical touch is hurting you. You don’t actually have to hug everyone. It is OK to say you are feeling particularly sensitive and hugging is actually painful for you.

It Is OK to Say No

Saying “no” is one of the hardest things to do sometimes. I think especially in North America, women have been conditioned to be multitaskers and to do everything in our power to please everyone. The idea of saying “no” can be really difficult and sometimes scary. And saying it is also the most important thing you can do this holiday season to keep yourself out of a big flare. It is acceptable to say no to:

  • Going somewhere you don’t want to go
  • Eating food you know will make you feel worse
  • Being with people who drain your energy
  • Staying somewhere longer than you feel able to
  • Doing an activity you know you are unable to do

I wish all of you fibro warriors a joyful season. My hope for you is that you treat yourself with the kindness, compassion and gentleness you deserve.

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Image via Thinkstock.

Originally published: December 20, 2016
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