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11 Things Everyone With Fibromyalgia Should Consider During the Holidays

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The holidays can be a stressful time of year. They are busy and hectic. A lot of your time and energy seems to be given out that you simply do not have. It is a joyful time of year, but if we are not careful it can be overwhelming as well. For those with fibromyalgia, all of this combined can increase our pain levels and fatigue and generally decrease our enjoyment of the activities we do with our family. We want to be able to enjoy ourselves, enjoy the time with our family and friends and still partake in holiday events.

Here are some things to consider over the holidays:

1. Ditch the guilt.

With fibromyalgia, there is often a struggle with guilt. Guilt that we can no longer be a great employee or provider. Guilt that we let down our family. Guilt that we simply cannot be what we would have been. For some reason this guilt can rear its ugly head during the holidays because we have these expectations of ourselves we simply cannot live up to. Unfortunately, we all also have this wonderful idea of what the perfect holiday should be like: there should be family, friends, food and parties along with holiday joy. And yet, the fact is that even on the best of days, fibromyalgia limits what we can accomplish. This discord between reality and our ideal image of what should be causes this guilt. Instead, we should be focusing on what we really want to achieve and how to achieve it realistically. The holidays are about expressing how much we care for our loved ones and our friends. We are still capable of that without running ourselves into the ground in the process.

2. What makes your holiday memorable?

Essentially you need to decide what parts of the holiday season make it memorable and important to you and your family. Take those important things and eliminate the rest so you are free to focus on the essentials. You can discuss with your family which traditions they find to be most important and defining to them – some of which can then be delegated to them. Some people have a tradition of a big family meal that is home-cooked, but going out for dinner or ordering take-in where everyone is free to just relax and visit might be fine as well. Some people have decorations all over the house, but maybe less extensive decorating with just a tree might suffice. There might be a tradition of baking lots of home-baked goods and appetizers, but if these were bought instead would that not be a willing compromise? What traditions does your family have that make the holidays special to the family as a whole? Keep the traditions that are most important and let yourself compromise on the small ones.

3. Remember the mighty list.

Fibro fog hits at the worst times and planning is your friend, as are lists. Gift lists are very helpful because you can cross off as you go along. If you are doing a lot of planning for an event yourself, then a to-do list or even a menu list might help as well. Remember: not every item has to be completed by you. You can delegate parts of the list to others. This way you can prioritize what is important to you and your family and ensure you are able to get things done without being rushed. Try to keep it simple. If something on that list is not that important to you or your family, just get rid of it. If it is something that does not need to be done by you, consider delegating it. And finally, of the things you want to accomplish, consider the easiest way to accomplish each task and ask if there are ways to make it simpler or make compromises. Once you have your goals laid out, spread them over your timeline so that you only need to accomplish a fraction each week, allowing for bad pain days in the mix.

4. Budget your time.

Shopping can be done online, and if you have already done so then you are a step ahead of the game. If you don’t shop online, decide what you are getting, choose non-peak times to go get it and go for the quick in and out. Not everything has to be bought in one day. Shopping all day in a mall can be quite taxing. If you do hit the mall for an all-out shopping adventure, consider switching the heavy winter gear in the car for comfortable shoes, a lighter sweater and a light purse to help with the fatigue and strain of the walk-a-thon.

Plan your own day with what baking you intend to do and what family obligations you plan to fulfill in addition to your regular obligations and ensure there is plenty of downtime and activities are spread out enough. Not everything has to be done immediately. Allow time for anything that comes up last minute so you are not rushing to get something done in a hurry. Never overextend yourself in one day and always ensure that on any day you do plan anything major, you also have some downtime. Try not to fill every day of the week as well since this will make you feel obliged to accomplish everything and gives you no leeway for a bad day and no recovery day if you tired yourself out on a previous day.

5. Remember to say no.

We have limited energy and pain flares from stress and strain can occur if we exceed our limitations. Therefore, do not feel obligated to attend every event or gathering you are invited to. Choose which ones you can attend and stick with those. You can always plan an event with people you decline after the holidays when things settle down.

6. Consider your budget.

During the holidays, money can be tight, so it is important to stick to a firm budget and avoid any additional financial stress. Financial stress at a time when money is spent more easily at the end of the year and the beginning of the new year is an extra burden no one needs.

7. Maintain your schedule.

Just because it is the holiday season does not mean you should change your routines. Keeping your regular eating habits and sleeping habits are important for maintaining energy and low levels of stress. It is easy to get into the holiday spirit and want to partake in eating too many tempting treats or having a few extra glasses of wine, but sometimes moderation is better on when either could be a trigger causing symptoms to flare.

8. Having company over.

In regards to housekeeping, we often feel the need to clean the entire house for company, which is an exhausting feat. However, people do not trek through the entire house on a visit, so clean the areas people will be in, such as the living room, bathroom and maybe the kitchen. Appetizers do not have to be made – they can be bought. Appetizer trays are a fine compromise. For the meal itself, other compromises can be made such as having someone in the family cook with you or having parts of the meal be bought cooked already. Or, alternatively, you can ask the guests to each bring a dish and you can do the main course. Choosing to do a more casual lunch instead of an extensive dinner is also an option. Any ideas that can ease the overall stress of the preparation of the event should be considered if this is something that is stressful.

9. Wrapping presents.

If you have problems wrapping presents, then remember you can do this task as soon as you have the gift; there is no need to wait until later. Or use gift bags which are a nice, easy alternative. We all like to be thoughtful with our gifts, but if you have many gifts to purchase or simply do not have the energy this year to go and buy a lot of specific gifts, remember that coupons and gift cards are a simple alternative which do not require wrapping and some places supply a whole selection of them in one location.

10. Avoid isolation.

If you find the holidays to be particularly stressful or even at times depressing, then it is all the more important for you to avoid stress. Sometimes people want to isolate themselves during the holidays because they feel too sick to socialize, but it is better to do even a little bit of casual socializing than none at all. Retreating during this part of the year can be depressing; therefore, letting yourself get into the spirit of things even in small ways can lift your spirits. You could simply go out for small shopping trips, listen to Christmas music, go to a Christmas work party or have lunch with a friend. Permit yourself to enjoy the small pleasures that come with the season and give yourself a break from any negative self-talk. There are plenty of people who find the holidays difficult, but dealing with a chronic illness can be isolating and depressing in a different way.

11. Enjoy yourself.

The best gift you can give yourself is to enjoy the holiday season with your loved ones, to not take on extra stress and to relax. Some of us have too many obligations  and elaborate celebrations over the holidays and some of dread the holidays and avoid them altogether. We should all aim for somewhere in the middle where we are not spread too thin but are able to be involved with the holiday season with whomever we choose to celebrate it with.

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Originally published: November 28, 2016
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