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How to Enjoy the Holidays When You're Chronically Ill

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“We wish you a knackered Christmas,
We wish you a painful Christmas,
We wish you exhausting Christmas,
And a miserable new year.”

Not the usual words to a popular Christmas carol, however they are words you are likely to feel and hear if you don’t look after yourself over the festive time. However, how can you look after yourself, stuff the turkey, party with your loved ones and enjoy the festivities and still look after your physical and emotional well-being?

Here are my top tips to festive happiness for mind, body and soul – it’s my Christmas gift to you!

1. You have permission to change the tradition.

When I first became ill in 2011, I can remember trying to have a full-on Christmas like every other year, and guess what? I didn’t get any Boxing Day fun, that’s for sure! In fact, I was still suffering on New Year’s Day! But I can remember it was so hard to prioritize. I wanted to do the champagne breakfast and the two hour presents, then the three course meal…and oh, don’t forget the charades, or the karaoke, and I want to make time to play with my nephews and children, the nice long beach walk, and the pampering before everyone arrives. For a healthy person I would have enough activities to turn Christmas Day into the Olympics, and yet, here was with lupus, expecting to keep pace with everyone else.

Give yourself full permission to drop some things this year. You could decide that this year you will concentrate on certain elements of the season and drop the others, choosing to make Christmas 2018 about them instead. However, plan in advance and know this. If you decide to not change what you prioritize, what
will you be agreeing to?

2. Pace yourself.

If Christmas were the Olympics, even the fittest athlete would pace themselves. I can still remember the kids that would fly off at 90 mile an hour from the start line in the 1800 meters race, only for me and my mates to pass them at our steady pace, five minutes later, and arrive at the finish line quicker than them. Why? Because we knew it was a long race and not a 100 meter sprint. The season of fun, family and frolics needs you to pace yourself. Which leads me on to top tip number three.

3. Turn it down.

No, don’t turn down the invites and party games, but do choose to do less of it. If you really can’t face missing anything, turn down how much you do of each thing. If you want the full on olympian Christmas, choose to limit the time you give to each activity. It may seem tough to do this, however, how tough will it feel if you can’t actually function after midday because you are exhausted? Remember the question to ask yourself, “If I don’t turn down what I do, what am I agreeing to?” Yep, more pain and exhaustion – hardly a present worthy of the good kid list, right?

4. Time out.

Wherever you spend Christmas, have a private word with the host or your nearest and dearest and let them know you will “disappear” for a little while a few times throughout the day. When I started to do this, I would have a bedroom at the furthest end of the house to the festivities set up with a good book, a game on my phone, a drink and a blanket. That way I could “escape” for a little while. You may not notice how much the energy of the day is getting to you. Noise, constant activity around you and movement can really impact you. Just as stress is created by bad things in our lives, stress can also become an issue when we get too much excitement, too much laughter and too much talking. Give your whole self a bit of time out, not on the naughty step, but snuggled up somewhere peaceful for about 20 minutes every few hours. It’s like a present for your body!

5. Say “no.”

This is a skill that everyone on the planet should learn, and not just for Christmas. It’s the ability to appreciate that your physical and mental wellbeing is just as important as everyone else’s, and no human is a robot. Learning to say “no” is a difficult skill. However, learning to say no to wrapping someone else’s presents, or just being in the shops half hour longer to pick up a present for Great Aunt Enid, or to “just take the kids to the show,” are all opportunities to push your body over the edge. If you notice you are feeling guilt, stress, worry or negative emotions around activities, decide to drop them or change how you do them.

6. Manage expectations – theirs, not yours!

I speak from experience when I say that you need to learn to manage what people expect of you. I was Mrs. “Do everything, say no to no one and ensure Christmas was magical for everyone – from Nanna to the Dog.” And as satisfying as perfection felt, perfection is not so perfect when you are at risk of hospital or enforced bed rest. Appreciate that some people will mourn the passing of the super human you that did everything for everyone. However, that is their issue and not yours. They won’t love you any less.

7. Gratitude for what really matters.

Lastly and most importantly, remember what the festivities symbolize and really mean. In the great scheme of things, if you forget the chocolate pennies or the stuffing, no one is going to be that bothered. No one will look back on this Christmas in 20 years’ time and say, “Remember that year you forget the party poppers?”

It’s far more important to spend quality time with the ones you love and acknowledge the things in life you are grateful for. If you know you are one for wanting perfection over Christmas, on Christmas Eve while Santa is whizzing around the world with Rudolph as you fall asleep that night, list 10 things you are truly grateful for. I wouldn’t mind betting that none of those 10 gratitude’s are under your Christmas tree or in a stocking. Remember these things will help you stay focused on what really matters at this special time. If your 10 items don’t inspire love, happiness, smiles and a warm fuzzy feeling inside, then go back and do it again because the right ones will!

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Originally published: November 16, 2017
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