How to Enjoy the Holiday Season When You’re Chronically Ill

  • By Jennifer Mulder
  • 5 December 2016
  • 3 minute read
How to Enjoy the Holiday Season When You're Chronically Ill | The Health Sessions

December, the month of celebrations. From the Dutch Sinterklaas, Hanukkah, Christmas and New Years Eve , it’s the time for culturally-rooted festivities all around the globe.

But it’s little different celebrating when you’re chronically ill.

Pain, fatigue and other horrible symptoms can definitely mess up your plans and traditions. Depending on your personal health situation, enjoying things like shopping for presents, cooking an elaborate Christmas dinner, attending parties or even staying up on New Year’s Eve may not be an option – or one you pay a high price for with days or weeks of recovery time.

The trembling legs, relentless nausea or breathlessness won’t go away for a day just because today is a holiday and you want to celebrate. You still feel as good, bad or awful as you do every day, and it’s hard to keep smiling, enjoy the feast at the table and focus on sparkling conversations around jou when you experience throbbing pain or ’embarrassing’ stomach troubles at the same time.

So how can you make the most of the holiday season even when you’re chronically ill?

1. Dealing with Disappointment – Your Own and That of Others

Physical limitations and unexpected flare-ups can screw up your carefully laid plans. Letting down family and friends is hard, especially since you so badly wish you could join in on the fun too.

It helps to manage your expectations – your own and that of others. As much as you and I wish it were different, you won’t magically feel like your old self on those special occasions. You might even feel worse than usual, thanks to all the extra hustle and bustle this time of year. So without becoming a party pooper, don’t let potential health setbacks catch you and the other guests off guard.

Hopefully your loved ones will know by now how your illness manifests itself and what you are (not) capable of. But it doesn’t hurt to explain in advance to (distant) relatives and acquaintances that unfortunately you cannot help out much with preparations and clean-up or that you need to rest before dinner. However, remember that giving insight into your situation is not the same as apologizing yourself or feeling guilty for something that’s not your fault.

So instead of letting disappointment take over your feelings, try to enjoy the simple pleasures of the season and accept that this year you can’t celebrate the holidays the way you used to – but you can still have a good time!

2. Embrace Holiday Hacks

When you’re chronically ill, life’s becomes all about finding ways to do more with less energy. Experiment with some of these ‘hacks’ to make the most of the holidays despite your health problems:

  • Shopping made easy. Don’t join the ‘Black Friday’ crowds or whenever it’s extremely busy in your country. Pick a time and day when it’s likely to be quiet. One year my husband and I did a shopping spree on a Saturday morning right as the shops opened. No lines, no tiring noises and distractions around; perfect! It also helps to be prepared: make a list of what you want to buy for each person or for your home and go ‘speed shopping’. That means: no aimlessly wandering through the high streets and shops when energy is limited, but taking a more goal-orientated approach. And if you really can’t make it to the shops, the Internet is your best friend.
  • Prepping a feast.  If you’re in charge of cooking, choose easy meals and snacks that you can prepare ahead of time. Order your groceries online if possible and make a game plan with plenty of buffer time so you can manage your energy and symptoms wisely on the day itself. Alternatively, if you celebrate with extended family, you could ask each person to bring a dish or course on the menu.
  • Dressing up & home decorations. There’s no need to play the perfect hostess. Celebrations are about spending time with loved ones in a warm atmosphere, not about Instagram-worthy appetizers. So make yourself comfortable and let go off outward appearances that require more effort than they bring you joy.

How to Enjoy the Holiday Season When You're Chronically Ill | The Health Sessions

3. On Attending Work Parties and Family Festivities

Some people with chronic illness struggle to just get out of bed, but even when you’re a high-functioning spoonie, you’re faced with everyday obstacles – like feeling obliged to attend work parties, network drinks and family festivities.

People don’t always get how tough such events may be for you, especially if “you don’t look sick”. Basically, there are two ways to deal with the demands: make choices or adapt.

If you have limited energy, you probably can’t attend every social event on the calendar. Should that thought make you feel inadequate or guilty, just remember that healthy people decline invitations too because they’re busy and over-scheduled.

When skipping the festivities is not an option, you can also find ways to make the party work for you. For example, keep it short but memorable and check the accessibility and available facilities in advance. Make it easier on yourself by asking for a chair or timing your arrival so you can chat with the host, friends or colleagues before it gets too crowded and noisy. Avoid drinking too much alcohol and make sure you can get home safely even if you end up feeling badly.

4. Join in on the Fun in a Modified Way

Just because you can’t host Christmas dinner, go out on New Year’s Eve or ice skate with your friends doesn’t mean you have to miss out on the fun completely. You just have to be creative to make whatever you’d love to do doable and accessible for you.

Maybe you can channel your passion for cooking into bringing a holiday bundt cake as a dessert. Maybe you’ll celebrate New Year’s Eve with bites, champagne and sparkles earlier in the evening or sleep a few hours before midnight so you can still start the new year in style. And you may not be able to go skiing on that family trip, but perhaps you can make snow angels, enjoy a sleigh ride or take the ski lift half-way up the mountains to join everyone for a gluhwein afterwards.

Because having fun in a modified way beats staying home on meaningful occasions, right?

How to Enjoy the Holiday Season When You're Chronically Ill | The Health Sessions

5. Enjoy the Simple Pleasures of the Season

What’s most delightful to you about the December festivities? Which traditions would you love to honor and which ones could you care less about?

As over-the-top as the holiday season can be, at the heart of the celebrations lie simple pleasures: gathering with family and friends around the Christmas tree, drinking hot chocolate and watching the fireworks. Ok, so you may not be able to dance the night away on New Year’s Eve, but you can infuse your December days with lots of low-key activities you enjoy, from lighting candles and baking healthy gingerbread cookies to listening to Christmas songs on the radio and wrapping your ordered presents in style. So snuggle up on the couch with some eggnog and a cheesy Christmas movie to get into the holiday spirit!

6. Take Extra Good Care of Yourself

To make the most of the holiday season, you must balance the festivities with plenty of rest, self-care and healthy habits in between. Go easy on sugary and rich meals on ‘regular’ days, start your mornings with health-boosting green juice or nourishing porridges and build in enough time before and after celebratory events to recharge. Identify your Minimum Necessary Self-Nurture Practices and make nurturing your body and mind a priority despite the December frenzy.

How do you make the most of the holiday season despite your health problems?

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