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How to Survive the Holidays With a Chronic Illness

Updated: Jun 7, 2022

The transcript can be found under the video.

The holidays often put a lot of pressure on us. You might be thinking this is supposed to be a time of joy and a family coming together and celebrating. However, for those with chronic illnesses, the same actions that bring others joy can leave those with chronic illnesses drained.

You already have your reduced energy bucket. You're trying to handle your daily tasks and all your responsibility, and now it feels like there are even more. Decorating the house for the holidays, for example, it's lovely, but that's a huge energy drain.

It's wonderful to spend time with family at get-togethers, but with those with chronic illness, there's so much unpredictability that planning can often be really tough. You might get new symptoms or migraine comes up and it makes planning for events like this even more stressful. This might also be the time when a lot of strong feelings come up, grief about the person who you used to be before or comparing it to the previous holiday season.

Prioritize and Plan

One question that I like to ask my clients is what can still make this holiday season feel joyful? What's one or two of your favorite activities that you do that mean and signify it's the holidays for you?

For example, I used to bake a lot when it was the holidays. Granted, when I had really low energy, I couldn't do that for, you know, standing in the kitchen. It's too hot and I chose to bake a lot less because it was easier, but that's still for me signified the holidays.

For many, they might reply that it's spending time with family. So perhaps you spend time with family and then relax the next day, or you spend time with family, but you don't participate in hosting and get-together, baking, or engaging in other activities that require so much energy.

Ask For Help In Advance

When going to someone's house for a holiday party, one recommendation is to chat with them and let them know how long you could stay. You might not want to reveal too much information with this person, depending on your comfort level with them and the fact that we're discussing your diagnosis. However, it's often helpful to share just enough so that people imagine it.

I could only stay two or three hours because otherwise, I'll get too fatigued. That gives the person a clear limit of, "OK, it'll be here this many hours, and this is why," rather than "I can't stay long, I'll have to leave." Now, sharing also about an invisible illness is quite tough, so this is up to you. However, this kind of sharing about your illness can really strengthen relationships as it brings in this new, renewed honesty, and what better time than the holidays when families are getting together to have these kinds of honest conversations. There are tough conversations to have, but many times people have noticed an increased connection, feeling of openness, and connectivity after having conversations like this.

When it comes to setting boundaries and being honest, one other statement that you could implement would be, "I'm pleased to do blank now, but I won't be able to do blank later." As we all know, those with fatigue only have so much of an energy bucket, so it's important to prioritize tasks and to communicate effectively so that others will know exactly.

Don't over-promise and hope for the best. Plan instead for lots of rest because of how taxing these activities can be.

It is Okay To Grieve

Another difficult aspect of the holidays for many individuals is that they might act as a reminder of who you used to be or of previous holidays, all of which can trigger extremely deep feelings of loss. Most of the people I work with who have Long Covid will often talk about how they were able to bake four or five cakes, decorate the house, and have parties during past holidays. They suddenly feel as though that has been taken away from them and that their identity has shifted dramatically.

You really feel as if grief is coming over you. It's often helpful to have almost a plan A and a plan B. So for example, plan A would be spending time with your family, but if you find that these feelings are coming on really strongly over you, have plan B, be something that feels very nourishing to you.

You really feel as if grief is coming over you. It's often helpful to have a plan A and a plan B. Plan A would be spending time with your family, but if you find that these feelings are coming on really strongly over you, switch to plan B, and do something that feels very nourishing to you.

Something as simple as a bubble bath or something that feels just really good to you recharges you and is extremely healthy for your soul. If being around your family, for example, becomes too much at that moment.

Practice Gratitude

What also helps with the strong feelings that this holiday season might evoke, is looking at what you do have to be grateful for.

That's where a gratitude practice comes in handy and journaling as well. Losing our dreams to chronic illness causes major grief, but we must learn to perceive it as a temporary setback rather than a permanent loss. Things will not always be this way. It can often even be viewed as almost a time of rebirth.

A new year is approaching. You could even consider it as a time to make new traditions. Who says you have to put up a Christmas tree or decorate your house or bake four cakes? What is the magic of this holiday season for you? What exactly is its spirit of it? What are the one or two most important to you?

You could almost think of it as a way to get away from all the flashy stuff and focus on what matters most to you and your soul.

I'd love to hear your biggest takeaway about what you feel helps you during the holidays down in the comments below.


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