4 Tips for Managing your Chronic Illness Over the Holiday Season

Image by Circe Denyer, CC0 Public Domain

As a kid I used to love Christmas: putting up the tree, lighting the fire on Christmas morning before anyone was up (except when I forgot to open the fireplace damper and smoked everyone awake), having a special Christmas breakfast in front of the fire and the tree. The winter snow, the Christmas cards that my parents displayed on a gift-wrapped cylinder strung with yarn. The visitors and the hors d’ouevres – particularly (and oddly, for a child) the smoked oysters.

I still like Christmas but find it a lot more stressful than I used to. The disruption to the regular routine, the visitors, the pressure to do things a certain way or get certain things for people. The parcels to be mailed to family across the country, the (lack of) winter snow. This year we decided to manage things as best we can to reduce the impact on (and of) my illness.

1.Make a plan

This was my husband’s great idea. We sat down with a December calendar and decided what we wanted to do and when we’d do it. We scheduled in things that we wanted to make sure happened (Solstice dinner, paddling on Christmas Day), and spread out events and tasks so that they wouldn’t get overwhelming.

So on December 1st we put up the Advent calendar. On the 10th we strung up the outdoor lights. On the 14th we’ll decorate the inside of the house, and on the 21st, in tandem with the Solstice, we’ll get and decorate the tree and have a special dinner.

This works for me because I know what to expect on specific days, so can work my daily routine around it. I can also make sure that I don’t overdo it on other days so that I have the oomph to contribute to Christmas celebrations. It also takes a lot of the decision-making out of things, which is my Achilles heel. Even small things like “should we put this decoration here or over there?” can cause a mental meltdown over my inability to decide. This plan takes away some of that stress, though I know I still have problems when it comes time to decorate the house and tree.

2. Maintain your routine

This is critical for those of us who have problems coping when our normal routine is changed. Christmas is a great routine-changer, as it requires tasks like decorating, baking, getting/making presents, etc., on top of our regular tasks (like sleeping and eating lol). We have to work extra hard to maintain our routine and keep our mental balance. 

This is where the schedule comes in handy again. You can see which days might require a shift in routine, and plan for that in advance. You can also make sure to incorporate enough days without routine changes, so you’re not completely off-kilter.

3. Prepare in advance.

We tend to make most of our presents. But it’s pretty stressful when you’re making them at the last minute and hoping they’ll be ready in time to send by parcel post and still reach their destination in time.

Again, my husband has the solution. He’s made sure that we make presents early – in November, if we have to. This eases some of the last minute stress – though this year we had some printing problems so we couldn’t avoid the stress after all.

We also usually have a turkey dinner for Christmas. Instead of trying to find a bird at the last minute, we order one well in advance. We called the butcher last week and have a date to pick it up (which is also on the schedule).

You can also use this technique for getting gifts. Make a list of what you’d like to get for the special people in your life, then make sure to give yourself enough time to get those things. Even if they’re just stocking stuffers (which is all we really want to do at Christmas), it helps to be prepared with a list and an idea of where to find each item.

4. Dealing with visitors

This is the hardest part of Christmas for me. We don’t get many visitors, and when we do they usually stay for a meal or so and then go home.

I have an extra hard time when people stay for several days. This causes fundamental changes to my regular routine, and highlights problems I have with being “on” and interacting with people for more than a few hours at a time. I’m afraid I’ve become set in my ways and used to not having to explain myself, which is hard to maintain with visitors in the house. As a side note, the dogs are always excited by visitors, so they act out a bit, which can be stressful.

I don’t have a good solution to dealing with visitors. It helps if they know you’re not brushing them off, and if they understand that you need time to yourself to nap or write or go for a walk or whatever. It may be difficult, but I’m going to try and maintain my routine even when we have a visitor staying for Christmas.

What do you do to make the holidays manageable? Please share your ideas in the comments!

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