It’s no secret that the holidays come with added stress. Now, throw a chronic illness like lupus into the mix and the jolliest time of year can easily become a time of increased tension and anxiety. All of the things most people look forward to about the holidays (gift wrapping and shopping), you are dreading. Luckily, there are some safeguards we can put into place that can help us physically and emotionally, allowing us to make the most out of this special time of year.
The truth is, I literally wait in excitement all year long for Christmas. Growing up in a large Italian family, the holidays were always a big deal, and Christmas Eve was the night of all nights. Today, my excitement still builds as Dec. 25th approaches, but I will be the first to admit it also comes with a twinge of worry. Perhaps you feel this trepidation as well, and struggle with a barrage of illness-related thoughts and questions, such as:
- What if a flare hits?
- Where will all of our families want to celebrate?
- Do I need to travel?
- And what happens if I get sick and can’t do all of the things I need/want to do?
As someone who’s lived with lupus for over 20 years and experienced a great deal of holiday seasons while managing a chronic illness, I’m going to share my five go-to strategies to help decrease stress levels, prevent the severity of flares and symptoms, and successfully manage lupus during the holidays…
Create a Game Plan for At-Home Events vs. Traveling to Events
It’s important to plan ahead for both at-home events or events at another destination. If you’re planning on hosting a dinner or party at your home then take into consideration the length of time you’d like the party to be and the number of people you’re capable of handling. If 2- to 3-hours is your limit, be sure to set a clear end time on the invitations to let guests know when the party’s over. If you live with other people, you should also discuss this with them so everyone is on the same page.
If you are planning to travel locally to events, you might want to consider driving a separate vehicle from your friends, family, or partner. This allows your companions to continue on in the festivities while you can take yourself home, slip on those pj’s, grab some tea, and get into bed.
Choose Events and Assignments Wisely
If you’ve been invited to a number of holiday parties or been given tasks to do for any of these holiday parties (i.e. cooking, decorating, etc), take into account how much energy you have to spare and where it would be best spent. You might have to say “no” to certain things in order to maintain your health throughout the holiday season.
As much as we might want to take part in every holiday event, overextending ourselves will most likely lead to flares, an increase in symptoms, and extra days spent in bed. And that is no way to spend the holidays!
Remember to Place Recovery Days into Your Schedule
One of the best things I ever did for myself was schedule recovery days into my holiday agenda. For me, a maxed-out day of cooking, entertaining, or just being present with family and friends usually means I am down for the count the following day. In addition, a day of car or plane travel typically means the next day is a day in bed. I now schedule these rest periods into my holiday plans each year, and if I am traveling out of town to see family, I let them know ahead of time that I will not be available during this recovery time.
During the initial years after my diagnosis – it was difficult for some family members to understand why I couldn’t pack my holiday schedule day after day, but now seeing how I basically cannot function after a full day, they have become more understanding. In addition, I take this time for myself because I know the stress these busy days puts on my body, and I’ve paid dearly way too many times for overdoing it.
Keep in mind – if you are heading back to work after holiday events and travel – give yourself a solid day or two of rest (if possible) between event days and your official return back to work day.
Be Mindful of Your Body
Let’s face it, we often push ourselves during the holidays because we want everything to be just right and everyone to be happy. This comes at the expense of ourselves, so why not make a promise here and now that you are going to be mindful of yourself this holiday season.
This means checking in with yourself several times a day during big event days. Whether you’re sitting, standing, alone or in a crowded room, take a deep breath and mentally scan your entire body. Are you experiencing any physical pain? Do you feel more tired than usual? Are you running on adrenaline, knowing you are likely to crash soon?
If so, practice self-compassion and take action. This “solution” may involve leaving the event, going into a quiet room and taking a quick nap, or sitting somewhere peaceful and doing a short meditation or breathing exercise. Because all of our holiday engagements are unique, consider what your solutions might be ahead of the event.
Make Sleep and Nutrition a Priority
I cannot emphasize how important it is to maintain healthy habits during the holiday season. Lack of sleep, overexertion, winter germs, and skipping meals can create the perfect storm for us to get sick or rundown. Be sure to prioritize extra sleep and good nutrition during the holidays.
Personally, I like to make extra pots of soup and bone broths and freeze them, which allows for easy reheating on the days I am tired but need a home cooked meal full of vitamins and minerals. If you have grocery delivery in your area such as Instacart, save your energy and treat yourself to delivery. (Here are some Lupus Diet and Nutrition Do’s and Don’ts).
While different chronic illnesses have different dietary needs, think about the foods that make you feel the best and be sure to eat these often during this time. After all, this is your holiday season too – don’t you deserve to enjoy it?