The holiday season is once again upon us! For those of us living with chronic pain, the holidays can mean something very different… Increased pain, flare-ups, stress, guilt and frustration to name just a few issues. So! Here’s our top 6 tips on surviving the holidays when living with fibromyalgia, CFS/ME and other chronic pain conditions.
1. Kick Out the Guilt
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The first thing that you really must show to the door and kick out FAST is guilt.
Let’s face it. Chances are pretty high that you are not the next Martha Stewart, (who had a huge entourage creating all her beautiful decorations, food…you get the drift!).
Creating the ‘perfect’ home, with amazing food, gifts that please everyone and being the amazing superstar host sets yourself up for feeling like a failure when you are unable to reach such lofty goals. Or sick. Or both.
Recite these words:
I do not live in a magical, mythical reality! The holidays are about expressing love, gratitude, and thankfulness and for being with good family and friends!
Reality Check Time
Yep. Last time you checked you found that you’re living with a chronic illness. And you know that fibromyalgia, CFS/ME and other complex pain conditions are real buggers when it comes to overdoing things and flare-ups.
It’s time to stop the blame and start that good ol’ self-love that so many of us struggle with.
If you’re striving for the last cherry on the photo shoot perfect trifle, or to make your daily Elf on the Shelf antics more crazy than your social media pal’s each and every day, ask yourself this question…
You need to seriously question WHY you are doing this to yourself and putting so much extra pressure and stress on your body and mental health, so that when the time for the big day(s) happen, guess what also tends to happen?
Yep. You get sick!
You created the guilt and it’s up to you to end it. (And if others are pulling guilt trips on you – then you need to stand firm and take care of you, first.)
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2. Family Matters – Ps. That Includes YOU!
The festive season for most people generally means family. Extended family. Family travelling from all over – or you travelling to them.
In many cases your family doesn’t know your limitations – or how your health is affected when you push too hard.
Invisible illnesses such as fibromyalgia and CFS/ME and chronic pain make it all the more difficult for family to appreciate what you’re going through, because ‘you don’t look ill’. This also means that tensions can run high regarding comments directed at you, advice etc.
Therefore, it is up to you (and even your support system aka spouse/partner) to ensure that your family members know the score – preferably before they descend upon you, or you arrive at their place.
- Talk to your family/friends ahead of time and let them know about how you may not be able to do things like sightseeing, a 10 hour cooking marathon etc.
- If you are feeling that seeing a large extended family this year is going to be too draining, explain that although you would really love to particpate, this year your health won’t allow you to do so.
- Communicate with people by speaking in a logical, calm way without whining. Explain that you fully understand that others may not know what you’re going through, or understand your limitations, you need to stand firm.
- Let your family know that you need to pace yourself and rest, so that you can participate in the most important activities, otherwise you can be unwell.
- Ask for help and support!
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Mindfulness & Meditation
Mindfulness and meditation have become a lot more accepted and mainstream as great techniques for self-care, relaxation, stress and even pain relief!
Why not try mindfulness and meditation for pain relief in 5 simple steps? You may find that your ability to handle stress and strain is improved – and mounting pain can even be calmed (it’s a lot easier than you may think!).
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3. Plan Ahead
A large portion of holiday stress comes from the last-minute rush to get everything done. And between having a calendar and notes features on your smartphone and the ability to order food, gifts and necessities online with a touch of a finger, planning these days is easier than ever!
- Begin to plan your holiday season at least two months in advance.
- Make lists! Brain fog sucks, so it’s imperative to create gift lists, menus, shopping lists, travel plan lists, To Do, Doing and Done Lists. A revolutionary (and free!) tool that I found are Trello boards.
- Have an ‘importance criteria’ – ‘Does this REALLY need to be done?’ and ‘Do I REALLY need to do this/do this by myself?’ as well as, ‘Can I delegate this job to someone else?’ Try it…you might find this revolutionary!
- Accept that you may have some not-so-good days, and make sure that you take this into account when planning things like outings, meals for family, events etc.
Make Sure You’re Prepared When Travelling
Ok, so I am talking about beyond having your supply of medications and enough underwear to last you til February. I’m talking about things that provide you with that extra bit of pain relief and comfort when you’re away – or even at home.
I’ve been known to go a bit overboard, and have brought a shiatsu neck massager with me – on a cruise years ago. (Hey, I had the baggage allowance, so why not?!).
I also make sure that I travel with my favourite pillow wherever I go – even if it is just for one night, it is worth it!
My top picks to pack for travelling are:
4. Shop Online!
I know it’s obvious but so true! You can most likely find just about every item of food, gifts and other products that you may need for the holiday season at the touch of your phone or computer button.
Make sure that you don’t get suckered into going into crazy shops and shopping malls where you know that the amount of noise and people can send you into a flare-up and complete exhaustion.
Shopping online is truly an amazing invention for us people living with fibromyalgia, CFS/ME and other chronic illnesses! Use it to your best advantage!
5. Say Goodbye to Wrapping Paper (Forever!)
Wrapping presents. Oi vey! Such a hassle. And when your hands are in pain, or back and neck aching from it all…do one thing…SAY GOODBYE TO WRAPPING PAPER.
Not only is it a pain (and causes a pain), it’s horrendous for the environment and for all your hard work, time and energy, let’s face it, it gets trashed (literally) in seconds.
Opt for decorative, reusable bags, or our new faves – fabric bags that are literally a gift within a gift and can be used multiple times.
And While Your Making Gift Wrapping Changes…
Why not make some other changes too, regarding gifts – and the stress (and debt) that they can bring?
Here’s 3 different friends who all have fibromyalgia and how they deal with the holidays and gifts:
Friend 1: Had to keep outdoing her last Christmas presents – to the point that she was buying her children over 100 gifts – EACH (She has THREEE!!!!) And wrapping them. She’s now close to bankruptcy… #fact. She also goes way out of her way to do the whole Elf on the Shelf thing, and by the time Christmas happens, she’s done and generally sick in bed with some sort of chest infection, virus, pneumonia…each and every year that I’ve known her.
Ps. You know the story….most of them didn’t even get looked at twice. Not to mention the plastic and paper waste!
Friend 2: My other friend does – ‘Memory Gifts’. My friend takes her children to a concert or out for a special mom/kid picnic – you name it. And she takes pictures and gets them printed. I think that’s amazing!
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So, imagine the holiday stress (and sickness!) for friend 1 compared to friend 2 and 3? (There IS no comparison!).
Why not set a precedent and choose to do things differently. At the end of the day, it will most likley be up to you to do it. Don’t be scared! And don’t let your family and friends guilt you into things, either.
6. Say Shalom, Hasta la Vista & So Long to the BIG Festive Dinner(s) You Usually Make
…Enter our new favourite family tradition – ‘Snackmas’.
Snackmas was dubbed by my husband 6 years ago when he/we said ‘Enough is enough!’…and from that point onwards ‘Snackmas’ was born. (I am seriously expecting that one day I am going to see #Snackmas all over the place as a catchy trend!).
No big family dinners that used to lay me out flat recovering and missing out on enjoying the holidays! Instead we opted for Snackmas.
- Pyjamas all day for us all (starting when hubby gets off work for the holidays)
- Movies and series lined up to watch on Netflix and recorded
- Lots of good, yummy food and a few cocktails thrown in for good measure
- Minimal decorating
- Secret Santa with a set maximum spend that’s not crazy
- ‘Us’ time and ‘Me’ time
- NO STRESS
- NO CRAZY AMOUNTS OF MONEY SPENT/DEBT
Lots of love, caring, sharing, kindness and compassion with family and friends who may pop by (and yep, we ask them to bring food to share!).
Take The Stress Out of the Holidays!
You can do it, yes you can! Does it take good communications? Yep! Strength and fortitude in standing firm? Yes, it does. Some good ‘ole chutzpah to come up with some new plans and ways of doing things? You better believe it!
Have faith! You can do this! Fibromyalgia, CFS/ME and other chronic health conditions need not take the fun out of the holiday season! It’s all about how you choose to deal with things, and we recommend making decisions that put your health and well-being first. It does take planning. It does take conviction, pacing and self-care.