As the holiday season approaches I think of how nice it will be to see my friends and family. I also acknowledge how stressful all the social gatherings can be. Over the years I’ve developed ways to cope with the chaos and my physical limitations which I want to share with those like me suffering chronic health issues.
The first thing that I think of with the holidays is stress. As much as the holidays are about joy, friendship, and love so too are they filled with stress for those of us dealing with chronic illness. When you’re struggling with functioning on a normal day the added organized chaos of the holidays can be overwhelming. I recently read a book that touched on coping with stress. My take away from it and what I now practice is a process of acknowledging stress when I feel it. I say “Hello stress”, smile, and mentally embrace it. I say “I know you are there” and then add “thank you for letting me know I’m alive”. I find this simple acknowledgement reduces its power over me and I go from a feeling of dread and anxiety to one of peace and looking forward to doing what was making me stressed in the first place. Please try it and let me know if it helps you too.
Before I became ill and as a mom of three boys the home was my domain. I did all the shopping, cooking, cleaning and laundry as well as working and volunteering. I’m no longer physically able to do those things so I enlist help and I recommend you do too. As an example my husband now cooks dinner as I’m limited in what I can do. So this past Thanksgiving I thought about what I could do and what we needed. We hosted a small gathering at our house which meant cooking a full meal and desserts. We love pie so two days before I enlisted my husband’s help to make pumpkin pie. Then the next day I enlisted my son to peel the apples for apple pie for me and had him there to assist me as I put it all together. Next I had him put it in the oven for me and when it was done he removed it to cool. The next day I peeled what potatoes I could and when my hands started cramping and hurting I stepped aside, had my son take over and directed my other sons to set the table. It turned into a real family affair prepping for our dinner and it was one of the nicest meals I’ve ever had.
How we got ready for Thanksgiving in our house brings me to my next tip for survival which is to pace yourself. While it seems a simple concept it’s very easy to get swept up in the commotion and forget this important tip. How I’ve learned to accomplish this is to schedule things in such a way that I have some down time to regroup and recover between activities. This is very important when dealing with chronic pain and fatigue. It allows you a chance to put your feet up and give yourself some time before you tackle something else. It also ties into how I prepared for Thanksgiving as you might have noticed I didn’t try to make two pies in one day but rather spread them out over two days. And then Thanksgiving morning when there were more able bodies around we put them to work. We celebrate Christmas in my house and I’ve had a request to make my raspberry white chocolate cheesecake which is a labor of love. I made this before I got floxed but it is time consuming and physically demanding so for years I stopped making it even though the requests kept coming. So now I make the raspberry puree before I make the cheesecake as it requires pressing raspberries through a strainer to remove the seeds. It’s time consuming and often causes my hands to cramp and become painful. However I’ve found that if I do this the day before then I’m good to do the rest the next day. I’m all about pacing myself now and I’ve found doing so helps me to get through the holidays in pretty good shape.
I’ve also learned to adapt my expectations. By this I mean I’ve adjusted to my limitations so I know what I can do and what I can’t and my family has as well. When someone offers to help me by getting me something to eat or drink I let them and am thankful for it. While this might seem a simple thing it’s an important one. You see I used to be so independent and capable that I didn’t need help because I was the caretaker. The roles have changed however and now I’m the one who needs help. Learning to accept help was difficult but I have adapted and now do so graciously.
And last but not least if you need something let people know. If it’s the comfortable chair in the room and you’re in pain and need to sit down then ask politely if you could use the chair for a few minutes. If you’re thirsty or hungry enlist someone to get you a drink or food. Or if you need to lie down somewhere quiet for a minute do that too. If you’re at a social gathering and are feeling rundown and know you have a commitment tomorrow then say your thank you’s and head home. It took me time to get to the point where I spoke up when I needed something. For a long time I tried to push through and do things myself but I found that it didn’t work out well so I’ve had to change. We spread out our commitments to what I can manage and I ask for help and try to state my needs more clearly.
So pace yourself, enlist help, adapt your expectations, ask for what you need, and acknowledge that the stress you may be feeling lets you know you’re alive. Recognize that feeling stressed means you’re living life in all its beautiful chaotic glory and be thankful for it. It’s amazing how simply acknowledging it in a positive way defuses the anxiety and worry that often goes hand in hand with feeling stressed. If you’re still feeling anxious squeeze those limes and drink the juice for some help with anxiety or pause for a few minutes to do some deep breathing and meditation to help you relax.
So try to enjoy this holiday season and embrace the love of being with family and friends with all the craziness and commotion. You can do this!
Yours in Holiday Spirit,