The holidays are a time for family, friends, and festivities. But if you’re living with a chronic illness, the holiday season can also be a time of increased stress and anxiety. There’s pressure to attend parties and gatherings, to meet expectations, and to make the season “perfect.” On top of all that, chronic pain and fatigue from conditions like fibromyalgia, psoriatic arthritis, and multiple sclerosis can make even basic tasks feel daunting.
You’re not alone if you’re struggling to get into the holiday spirit because of your chronic illness. But there is hope! With a little bit of planning ahead, you can make this holiday season one that is manageable—and even enjoyable. Here are some tips to help you get started:
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Plan with Your Current Health Status in Mind
The first step in making your holiday plans is to take an honest assessment of your current health status. It is harder to ignore the reality of your situation when you make it visible. Take a moment to write or type out your answers to the following questions. Answering these questions honestly will help you set realistic expectations for yourself—and help you plan accordingly.
- What are your energy levels like?
- What activities can you realistically manage without exacerbating your symptoms?
- Take a look at the past four weeks and list the number of extra activities (those beyond your daily/weekly needs) that you could do without added pain.
For example, if you know that large gatherings tend to make your symptoms worse, consider attending only the most important events to you—or finding alternative ways to celebrate (more on that later). Or, if travel is particularly challenging for you, consider staying home this year and hosting friends and family instead. Whatever your situation may be, remember that it’s okay to put your health first. Prioritizing your well-being will ultimately make the holiday season more enjoyable for everyone involved.
Be Realistic about Abilities
Being realistic about your abilities is also essential when making holiday plans. Just because you have always done something a certain way doesn’t mean that’s how it has to be this year. If cooking an elaborate dinner is too much for you right now, reach out to relatives and see if they’re open to potluck-style holiday meals. Or, if decorating the house is proving to be more trouble than it’s worth, consider skipping it altogether—or getting creative with alternative decorations (there’s no shame in store-bought!). The key is to focus on what works for you—not what society tells us the holidays should look like.
Modify Plans from the Past to Meet Today’s Needs
Finally, don’t be afraid to modify plans from holidays past to meet your needs today. It’s perfectly normal for our needs and abilities to change over time—and that includes during the holiday season! If decorating the house used to be one of your favorite traditions but is now too much for you physically (or emotionally), find alternative ways to get into the holiday spirit. Maybe listening to festive music or watching classic holiday movies is enough for you this year. Or perhaps other traditions—such as volunteering at a local soup kitchen or singing Christmas carols with neighbors—would be more fulfilling than putting up decorations. The key is to do what feels suitable for you in the present moment.
Chronic Illness Holiday Journal Prompt
In addition to the writing exercise above, this journal prompt was created to help you pinpoint what you desire most out of the holiday season and how to make it happen.
Facing your true abilities and limitations can be overwhelming, but it can also provide hope. When we acknowledge what we can or cannot do, accept that changes and modifications are necessary, and plan the holidays with our health in mind, we enjoy what we do so much more!
Write down what your perfect holiday season looks like, then answer the following questions.
When does it begin? With my birthday always falling when Disneyland kicks off its holiday season in November, it is also when I start celebrating. Before moving to California, Thanksgiving marked the beginning of the holidays for me.
When do you end your holiday celebrations? I know some people who complete the season the day after Christmas or Hanukka and others who follow the 12 days of Christmas and finish it on January 6th. Personally, I am done and ready to resume my basic schedule by New Year’s Day.
What traditions do you wish to keep, which could be modified, and are there any that you could live without? Life changes, and so do some of our traditions. And that is okay! Don’t feel bad if you need to modify or omit something this year, you might be able to do it next year!
Does your day-to-day schedule get busier or slower during the holiday season? Do you work? Does the holiday season affect your hours or work demands? What could be decreased or put on hold during the holidays?
Making holiday plans when you have a chronic illness may require some extra thought and effort—but it’s definitely doable! By planning ahead and being realistic about your abilities, you can make this holiday season one that works for you—and still celebrates all the things you love about this time of year. Wishing everyone a happy (and healthy!) holiday season!
New to journaling?
Not sure where to start?
Check out my Printable Chronic Illness Life Journal!