When you’re chronically ill, you might look forward to the holiday season, but also experience feelings of apprehension, anxiety or grief. You aren’t alone. One of the best things you can do now is to prepare for any challenges you might face.
Try the following eight strategies to navigate certain problems related to chronic illness around the holidays more smoothly—hopefully leaving you the joyful times to remember most.
Think back, plan ahead
One burden the holidays can bring is extra stress that comes from responsibilities such as cooking, gifts, events and travel. Planning can help. In fact, planning is the most effective stress management technique according to a survey of 3,000 people conducted by psychologist Robert Epstein.
A helpful way to plan ahead is to consider years past and what went right or wrong. For elements of the holidays that were hard or exhausting, think about what avoidable actions or decisions contributed. Then make a plan to lessen or eliminate them. Maybe you had a bad reaction to foods you ate at a get-together. This year, bring your own food or talk to the host in advance.
If some things went really well, try to replicate the actions you took to make sure that remains the same. If things are changing this year, or you’ll do some things for the first time, make a plan for those too. Consider how to counteract any negative impact as well as possible.
To help, here’s a checklist for de-stressing the holidays.
The winter holidays are meant to be about gratitude and giving—so get in the spirit and find somewhere to help out. While you help others, you’ll aslo be helping yourself as serving, charity, giving—these are well-proven sources of joy and healing and can give you a sense of purpose.
If holidays are a lonely time, volunteering can be a great way to be around caring, thoughtful people. The holidays are a season where opportunities to contribute abound. Throw some change in the red bell bucket, buy some toys for a toy drive, donate food to the food bank or volunteer to serve food at a soup kitchen.
You can search for volunteer opportunities by location at VolunteerMatch.com.
Start new traditions, or alter old ones
Certain traditions may be difficult now, but hard to let go of. Maybe they are no longer possible or no longer make you happy. Make some new ones. (Here are 50 ideas.)
Or, you can find a way to change traditions a little bit so they work better for you. If your family visits a light display each year, but you’ve been finding the walk too tiring, you could stay home or ride along but stay in the car, and someone could phone or video you in, so you can still take part without spending as much energy.
If you are worried about interfering with how your loved ones experience certain traditions, communicate with them. Everyone is more likely to feel good about any changes or new ideas if they are part of the conversation.
Look for and take opportunities to rest and relax whenever you can. You’ll be a better version of yourself the better you take care of yourself. This means sticking to your normal daily routine as much as possible.
The holidays may mean you have to give up your normal routine to go to a special event or visit with friends—so it’s important to make sure you’re still resting enough. You’ll have to make those choices for yourself, but stay in tune with your body’s ability to cope with extra fatigue.
Fit in some exercise here and there. It gives you more energy. It helps you sleep more soundly. It triggers endorphins. If you already have an exercise schedule, try your best to stick to it. If not, gentle yoga first thing in the morning or seated exercises are a good place to start.
Tip #1: Don’t Skip Meals
Saving your appetite for a big holiday party or feast? Don’t. Skipping meals during the day may result in overeating. It is especially important to have breakfast, as research shows that those who eat this important morning meal tend to consume fewer calories throughout the day. Include lots of fiber by eating fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Fiber-rich foods are high in volume and will satisfy hunger, but are lower in calories.
Tip #2: Eat Small Portions
Holiday meals tend to be large, buffet-style and include second and third helpings. While one might not eat an entire cake, a common mistake is eating large portions of foods that are perceived as healthy. It’s important to include nutrient-rich foods in your diet, but also remember that these foods have calories as well and should be eaten in moderation. Using this approach at the holiday dinner table will allow you to maintain a healthful eating plan — one that can also include dessert.
Tip #3: Pick a Strategy to Avoid Overeating — and Use It!
There are many strategies to help you avoid overeating. Using a smaller plate, for instance, allows you to put less food on your plate and encourages proper portion sizes. Also, start by filling your plate with vegetables and salad before going to the entrees and desserts. Eating a salad before your meal can help you eat fewer calories overall. Eat slowly and savor every bite, and before you go back for seconds wait 10 minutes to see if you really still are hungry.
Ask for help
None of us can do everything on our own. For many, the holidays mean there are more people around to help out. Take advantage. And there are always resources online for help (see below). If you struggle, reach out.