The holidays can be stressful as it is—Gerry wrote the other day about mental health during the holiday season. Another challenge many of us struggle with around the holidays is how to fit our lives with chronic disease into the stress, food, and busyness of the season. Here are some tips on how to make sure you take care of yourself during the holiday season if you are living with chronic illness.
Keep up on your medications. Yeah, it sucks to have to stop at the pharmacy before the festivities start, but just think of how much better it’ll be then feeling bad, or stressing about running out of insulin at a big family dinner? Keep your stock of medications up, and have one less thing to stress about this season!
Avoid the “illness police” and other family conflicts related to your health condition. Come up with a way, in advance, to redirect the conversation. Since many of us with chronic disease might have conditions that may be related to food, or people wrongly thing are caused by foods we eat, think in advance about how to discourage these conversations politely, without ruining the day. My friends with diabetes often refer to the “diabetes police” as those asking “Can you eat that?” or providing horror stories—you’re well aware of what you need to do to maintain your health. So, predict the questions—after all, you’ve gotten them before—and come up with some polite but informed responses. “Yes, last Christmas I couldn’t eat this, but I’m on a new medication for my Crohn’s now and I’ve been doing really well lately.” “I can eat that even though I have diabetes, but my blood sugar is a little high right now so I’m going to wait till later—then I’d love to have some.” “No, I can’t eat that pie because it has almonds in it, but I checked the ingredients on this ice cream carton and it’s safe for me to eat, and I haven’t had ice cream in awhile!”
Advocate for yourself, but keep it positive—and, if you can’t avoid a particularly pushy person? Ask for the item they’re demanding you “just try a bite of” to take home… You can always conveniently forget it if someone doesn’t convince them that it’s not a good idea, or toss it when you get home and tell them it was great. Sometimes, people are stubborn… This is an easy way to pacify them if you really cannot eat what they’re trying to feed you, without hurting their feelings or endangering your health. It might also be necessary to deflect any questions asked about your health: once again, respectfully, firmly, but positively. “Yes, this winter has been difficult on my COPD, but distraction really helps me not focus on my breathing, so let’s talk about something else.” “We’ve recently adjusted my medications, and I’m more tired than usual, but I hope it will work better than before in the long term. I’ll see my doctor in two weeks and we’ll talk about it then. Hey, how was that trip to Spain?” For the particularly relentless, there’s always the “Hey, I’m going to see what the kids are doing.” or “Oh, I just heard grandma calling for someone to make the stuffing… Do you want to help or should I?” …So what if grandma didn’t call yet, she’ll be as happy about more hands in the kitchen as you will be to escape that conversation :).
Rest often! If you struggle with fatigue, be sure to rest as often as you can. Prepare things in advance if you are hosting a big family dinner, or ask family members to help. This goes along with advocating for yourself: stay healthy and reduce your stress by resting as you need to, and enlisting help from family and friends to get through the season in one piece.
Recognize how you deal best with stress—and plan to take time for yourself. Do you need some extra time out away from the chaos of the 8 relatives visiting? 10 hours of sleep instead of 8? To put your earphones in and crank an album and block out the world? Figure out ways to de-stress through the holiday chaos, and make a plan on how you will regroup if you begin to feel stressed.
Wear medical ID. Despite the best of intentions, sometimes things don’t go as planned. Medical ID jewelry will be your voice in case you can’t speak for yourself effectively. In the chaos of the holidays, despite working hard, the unexpected might happen—ensure you stay safe by wearing medical ID jewelry stating your needs in an emergency for peace of mind this holiday season.