Holiday Survival Guide: Living Well with Chronic Disease

My friends, it is my favorite time of the year: the holidays! To me, the holiday season is Halloween through New Years. Obviously the holidays are going to look different this year with COVID-19. But they’re still going to happen. This post isn’t about the holidays and COVID-19, but it’s a survival guide for the holiday season when you have a chronic illness. More specifically, we’re talking about the holidays and living well with chronic disease in today’s post.

I’m sharing 5 tips in this holiday survival guide because I want you to have the best holiday season possible with your chronic condition. I wrote a similar post last year: Chronic Illness and the Holidays: 10 Rules for a Great Season. But this is a distinct post! So go check out that one after you read this post.

Living well with chronic disease can be tough throughout the year as it is. Here is a holiday survival guide to make it easier.

Holiday Survival Guide: Living Well with Chronic Disease

Tip 1: Don’t waste too much time trying to convince people that yes, you really are ill, no matter how you look

There are a lot of people who will add snide comments about living with chronic disease in their holiday small talk. There are people who think people are faking or exaggerating their symptoms. And while there are a lot of people who have chronic diseases, a lot have “invisible” ones. As the folks at Invisible Illness Awareness Week figured out based on data from the 2002 US Census Bureau, 96% of people who live with an illness live with an invisible one, and 73% of people who live with a severe disability do not use devices like a wheelchair. So people who don’t understand this or know the statistics see someone who looks okay on the outside taking a lot of pills and sleeping a lot, and they judge.

But you’re not going to change their mind in one conversation or one holiday.

Don’t let them them ruin your holiday by trying to convince them that you’re actually ill. All it will do is upset you, and constantly doing this or feeling like you have to do it will upset you emotionally.

And people with chronic health conditions already have a rough time with mental health. The National Institute of Mental Health found that “People with other chronic medical conditions have a higher risk of depression” (x). Plus, depending on the illness, some illnesses can cause changes in the brain that lead directly to depression (x). And the holidays can already be a really tough time for everyone, for a variety of reasons.

All of this is to say that there are going to be a lot of things that make the holidays tough for chronic illness patients. Don’t make the season any tougher than it needs to be by trying to convince people that you actually are ill.

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Tip 2: Figure out now where your limits are this this holiday season, and stick to them

If you’re reading this post when it goes up, it’s the end of October. You have about a month before Thanksgiving (if you’re American) and two months before Christmas. Now is the time to figure out what your limits are for the holidays. If you’ve been chronically ill for a long time, you already know them without having to think about it. But if you’re in your first 5 years of it, you might still be figuring it out. So now is the time to plan.

But it’s also incredibly important to stick to that plan. If you can do 2 events a day generally (counting virtual events), don’t commit to 3 on the day of Thanksgiving. Even if annoying people are trying to guilt you into doing more things that you know you can do, don’t listen. You know your body better than them and, more importantly, you are the one living with the consequences.

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Tip 3: Start shopping for the gifts you’ll give ASAP

Planning planning planning is key to a great holiday season with chronic disease. So start planning and shopping for gifts now!

Planning your gift-giving is helpful for a variety of reasons.

One, you don’t have to worry about not getting all your gifts in time if your illness flares right before the holiday you’re buying for. Once you’ve lived with chronic disease for a couple of years, you’ve definitely had a holiday season when this happened.

Two, you can feel productive by getting your gifts early! Who doesn’t love feeling productive when there’s so little you can control about your life? I love doing this because it feels so good to have my shopping done more than a week before Christmas.

Three, this can spread out the cost of the gifts. Living with a chronic condition is expensive, and a lot of people have lost their jobs over the last 6 months. Start planning and shopping for your gifts ASAP to spread that cost out as much as possible and also so you can look for awesome deals for the gifts you want to give.

And four, this means that you can also spread out wrapping of your gifts. If you have fatigue, arthritis affecting your hands, muscle issues affecting your hands, etc., wrapping isn’t easy. It’s as important to spread out the physical wrapping as it is to spread out the financial cost.

Want some help? Check out all of the gift guides I’ve made here. The first one of 2020 will be up in a few weeks.

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Tip 4: Be strategic with the food you’ll make

Can you see a pattern in my tips? It’s all about planning! And that is the same for food as it is for other elements of the holidays.

Start thinking now: what dishes are important to me to have? What dishes can be made ahead of time, or prepped and then frozen? What dishes are difficult to make but not worth it, and what dishes are difficult to make but are worth it to have?

It’s also super helpful to buy ingredients ahead of time as much as possible. Have them on hand and put a post-it note on them saying “For Thanksgiving!” so it isn’t used. This can save stress and money down the road.

This is also important to do if you have food intolerances or allergies. Do you require special ingredients to make your favorite foods? You’ve got the picture by now: planning is key.

I know that this sounds like a lot, and that’s because it is. But it’s what will make the holidays better for you. Trust me on this – I have 19 years of experience.

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Tip 5: Keep doing all of the things that help you keep going the rest of the year

Again, the holiday season can be really tough, even though it can be really awesome. But it’s so important to keep doing everything that you do the rest of the year.

Don’t eat gluten if you have a sensitivity.

Do your best to get as much sleep as you need.

Take all of your meds as prescribed.

Drink all the water you need.

Keep exercising in the way you normally do.

Keep practicing mindfulness or meditating.

Basically, it’s easy to think, “It’s the holidays! I’ll just skip [whatever is necessary for you] today.” But then that becomes days or even a week, and your health can suffer because of it. And of course we want to ease up a bit! It’s the holidays.

And maybe you will make the conscious choice to not do one of those things you have to do for a day or two. Making the choice to ease up for a day or two, knowing the risks, is one thing, and it’s totally understandable. But it’s so important that you don’t do more than that because it will end badly.

The holiday season is supposed to be a wonderful time. Don’t make it worse on yourself by not doing the things that help you manage the rest of the year.

Chronic Illness and the Holidays: 10 Rules for a Great Season

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What are your tips for living well with chronic disease during the holidays?

Like this post? Check out:

How To Actually Rest When You Take Breaks, Chronically Ill Tips: What To Do When a Doctor Isn’t Listening to You, How Is Chronic Pain Different from Acute Pain?, How To Become an Advocate for Patients

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  • Reply Emily Bendler

    I don’t have a chronic illness, but I totally appreciate this post. Planning is everything when trying to get through the holidays with joy and gratitude. Especially with 3 littles in the house.

    October 30, 2020 at 4:54 pm
  • Reply Kait

    Great tips! I think these tips can work well for anyone, even without chronic illness. I definitely need to plan out my gift giving this year, since that always ends up causing stress!

    November 2, 2020 at 5:01 pm
  • Reply Connected Carole

    I especially like Tip #3 about buying and giving tips. These are all great tips for those of us who need to take extra care. Hope you have great holidays this year.

    November 7, 2020 at 10:44 pm
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