The holidays are fast approaching, and with them comes cheer and relaxation. But when you’re chronically ill, the holidays can take on an entirely different meaning. Additional stress, dietary changes, weather changes and being away from home and out of a normal routine can all exacerbate or trigger illness symptoms. And given the pandemic holidays will likely continue to look different, the stress may also look a little different for you or your chronically ill loved one.
Being aware and prepared ahead of time with a few self-care tips can make all the difference between holiday cheer and holiday drear.
Be ready for frightful weather
As the holiday season moves in, so does the cold, dullness of early winter. A change in the weather can mean more pain, and worse symptoms. Weather changes can lead to joint pain, worsened menstrual pain, and seasonal affective disorder. If you happen to be traveling away from home — and especially to a colder climate — make sure to pack lots of cozy layers, even if it means forgoing yet another going-out top that you might just wear to girls’ night at your hometown’s only cocktail bar. (You and I both know you won’t wear it anyway.)
Listen to your body
The biggest way you can practice self-care during the holidays is to listen to your body. If your body is telling you to take a break, take a break, even if it means skipping out on the family Uno tournament. If you can help it, getting off track just isn’t worth it if it’s going to cause you pain or discomfort. Listening to your body can be tough when there is a flurry of activity around you, but you know your body best and you’re the only person who can really advocate for it. Take a bath, or a walk, or get some extra sleep if that is what you need and don’t feel guilty for one single second about it.
Don’t deny yourself a good time
At the same time, if you’re faced with a trigger that is something you enjoy, by all means you should indulge. The rest of the year is hard and unfair enough and you deserve to enjoy your life and your body. If it won’t cause you too much harm or discomfort (again, you know your body), partake in whatever activities feel best for you and don’t feel guilty for one single second about it.
Put yourself on your own ‘nice’ list
Be kind to yourself, whether that means partaking in possible triggers, or giving yourself space from those things. Self care isn’t all bubble baths and face masks, it is also giving yourself permission to take care of yourself the best you can and make the decision that feels right and necessary for you, despite the consequences.
Release yourself from other people’s expectations
With the change in schedule and everyone traveling, the holiday season can mean a big shift in the way you spend time with others. The holidays can be a really isolating time, and it can mean spending time with people outside of your normal circle. This can also mean being around people like your great aunt, or your third cousin’s new girlfriend, who might not be understanding of your illness and symptoms. But really, who cares? If your great aunt Catherine is going to be so offended by you not taking a scoop of her buffalo chicken dip because it’s a food trigger for you, let her cry. Or take a scoop and hide it in the cat’s litter when you sneak away from dinner. The point is, your priority is how you feel, not coddling your distant relatives feelings. Your body and the way you feel inside of it is not a burden.
Maintain the necessary (and manageable) parts of your routine
When you’re out of your normal element, it can mess with your medication routine. For me, if I miss even one teeny, tiny Synthroid pill, I’m tired and achy for days. If you’re away from home make sure to place medications where you will see them around the time you need to take them. My Synthroid and my toothbrush are like best little pals. They live together in my medicine cabinet so that I remember to take my meds before I do anything else in the mornings. When I’m at my parents’ for the holidays I make sure those two are never separated, even if I’m transporting my toiletries bag from one room to the next.
The holidays throw normal daily routine completely out of the window. Your sleep schedule, eating habits, and physical activity can change drastically during this time. This time of year can take a great physical and emotional toll on everyone, but especially those of us who are chronically ill. Self-care during this time of year means surviving it the best you can, checking in with yourself and really listening to your body to make taking care of yourself as easy and guilt-free as possible.
A version of this story was published December 2019.
Before you go, check out some of our favorite mental health apps for some extra self-care help: