Five Tips For Managing The Holiday Season With Chronic Illness

Nov 09, 2022

Five Tips For Managing The Holiday Season With Chronic Illness

Enjoy this guest post by Natasha Graves, MPH, MBA, CHES, patient advocate and Founder and CEO of VacayAbility.

The holiday season can be a magical time for many people, with holiday-themed activities and decorations, family gatherings and various parties. However, for those with chronic illnesses, the chaos of the holiday season can mean flares, mental and emotional stress, and anxiety.  

Here are some tips to help the holiday season go more smoothly: 

Plan Ahead 

The most important tip for managing the holidays with chronic illness is planning ahead. Between gatherings, long to-do lists, and holiday stress, you don’t want to set yourself up for a potential flare.   

  • Some people like to spread activities and to-dos like cleaning and cooking out over several days in order to prevent a flare, while others like to do it all at once and plan recovery time. Mitigate some of that risk by planning ahead and managing your time to your specific needs, and no one else's.
  • Going to a gathering with food? Food allergies and MCAS can be hard to navigate, especially when gathering at other people’s houses. Always tell the host that you have food restrictions or specifications. You can also offer to make (or buy and bring) your own dish that you know you can eat, to make sure that you aren’t left out at mealtimes.
  • If you are a tubie or don’t orally eat, the holidays that gather around meals can be difficult. Don’t be afraid to dress up your IV pole or feed bags to get into the holiday spirit and dial up your other senses by listening to holiday music or lighting holiday themed candles, if you have no smell aversion.  
  • Let family members know in advance of your needs and don’t be afraid to say no if you don’t feel comfortable going to certain events. 
IV pole with feed bag

Take A Seat 

Cooking? Baking? Wrapping gifts? Want to be in the middle of the holiday action? Pull up a chair! Save your energy and try to minimize pain levels by doing as many tasks as you can while seated. Bringing your own camping stool, rollator, or cane with a seat can ensure that you will have a place to sit, wherever you go this holiday season. 

Set Boundaries

It seems as though there is always that ONE relative that wants to make comments about your chronic illness, weight, having children, drinking alcohol (or lack thereof), or all of the above. While some of these relatives or friends have good intentions, it can still be stressful and anxiety inducing to manage the comments and questions.   

  • Set boundaries for yourself. Avoid gatherings with those people altogether or come up with responses beforehand to help reduce any negativity. Although these boundaries are important, often what is forgotten is setting boundaries physically. Don’t forget to take breaks, both physically and mentally during gatherings or during busy days.
  • Sometimes just preparing for an event is energy draining, so don’t forget to recharge in whatever way suits you best.
  • Setting healthy boundaries with yourself and knowing when to take a break is important so you don’t spread yourself too thin and so that you can enjoy the joy of the holidays.   

Pack A Survival Kit

While you are out and about, make sure you have all the necessities with you to ensure that you can make the most out of your holiday season. Some of these items include: 

  • Headphones 
  • Blanket or Sweater: sometimes people’s houses can get chilly 
  • Extra medications 
  • Snacks: you never want to be hungry  
  • Water bottle 
  • Vitassium 
  • Fidget Toy 
  • Safe word: let your family or friends who your safe word for when you need to leave or need to step away when you are feeling overwhelmed or overstimulated 

Have Fun 

Overall, life with chronic illness can cause all types of anxiety and stress. Don’t let the holidays cause you more (easier said than done). With a little prep, you can still relax and have fun, no matter what your plans are for this holiday season.   

Natasha in front of Christmas tree