Odds are, if you step into an elevator, walk into a department store, or turn on the radio right now, it wouldn’t be long before you hear Andy Williams crooning “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year!” It’s December. It is a wonderful time of the year for most – including those of us with fibromyalgia.
stressful time of the year.
We don’t hear a lot of holiday songs about increased fibromyalgia pain and symptoms.
What does holiday stress mean to you? Do you find yourself experiencing any of the following symptoms?
_____ Feeling jittery and/or twitchy
_____ Feeling nervous
_____ Feeling anxious
_____ Tightness in the chest
_____ Heart racing or pounding
_____ Heart fluttering or skipping beats
_____ Cognitive confusion
_____ Poor memory or recall
_____ Poor ability to concentrate or focus
_____ Feeling nauseous
_____ Experiencing constipation, or diarrhea, or alternating (both)
_____ Realizing that you’re unconsciously holding your breath
_____ Taking short, shallow breaths
_____ Difficulty falling asleep and/or staying asleep
_____ Increased irritability and feeling short-fused
Of course, these symptoms are just the beginning. There are many more linked to stress and it’s likely that many of them are ones already familiar to you as someone dealing with a chronic health challenge.
The question here is, “Do you find an increase in your stress-related symptoms at this time of year?”
I remember a particularly busy Christmas when my children were very young. I worked full-time, attended school part-time, and felt stretched in far too many opposing directions. I sewed, baked, shopped, wrapped, and prepared for Christmas morning as best I could.
I hadn’t the time to select the perfect stocking stuffers. I hadn’t the financial resources to purchase the gifts that my children asked for. I felt frustrated, overwhelmed, and just plain exhausted. I watched my children open their gifts with my own sense of defeat permeating my experience.
As I later fixed breakfast for the family, I watched my children bring their favorite toys into the kitchen and laugh with each other. I suddenly realized that the disappointment I’d felt over their gifts was my emotion — not theirs. They were enjoying themselves in the moment. I decided to make the meal a bit more fun with music, adding some decorative touches to the table, and some impromptu dancing in the kitchen.
I learned a great lesson that day about taking a step back to see the big picture. Sometimes, we simply get too close to our stressful situations to see them as they really are.
That’s why it’s important to consider the alternatives. Rather than focus on the unavoidable aspects of stress, here are a few suggestions. Below you’ll find 7 Seasonal Strategies to help you to lower your stress levels and put some fun back into your festivities.
Self-Care – For many, when our to-do lists begin to multiply, the first items to get the boot are ones related to our personal health and well-being. Let me be clear: December is NOT the time to take shortcuts when it comes to self-care. Make the time to rest, get a massage, take a hot bath, practice deep breathing, pray and meditate, feed yourself well, get together with friends, read a good book, take a walk outdoors, and get to bed early.
Setting self-care as a priority is non-negotiable.
Synchronize – We’ve mentioned scheduling and planning here regarding fibromyalgia and the holidays. To brush up on a few new tips, check out this post, Tame Your Holiday Fibro Frenzy.
Organizing holiday schedules serves several purposes. First, it alleviates stress as it provides us with the feeling of control over our circumstances. Seeing things – in print and in do-able chunks – takes the stress out of the unknown. Also, when our errands, activities, and events are written down, it’s easier to group them for practicality purposes. We can synchronize our activities to maximize accomplishments and minimize effort.
Getting an objective view of your errands may lead you to group them together in ways that reduce your time, money, and energy expenditures.
Significance – Focus your efforts on activities that are truly important to you – not ones that you think should be important. Sometimes we use money as a measurement of value rather than time. Meaning, we value the money invested in a gift or an activity over the time or effort we’ve invested. Practical homemade gifts can be viewed as frugal, but they also represent the significance you place on the recipient.
Shrink It – As our to-do list swells from December 1st and beyond, it becomes increasingly important to prioritize. For many of us, this means strategically reviewing our limited energy resources. It’s time to take a good hard look at your list and see if you can – right off the bat – eliminate a good percentage of what you have scheduled. Can you reduce your activities by 10% or 20%?
Sometimes, the best thing we can do for ourselves (not to mention everyone around us!), is to decline an invitation or two and just stay home. Which leads to the next stress strategy…
Say It – Although we may anticipate hurt feelings, it’s important at this time of year to express our true feelings rather than put on an artificial front. If you don’t want to go to an event, simply decline — no explanation required. If you feel pressured to host an event and begin feeling overwhelmed, let others know. Maybe it’s time for someone else to step up and help, or perhaps even take the lead. Others aren’t given the opportunity to assist if you don’t express what you need.
Socialize – Sometimes the best thing you can do for yourself is to stay home and curl up with a great book. But it’s also important to recognize that familiar feeling of withdrawal. Pay attention to feelings of isolation, loneliness, sadness, frustration, or even resentment. The holidays can increase these isolating feelings – especially for those dealing with chronic health challenges.
Therefore, it’s important to move outside your comfort zone and socialize. Get out and sing, share, chat, support others and receive support in return. You can help at various community centers, churches, or donation sites. Or, you may choose to keep things simple. Call a friend and go for a walk and follow up by enjoying each other’s company over a cup of tea.
- Sweets – This stress strategy may not seem as obvious as the others. ‘Tis the season to eat more sweets and treats, after all. But, besides affecting our waistlines, eating sugary foods can lead to all sorts of imbalances including increased pain, headaches/migraines, digestive disturbances, immune system damage, and more.
Increased dietary sugar has an emotional impact, too. High blood sugar levels are connected with cognitive issues, depression, sadness, poor judgment, confusion, and more. So, do yourself a favor instead. Limit the treats and provide your body with limitless abundant nutrition.
There you have it. Seven Stress Strategies! Can you review the previous strategies and select ones to implement now? Go ahead and look over the list and see which ones you’ll put into practice first.
the physical and emotional damage resulting from stress.
Would you like a bonus stress strategy? This one sounds a bit weird, but I know it works. I’ve done it myself.
Shrine – For many of us, our holiday happiness quotient relies on our ideas of the perfect day. We have memories or expectations of what we interpret as ideal. Why not create a display that reminds us of what we love about this time of year?
Most of us collect decorations and mementos of this inner idea of the perfect holiday. It’s time to put this collection into one place. Sort through your Christmas boxes and pick out a select few things. Gather items that have sentimental meaning and/or represent your holiday ideal. Then, arrange these items where you’ll get to see them most. You get to decide how much or how little. Create a room, a corner, a mantel, or a shelf that’s just for you. Set up your holiday vignette all in one place to cherish and treasure.
As a suggestion, choose from your favorite books, toys, cards, ornaments, candles, snow globes, centerpieces, village miniatures, decorations, crafts your children made, etc. Put them in one place (you could even choose a private place such as your bedroom dresser or nightstand), and allow yourself the time to take it all in and enjoy the scene.
Fostering the feelings of joy, happiness, gratitude, and wonder is the best stress management strategy of all.
Sue Ingebretson (www.RebuildingWellness.com) is an author, speaker, certified holistic health care practitioner and the director of program development for the Fibromyalgia and Chronic Pain Center at California State University, Fullerton. She is also a Patient Advocate/Fibromyalgia Expert for the Alliance Health website and a Fibromyalgia editor for the ProHealth website community.
Her #1 Amazon best-selling chronic illness book, FibroWHYalgia, details her own journey from chronic illness to chronic wellness. She is also the creator of the FibroFrog™– a therapeutic stress-relieving tool which provides powerful healing benefits with fun and whimsy.
Would you like to find out more about the effects of STRESS on your body? Download Sue’s free Is Stress Making You Sick? guide and discover your own Stress Profile by taking the surveys provided in this detailed 23-page report.