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How to Survive the Holidays with Chronic Illness

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The holidays can be hard when you live with chronic pain or an illness like Lyme disease. While you want to do everything you can to make the holiday experience wonderful for your family, Lyme disease symptoms (like fatigue and brain fog) may be hard to even find the strength to put up the Christmas tree.  If you find yourself in this situation this holiday season, read on to find ways to enjoy the holidays in spite of chronic pain and illness.

The Holidays and Chronic Lyme Disease

1. Set realistic expectations. Adjust your expectations of yourself so that they are more realistic considering your current abilities. If you only have energy for a few hours of activity at a time, don’t push through to accomplish those activities that require more time and energy than you have to spare. Be kind to yourself and remember that it’s okay to say, “No.”

2. Prioritize your time. Realize what is worth devoting time and energy to, and don’t do those things that don’t make the list. Consider just putting up the tree this year, instead of the extras like the holiday village, outside decorations, and other things you don’t have energy to do.

3. Ask for help from family and friends.  Often, friends and family want to help with holiday dinner and parties, and they are more than happy to bring food. Don’t try to prepare the meal or host a party by yourself, as this will deplete your energy and cause more stress and pain that will be difficult to recover from later.

4. Plan ahead. Mostly likely, you’ll be juggling Lyme disease treatment in addition to the holidays. If you feel overwhelmed with the tasks that need to be done, such as shopping or cleaning the house, break these activities down into bite-sized chunks that will be easier to accomplish. Start well ahead of your deadline, take frequent rest breaks, and listen to your body when it tells you to quit for the day.

5. Resist the urge to handle all the preparations by yourself. Delegate some activities so you can spend your energy doing the things that only you can do to take care of yourself, such as getting adequate rest and exercising as tolerated. If your budget allows, consider paying someone to do those tasks that deplete your energy, such as housekeeping.

6. Shop online. Let online vendors do the work for you, so that you don’t waste precious energy looking through every store in your city for just the right gift. Consider giving gift cards or cash, as almost everyone enjoys having the ability to pick out what they really want.

7. Go easy on holiday cards. Send online holiday letters and e-cards this year so you don’t have to spend a lot of time writing, stamping, and mailing cards. Write one letter and send it in a blanket post to all your friends via social media, or consider just sending cards to those who send you a card.

8. Find low-key ways to spend time with family. If you’re like most Lyme disease patients, you’ll attempt to put on a brave face around family and friends, even when it’s to your detriment. However, if you want to have special time with your kids or grandkids but don’t have a lot of energy, do things that allow you to rest while having fun, such as watching a holiday movie or making paper snowflakes.

9. Take shortcuts where you can. Buy baked goodies from the store instead of spending hours baking them by yourself. Don’t give in to the unrealistic expectation that you have to bake everything from scratch this year, and don’t feel badly about putting the store-bought goodies onto your own plate! With so many healthy options, you can stick to your diet and still have a treat!

10. Be selective about how you spend your time. When you’re in the throes of chronic Lyme disease, it can be challenging to keep with the demanding holiday schedule that most people follow. Instead, participate in those activities that mean the most to you and let the rest go. Going to every Christmas party you are invited to will wear you out, so just go to the one that your closest friends or family will be at.

11. Keep self-care in mind. Make time for your self-care activities, such as taking baths to help with pain control or taking a nap so you will have enough energy. More time devoted to self-care means that you will have less pain and more energy to participate in the activities that are most important to you.

As you do the above things, you will be able to enjoy the holidays without feeling the overwhelming stress of unrealistic expectations and decreased physical capabilities. Be good to yourself this year by extending the same kindness to yourself that you are giving to others.

This article was first published on ProHealth.com on December 5, 2015 and was updated on November 23, 2019.

Laurie Miller, RN BSN MS, is an author, nurse, wife, and mom who has lived with chronic pain and illness for 9 years. She enjoys reading, spending time with family, and blogging at God-Living with Chronic Illness.


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