Surviving the Holidays with Chronic Illness

The holidays are just around the corner, and you may already be feeling exhausted or wondering how you’ll get through it all. Whether you’re attending get-togethers with friends and family, going out to parties, or hosting in your own home, the holidays can take an awful lot from already-low energy stores.

If you find yourself in a similar quandary this year, you might find these tips and suggestions helpful.

Shop Online

One of the great advantages to living in our generation is the accessibility of online stores! This is convenient at any time, but if you are living with chronic illness or disability, it just might be the lifeline you need to survive the holidays!

Online shopping doesn’t just mean shopping from big box stores, either. There are hundreds of small businesses, handmade shops, and cooperatives out there supporting smaller sellers. Many local shops also have an online presence, allowing you to shop small and local without ever leaving your couch.

This time of year, there tend to be countless sales and promotions, as well. Watch for free shipping, discounts for email subscription, and flash sales. If you have a list in mind of gifts you would like to get, it makes it even easier to watch for and take advantage of these sales.

Grocery Delivery

The pandemic didn’t do us many favors in general, but the one upside for us spoonies is that it increased the number of stores offering curbside or at-home delivery. Take advantage of these services! Whether it’s for a month’s-worth of groceries, or just a stock-up to get you ready to host, it just makes sense to save your energy for things other than grocery shopping. Many stores also offer free delivery or shipping for non-grocery items, such as toiletries, paper goods, cleaning supplies, etc. Less energy expended wandering the store aisles means more energy for holiday get-togethers!

Shortcut Cleaning Routines

Sure, you need a clean house if you’re going to host. But it just doesn’t pay to exhaust yourself cleaning! Most of us can’t afford to hire a professional cleaner, so instead, streamline and shortcut your way through cleaning. As much as possible, plan ahead. Tackle one room per day or cleaning session, starting with the least-used room (it’s less likely to get dirty again before company comes). Corral clutter into neat boxes or bins under beds–you can always sort through it after the holidays. For the actual housework, check out my post on tips for minimizing energy expenditure while you’re cleaning. As an added bonus, all of these ideas use inexpensive things you probably already have on hand, so they’ll trim your budget before the holidays, too!

Cook Food Ahead

This is my mom’s favorite trick, and she uses it often. When she’s hosting a large group of us (or even just my family), she often cooks all of the food ahead of time when she has the time. She either freezes or refrigerates it, depending on how far in advance she’s done the cooking, and then just rewarms everything in the oven on the day of the get-together. In her case, it’s a time saving trick. In mine, it’s an energy-saver. If I’ve spent the day of the celebration cooking and cleaning, I can guarantee I will not have enough energy to enjoy the company I’ve worked so hard to prepare for! Almost anything can be refrigerated or frozen for later use: meat, side dishes, desserts and baked goods, casseroles, etc. This trick lets you pace yourself, preparing just one or two things at a time leading up to the holiday–which can be far easier than spending a whole day cooking multiple dishes.

Delegate and Accept Help

Oh, boy. This is a hard one for me… Most people are gracious enough to ask what they can bring to a get-together. And, to be honest, I often turn them down out of a sense of duty to be the ultimate hostess. But I never mind bringing a side dish or dessert when I’m invited elsewhere, and chances are, neither do your guests. The old adage, “Many hands make light work,” rings true when it comes to hosting and celebrating. Take people up on the offer to bring food! Spread the workload, so that everyone can enjoy the holiday. You can even get creative and host a potluck, or plan a progressive dinner with courses of the meal eaten in different homes.

If you live in a home with other people, this is the time to delegate some tasks. Even small children can be assigned to gather supplies, help with cleaning, or do other small tasks. If you live with teenagers, this is a great time to pull them in and get them working alongside you. Everyone in the home contributes to the mess and workload, so everyone can have a hand in doing the work!

Find One Thing that Brings Peace

The busyness of the holidays can be overwhelming at times. The fatigue, sensory overload, overwhelm, and frequent depression that accompany big events can really set you back. You may also feel a resurgence of grief feelings as you come face to face with your limitations and changed abilities now that you are living with chronic illness. So it’s important to find ways to ground yourself during the holidays. Find one thing–an activity, item, person– that brings you peace. It might be a cup of tea and a good book. It might be a craft like knitting or crocheting. Maybe it’s a song that you love to listen to, or a walk through a wooded area on a quiet morning. Whatever it is that feels like a breath of fresh air to you, make time for it. It will help ground you, settle the feelings of overwhelm, and help you to enjoy the chaotic moments that follow your peaceful interlude.

Schedule Rest

Along similar lines, it’s important to remember to schedule rest. We are slowly coming to grips with the fact that rest, for me, is as essential as things like meals and showers. I have to have some time to rest, or I am unable to function (or I run the risk of crashing). When we make plans with friends and family we intentionally schedule downtime into the middle of our day. While I rest, others can visit, take a walk, or prep the evening meal. Or we gather in the afternoon or evening after I’ve had time to rest up. Either way, it’s an essential part of the day, and we schedule around it accordingly. There’s no shame in that: this is just the reality of what we need to survive.

It’s OK to Say “No”

There are so very many opportunities and invitations around the holidays, and it would be easy to spend every day and every evening hustling from one gathering to the next. If that’s your cup of tea and you can manage that pace, by all means, enjoy! But for most of us, that kind of pace spells disaster. So before the holiday even rolls around, commit to giving yourself permission to say “no.” Sure, you may be missed at some of the celebrations. No, you may not be able to do everything that’s on offer. But if you can say “no” to some opportunities, you will have energy and bandwidth left for the things that really matter to you this holiday season. Prioritize what is most important to you. Be realistic about what you can handle. And know that it’s perfectly OK to sit out some celebrations. In fact, I would say it’s the wise thing to do!

Happiest of holidays to you. I wish you joy, enough energy, and the ability to be fully present in your celebrations this year.

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