Christmas should be a joyful time, yet for many it can be a time of overwhelm and stress. Add chronic illness and/or chronic pain to the mix, and the whole playing field is changed. It may not be possible to do the things we used to. Christmas no longer looks like it once did.
Don’t let expectations and pressures ruin the festive season. Get organised, readjust your expectations, kick the Grinch to the curb and take care of yourself without the overwhelm and stress that Christmas can cause. Here are a few ways to help you cope and make the most of Christmas this year.
C’est La Vie
I can manage to get through almost anything symptom-wise if I have to. But there are some things I just can’t power through: cripplingly bad migraines, and small bowel twisting/stoma problems, for instance. Better make that three: the mysterious days that disappear from my memory where I’m too sick to move. With chronic illness, plans can often go awry or be cancelled at the last minute because we feel dreadful. We then worry more that we’re not going to get things done or that we’re going to let people down. For instance, for me when it comes to the ‘big day’ I worry that I’ll wake up crushed by a migraine or with my insides doing the twist and jive.
These aren’t things we can plan for. We can only prepare in terms of knowing how we could deal with the fallout. Your health comes first. It’s cliche, but it’s not the end of the world if Christmas plans go to pot. It can’t be helped and it’s not your fault. Worrying about this sort of thing happening only makes you feel worse. Try to get go a little. C’est la vie.
Tackle the off-putting things and the immediately urgent things first to get them out of the way if you can. You can’t always get everything done, and that’s okay. Other stuff can wait. Pace yourself and what you have to do. Make sure self-care and rest get a top spot on your priorities list.
Gifting & Card Lists
Grab a pen & piece of paper (or new word/spreadsheet document for the more 21st century folk 😉) and write down who you’re buying for this year. Underneath the names, jot down ideas of things you might want to buy or make. Tick them off as you get them, and add anything you randomly purchase. Keep a note of how much you spend to be able to track your budget.
Then write up a list of who you’re sending Christmas cards to, including e-cards and emails. Prioritise any that need to go abroad as they’ll need to be sent a little earlier. Check last posting dates and make a note to make sure you get everything sent on time. Tick them off as they’re posted/emailed.
When it comes to gifts, find inspiration in the shops or do it more comfortably and conveniently online. Check out the InvisiblyMe gift guides for some ideas :
To-Do Lists Are Your Friends
Get organised and draw up some lists and reminders. Figure out what you need to buy in terms of groceries and treats for Christmas. Chocolate tubs, drinks and snacks should all go on there. Shop around and make use of any offers on the run up to Christmas. Online grocery shopping can be fantastic for this, especially if you’re buying a lot of bulk and heavy items that can be challenging to pick up in person.
Write down what you need to get done for Christmas. From de-frosting the freezer to cleaning out the spare bedroom and putting up the Christmas tree. Break things down into more manageable chunks and smaller tasks. You can even set aside small blocks of time for different tasks, like setting yourself 10 or 20 minute periods to work on each thing, taking a rest between and ensuring you don’t get overwhelmed.
Sort out your living space and declutter, setting aside some extra space for any Christmas supplies. Having a little more space and clarity, mentally and physically, can help reduce stress and anxiety, which is all the more important to do when things can easily get on top of you over the Christmas period.
Delegate & Ask For Help
If you’re starting to feel overwhelmed, are there any things that you could ask for a little help with? Don’t take on a mountain of tasks yourself if you don’t have to.
If you don’t want to do something or don’t feel up to it, be assertive and politely decline. If you’ve planned to do something, only to find when the time comes you’re not well enough, say ‘no’ to it, accept that best laid plans often go to pot when dealing with chronic illness, and move on. If you’re feeling pressured by social events or family expectations, calmly explain you’re not up to it. You don’t owe explanations beyond what you wish to give, and you have every right to say no to things.
Try to keep things simple, which is a good motto when it comes to both limited ‘spoons’ and limited finances. It’s also worth remembering that it’s the thought that counts, rather than the expense of a gift or number of gifts. Buy food you know will be eaten but don’t overdo quantities if they may be wasted. Online shopping can be a great help for gifts and groceries to keep the amount of driving or trudging around shops to a necessary minimum. ‘Less is more’ is the saying to remember.
Don’t suffer in silence. Talk things over. Vent. Ask for help. Tell someone how you feel. Christmas can be difficult, especially when chronic illness comes into the mix. If you’re also dealing with grief, loneliness, eating disorders, depression or anxiety it has the potential to become overwhelming. Reach out, whether that’s to online support or offline friends and family, or a professional, such as Samaritans or Beat in the UK.
Self-Care & Simple Joys
It’s a time of goodwill and giving, and yet going things for others can leave many people neglecting themselves. Self-care is neither selfish nor self-indulgent. It’s a vital necessity. Ensure your basic needs are met. Advocate for yourself, be assertive in what you need. Appreciate how you’re feeling and acknowledge it. Manage difficult people who make you feel bad about yourself in some way; speak up or ignore, it depends on you and the situation, but nobody has the right to make you feel like that.
Work on finding small, simple joys in each day. Get enough rest, do things you enjoy, find time to relax, get some fresh air if you can, try to eat well and stay hydrated, keep on top of taking any meds. Remember to breathe.
Review Your Meds
With holidays over Christmas and New Year, it’s a good idea to check what meds you have and what you may need to make sure you’re covered throughout this period. This is also really important for those with stomas because getting prescriptions from your supplier can take a while, especially with the Christmas rush. Order them any medications, prescriptions and supplies now to make sure there are no last minute hiccups and panic.
Put It Into Perspective
Christmas itself is only one day a year. The events surrounding it may last a week or a little longer, but that’s still a lot less than the rest of your life. It’ll be over in the blink of an eye. See the little stresses for what they are: not all that significant in the grand scheme of things.
Readjust Expectations Of A Christmas With Chronic Illness
Redefine Christmas in line with what’s important to you, not what society and the media perpetuate as being important. There’s more to it than everyone is looking gorgeous with an abundance of food, the perfect turkey, the flashiest gifts with a focus on a perfect ‘Instagrammable Christmas’. What’s important to you? Comfort, convenience, friends, family, children, forgetting about pain briefly, having a laugh, being able to be yourself.
It’s also a time to readjust your expectations to fit more in line with your body, your health and your current situation. It can be hard comparing the pre-Chronic Christmas with the Chronic Christmas. It can be heartbreaking. But it’s possible to enjoy at least some parts of the festive season with a change of perspective. Consider what you can physically, mentally and emotionally manage. Focus on what you can do, not what you can’t.
Tell The Grinch To Back Off
If you’re like me, there’s a battle with the inner Grinch to contend with. Christmas should be fun, or at the very least not quite the stressful ball of horror that it can become. I can get stressed with a lot, from family stuff to finances and health issues. It can exacerbate anxiety when you’re juggling with all your worries; while you’re busy being busy & busy being stressed, the joy of Christmas can pass you by.
When you look at your own situation and negatively compare to others, it’s an open invitation to the Grinch to take over your brain.
Tell the Grinch to back off. Remove negativity where you can, and fill your life with small simple joys. Remember what matters. Ask your inner child to come out to play.
Let go of the ‘shoulds’ focus on what you do have, and appreciate the small, simple things.
Have a little fun.
Fun. That’s part of what Christmas is all about, right? We knew that as children, but many of us lose it along the way and it’s not surprising. Do something you enjoy and surround yourself in little festivities to get you more in the Christmas spirit. Look at Christmas light displays, try some Christmas crafts, browse Pinterest, get a Christmassy desktop wallpaper, sing along like a maniac to cheesy Christmas music, whatever it takes to inject a little lightness and some festive vibes into your bloodstream.
What are you thankful for? What big, small or tiny things are you grateful for this year, this week, right this moment? Who do you love, who are you glad to have in your life in some way? Are you safe, warm, and fed? Let these things warm your heart.
Remember : It’s Okay To Not Be Okay
There may be things you’re missing out on at Christmas because of chronic illness and/or pain. There may be things that are incredibly difficult and challenging. Trying to avoid or ignore the negatives doesn’t make them go away. In fact, it can make it worse when we’re push on with a brave face and swallow the pain; it bubbles away under the surface and starts to cause cracks in the hardened exterior we’ve tried so hard to construct.
Sometimes we just need to acknowledge how we’re really feeling. It’s okay not to be okay all of the time. There’s a lot of pressure on being positive and practicing gratitude, and these things are great to an extent – but we still need to acknowledge the things we’re sad about or the aspects we struggle with. We need that time to breathe and to be human.
Christmas is a different experience for everyone. Some love it with a sense of happy abandon and glee. Some hate it and see it as commercial nonsense. Others will predominantly feel pain; physical pain, pain of loss, worry for the future, stress, loneliness. Let’s let go of the judgements and the expectations.
Forget what others are doing, forget how Christmas ‘should’ look and what you ‘should’ be doing. Focus on what matters to you and redefine how your Christmas will look based upon your needs and your current situation. Simplify, practice self-care and gratitude, focus on being comfortable and inviting simple pleasures into your life. Live life your way and write your own story this Christmas.