Christmas should be a joyful time, yet for many it can be a time of overwhelm and stress. Add chronic illness, pain or other disability into the mix and it’s a whole other ballgame. The playing field changes because we’re forced to adapt and 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, adapt your perspective, kick the Grinch to the curb and take care of yourself without the overwhelm and stress that Christmas can cause. Here are just 21 suggestions to help you cope and make the most of your Chronic Christmas this year.
1. C’est La Vie
With a chronic condition, we might benefit from planning while simultaneously finding planning to be almost impossible. When the festive season arrives, we need to cram more in and struggle to get everything done in time. You might also have events scheduled and tasks pencilled in that require your attendance at particular times. The problem is, things don’t always go the way we want them to and the best laid plans are made to be broken.
We then worry that we’re not going to get everything done or that we’re going to let people down, which is further compounded by guilt and frustration.
If you go through a flare, find your symptoms are unmanageable, or simply don’t feel up to it, c’est la vie. There are things we can’t plan for and it’s hard to accept that which is out of your control. You can only do your best, be aware of your limits and try to go with the flow as much as you can.
The world will not end. Things will work out okay, one way or the other. The hiccups will likely be forgotten by boxing day anyway. The exhaustion and frustration that’s enough to ruin your holidays will linger on for years. Make the best of what you can and let go of the rest.
2. It’s Not Your Fault
If you’re dealing with mental or physical health issues then you know how unpredictable things can become, how many aspects are out of your control. No matter how much you may want or need to do something, it doesn’t always happen. After you say c’est la vie, remember that it’s not your fault. You did not ask for this.
You did not ask for your health conditions or for the struggles you live with every day. But you do the best you can anyway and that’s all you can do. There’s no fault to be found and no blame to be given.
Let yourself off the hook. You’re the only one that can.
3. Celebrate The Small Wins
If you don’t finish your to-do list, if your house isn’t spotless or you can’t attend lunch because you’re too sick, stop beating yourself around the head with the guilt of it all. Instead of stressing what you’ve not done, celebrate what you have.
While thinking of the bigger things, make sure you consider the tiniest of accomplishments too because they add up and often go under-appreciated. It can be helpful to think through the days and break down each action you’ve done even though you’re felt awful, you’ve been in pain, you’ve felt daunted by it.
The smallest of things can feel monumental with a chronic condition, so celebrate each and every one of those achievements rather than kicking yourself for what you’ve not been able to do. Stop flogging yourself for feeling like you don’t measure up because it can feel like nothing we do is ever enough. That we are never enough. That can only change with you in terms of your perspective and how you treat yourself.
Try to tackle any off-putting things and immediately urgent things first to get them out of the way if you can. When we’ve got things we don’t want to do, are daunted about or are dreading having to face, it can be a relief to have them done and in the rearview.
It’s very hard to prioritise when you feel like everything is important, even more so when all of these important things need doing yesterday. The thing is, you can’t always get everything done and you won’t always do it as quickly as you’d like or as you used to do. That’s okay. Whatever can wait, will wait. Ask yourself what will happen if you don’t get to doing a particular thing right now, or even at all. Ask yourself how you’ll feel if you don’t do it. That might help you figure out what to tackle as a priority or not.
At the top of your priority list should be something that is probably already hovering right at the bottom. Looking after yourself, practicing self-care, getting some rest, doing things you enjoy. Don’t let yourself be forgotten in the stress and frustrations because it’ll only lead to more burn out, resentment and negativity. But you already knew that. It’s easier to say it than to do it, but you are worth looking after and only you can make the call to do just that.
5. Gift & Card Lists
Whether you’re giving cards to the whole neighbourhood or just a few select people, putting the names on a list can help you keep track of what’s what, like what cards you might need to buy/make or by what date any need posting. You can note down any emails you might want to send or letters you wish to write, ticking off each as they’re done. This can help in a practical sense as well as giving us some mental clarity.
It’s good to do the same for presents, giving yourself the space to jot down ideas and tick off anything you’ve picked up. This is also a handy way to draft out pricing and keep an eye on your budget. For me, having lists these days is good just so I don’t forget what I bought yesterday! It all becomes a mess of forgotten memories if I don’t put it on paper.
If you find that shopping for cards, writing and posting them is too much for you right now, online greetings are a great alternative. There are various online services, like Hallmark eCards, where you can get free or paid-for ecards to send to any recipient with a personalised message.
Related Reading : 12 Ideas For Personalised Christmas Cards & Ecards
6. Befriend The Mighty To-Do List
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 decluttering, de-frosting the freezer and cleaning out the spare bedroom, to gift shopping, card writing and putting up the Christmas tree. There’s a heap of actions involved in any one of these things, so break the task down into smaller, more manageable chunks.
Even if you’re not really doing much for Christmas, there’s still the usual stuff to tackle, like changing bedding, tidying your living space, completing work projects, attending medical appointments or sorting medications.
It’s a lovely idea to be so organised that Christmas – whatever you do for it – will be calm and stress-free because everything is done and there’s nothing left to niggle away at your brain. That means we pile on even more and force ourselves to keep pushing to get it all done, typically well past our breaking point. The more there is to do, the heavier it weighs on you and the more befuddled your brain will get, so eventually you won’t be able to see the forest for the trees.
Having small tasks set out on paper, in an app, on a spreadsheet or however you prefer, might just help to keep things on track. You might want to set yourself small periods in which to work on the tasks, like 10, 20 or 30 minutes, depending on what you can reasonably manage. Take a rest in between, stretch, breathe and ensure you tamp down any overwhelm.
7. Borrow Inspiration
If you’re stuck for ideas when it comes to gifts and it’s not easy to browse in person because of your health or the Covid pandemic, the online world is great for content and inspiration. Do you want to buy your presents or perhaps make some? Do you want practical, fun, treat, luxury or experience gifts?
Take a mooch around online shops, do a Google search for present idea articles and check out blogger gift guides. Borrow the inspiration and run with it, bookmarking any ideas to investigate further or jotting them down on your gift list.
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“A tidy house is a tidy mind” is true for some, though not for all. If you’re someone who prefers things tidy and gets itchy at clutter or things not in their place, then now is a good time for a small refresh.
Sort out your living space and declutter, setting aside some extra space for any Christmas supplies like decorations, food and gifts. The things you need to get done should be easier and less frustrating with a bit more space and less resistance.
Having a little more space and clarity – mentally and physically – can help reduce stress and anxiety, making you more able to calm yourself, feel joy and truly relax.
Related Reading : 16 Books To Declutter Your Home & Spring Clean Your Life
9. Delegate & Ask For Help
If you’re starting to feel overwhelmed, are there any things that you could ask for a little help with? Not everyone has someone they can ask for physical help with things, so if you do, it’s worth considering asking for a hand. They’ll likely be glad to help in some way, so don’t take on a mountain of tasks yourself if you don’t have to.
If you have a family, maybe split some of the to-do list, giving small chunks of tasks to whomever is able to do them so things get done more quickly and without as much exhaustion on your part. Everyone will be able to feel useful and a part of the proceedings when they have their own role to play.
10. Be Assertive & Say No
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 that 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. It’s wonderful to want to make other people happy, but you can’t do it all the time and you can’t continually do it at the expense of your wellbeing. Those that love and care about you will understand.
Try to keep things simple, which is a good motto when it comes to both limited ‘spoons’ and limited finances. Streamline and simplify what you can if you’re in the position of needing to do this – events, shopping, gifts, decorations etc. You can still have a comfortable, enjoyable festive period by doing a little less. Some of us won’t have a choice in the matter because of restrictions, such as those with chronic illness, and it’s not easy to accept when it’s forced upon us. Make the most of what you can and keep it simple.
It’s also worth remembering that it’s the thought that counts when doing presents, rather than the expense of a gift or number of gifts. When it comes to Xmas grocery shopping, buy food you know will be eaten but don’t overdo the quantities if things 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, which is also appealing during these Covid times. ‘Less is more’ is the saying to remember. It’ll also be a little easier to simplify when you’ve got your lists organised and your environment de-cluttered.
12. Review Your Meds
With holidays over Christmas and New Year, it’s a good idea to check what meds you have and what prescriptions you may need to request to make sure you’re covered throughout this period. Also consider other healthcare items you have or supplements you take, the sorts of things you need to pick up in the shops or online. Ensure you have enough to see you through to the New Year.
This is also really important for those with stoma bags because getting prescriptions from your supplier can take a while, especially with the Christmas rush. Order any medications, prescriptions and supplies now to make sure there are no last minute hiccups and panic.
13. Reach Out & Connect
While Christmas is associated with all things glittery and warm, the festive period can have a way of negatively impacting many. Loneliness, increased depression, worsening of eating disorders, heightened anxiety and stress. It can be overwhelming and it may feel harder to reach out when social pressures say this should be “the most wonderful time of the year”.
Christmas can be difficult for anyone, but it’s a recipe for overwhelm when you add in pre-existing difficulties and concerns. For instance, stresses in your life generally, chronic illness and pain, disability and mental health issues. The constant onslaught of miserable news in the media isn’t going to help anyone either.
Please don’t suffer in silence. Talk things over, vent, ask for help, speak about how you feel, simply connect with others.
14. Prioritise Self-Care
Self-care is important year-round, but it can often slip to the bottom of our to-do list or fall off it entirely when we’re busy or too stressed. When we need to look after ourselves the most is precisely when we might not be doing it.
Self-care is neither selfish nor self-indulgent. It’s a vital necessity. Ensure your basic needs are met. Advocate for yourself and 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. Get some fresh air if you can, try to eat well and stay hydrated, keep on top of taking any meds and supplements. Look after yourself mentally and physically.
It’s wonderful to be able to look after others and make sure those in your life are happy, but you need to make the time and mental space to look after yourself, too. When we have 101 things to do, simply “making the time” can be a monumental challenge.
If you’re always finding that there’s not enough time for you to even get the rest you need or just to take your supplements each day, then something needs to change. This is much easier said than done and I’m a total hypocrite here, but I do hope others reading this might be able to make some changes so that they can better look after themselves.
You deserve to care of yourself. If you don’t and your run yourself ragged, it’ll leave you exhausted, resentful and unable to do what you need to do.
Related Reading : 5 Alternative Thoughts On Self-Care
15. Indulge In Simple Joys
Work on finding small, simple joys in each day. Trying to be a little more mindful might allow you to better acknowledge and appreciate the small joys and comforts. Think about the basic day to day things that can often be overlooked, too.
Build in breaks throughout your days and fit in things you enjoy doing, like reading a book snuggled up in a warm blankie, having hot chocolate and watching a TV series, doing yoga, drawing, whatever it is that brings a smile to your face and soothes your soul.
Get enough rest, treat yourself once in a while to things you want, do things you enjoy, get out into nature, find time to relax. Remember to breathe.
16. Put It Into Perspective
The holiday period is only a couple of days a year. Christmas itself is only 1 of 365 days. It’s not the end of the world nor is it the defining point of your year. It’s a small blip on the calendar, one you can hopefully find some joy in. Whatever happens, it’ll be over before we know it.
See the little stresses for what they are: not all that significant in the grand scheme of things and not worth the detriment to your wellbeing.
Related Reading : 5 Underrated But Super Simple Stress Relief Tips
17. Practice Gratitude
Gratitude practice gets a lot of attention in recent times and while it might sound sickly sweet, it’s surprising just how much we can take for granted and the power that acknowledging the good things can have. Recognising the things we can be happy or thankful about can give us a different perspective and bolster mental wellbeing.
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? What about the day to day things, including the likes of products and services you use. Let’s hear it for the Internet and Netflix! How about your freedoms, like the freedom afforded by being able to drive, the freedom of speech or your ability to make your own choices?
What about your circumstances, nature, the weather, and just about anything else in your life that’s going well, makes you smile, makes you feel lucky, fortunate, wanted or happy? Let these things warm your heart.
When depression is an issue, suggesting you practice gratitude can be like a slap in the face so please leave this if that’s the case. Nonetheless, looking more closely at the goodness can be eye-opening, even if you have to give yourself eye-strain to see the silver linings and goodness in your life.
18. Readjust Expectations Of A Christmas With Chronic Illness
Redefine Christmas in line with what’s important to you and what you can realistically do, not what society and the media perpetuate as being important. There’s more to the festive period than looking glamorous, having a perfectly cooked turkey, the flashiest of gifts and a generally “Instagrammable” experience.
What’s important to you? Comfort, convenience, friends, family, children, small joys, religion, fun and laughter, 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, or comparing what Christmas looks like in reality compared to what you’d like it to be. 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.
19. 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 miserable stressful ball of horror that it can become. I can get stressed with everything these days, from family stuff and Covid preparations, to finances and health issues. It can exacerbate anxiety when you’re juggling with all your worries and a never-ending to-do list. While you’re busy being busy & busy being stressed, the joy of Christmas can pass you by.
Comparison is also a dangerous game. When you look at your own situation and negatively compare it 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. Try not to take things too seriously. For me, sarcasm and childly rude immaturity keep me young and remind me that the person I was pre-illness isn’t totally dead.
This year, I’ve joined the party very late and given in to the naughty elves trend. I’ve got two, perfect for putting in compromising positions around the house. Now I just need to find the time to do something with them before it’s too late and let go of enough stress to be able to laugh. Suggesting it and doing it are two different things.
Let go of the ‘shoulds’, focus on what you do have, and appreciate the small, simple things. Back off, Grinchy.
This is your Christmas to do with it what you will. Have a little fun. Find the funny side to whatever you can and make room for a laugh or two here and there.
Fun. That’s part of what modern Christmas celebrations are 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 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 festive vibes into your bloodstream.
20. Write Your Chronic Christmas Story
With chronic illness, pain and/or disability, our world can get smaller. We may not be going out, attending parties or doing whatever it is folks do around Christmas. That doesn’t mean there aren’t things we can enjoy or that there’s no point in celebrating.
You get to decide what your Christmas looks like. It might be different to what it was in the past or what you would have wanted it to be. Accept what you can’t change, accept any restrictions from health or even as a result of the pandemic, and look to what you can do. Consider what you would like, what you would enjoy, what you can manage and what would make you feel comfortable.
Write your own Christmas. Make the most of it, however you can.
21. Remember : Being Merry Is Not Obligatory
There may be things you’re missing out on at Christmas because of chronic illness. There may also be things that are incredibly difficult and challenging to do, making it an ongoing struggle to adapt and to get through the festive season in one piece.
Trying to avoid or ignore the negative things you’re thinking and feeling doesn’t make them go away. In fact, it can make it worse when we force a mask on our faces, smile and swallow the pain; it bubbles away under the surface and starts to cause cracks in the rigid 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, or even a little of the time. It’s okay to struggle or to feel overwhelmed. 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. If anyone judges that or bemoans your negativity at this joyful time of year, then that’s their problem. Move on. Find someone who “gets” what it’s like or speak to someone close to you that loves you. Online forums, blogs and social media groups can be great for connecting and sharing these things if you need to.
There are certain niches like Facebook groups for those with a health condition or other disability that will have people who “get it”, those who are more likely to have some understanding and offer no judgement because they’re walking a similar path.
Don’t add on guilt and self-recrimination if you’re feeling awful at this time of the year. You’re not alone. We need that time to breathe and to be human.
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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 just pain: physical pain, pain of loss, worry for the future, social pressures, stress, hopelessness, 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 your Christmas based upon your needs and your current situation. Simplify, get organised, practice self-care and gratitude, cut yourself some slack. Focus on being comfortable and on inviting simple pleasures into your life.
Live life your way and write your own Christmas story this year.
Do you struggle with the festive period? Do you have any tips for managing a Chronic Christmas?