Christmas with Chronic Illness: 10 Coping Strategies for Flare-Free Festive Cheer


christmas with chronic illness: 10 coping strategies for flare-free festive cheer - text over a photo of a christmas wreath and a gingerbread reindeer with an iced heart on it's back and a red gingham ribbon scarf
It may still be November, but oh my, things are in full festive swing it seems.

(I have ‘Christmas’ in the title, but I am including all festive celebrations).

But for many of us living with illness and pain, for those in hospital, or grieving loved ones, struggling with feeling lonely, or with money issues, the festive time can feel like a lot of pressure.

CLICK TO TWEET: I believe it IS possible to enjoy the festive season and Christmas with chronic illness, pain and life challenges. Let’s go in consciously and find our joy…

Here are my top 10 tips from 13 years of having Christmas with chronic illness to help you enjoy the holidays no matter your circumstances:

Read part 2 here

1. Investigate Intention

What do you want for your Christmas? I don’t mean what’s on your wish list, I mean what would you like to enjoy during this season? Happiness, joy, togetherness, excitement, companionship, generosity, feeling creative, feeling restored, feeling received, feeling included, feeling in faith?

When we check in with what we are looking for from our festive experience, we can arrange things to get those needs met. Often there’s an an idea that these things just ‘happen’, that they are the natural result of the holidays. I’m not sure that’s true, but I think lots of activities in the holidays can result in such experiences.

2. Exceeding Expectations

What does Christmas mean to you?
What are your hopes or worries?
Is there nostalgia in the mix?
Are your expectations realistic?
Are they yours or based on popular culture?

When we are clear on our expectation of a holiday then it’s much easier to enjoy it. When there’s an unexamined, unmet need for this holiday to be ‘the best ever’ or ‘the one that heals the wounds’ or ‘the time when I really connect with _____’ and ‘finally get some rest’ it can be a powder keg. Because it probably can’t be all those things at once, and can’t be anything unless we choose to make it so. It’s a huge amount of pressure to put on just a few days. So let’s check in – what are we secretly hoping/expecting – and is that something we actually want to try and get at this time of year?

3. Body Blessings

What does your body say? Think about your festive plans or hopes and listen, if you can, to your body while you do. Do the coming holidays feel expansive and relaxing, or pressured and painful?

What do you need to do to give some space for your body? Maybe you need to ask for the company meal to be at a more accessible restaurant? Perhaps you need to set yourself a schedule and pace your energy or decide you don’t have to say yes to every request. What are you dreading – card writing? Gifts to the nieces and nephews? That reunion party?

Think Radical compassion – maybe you don’t have to do it! The world won’t end if you don’t do it, or if you do it in your own way. Exhale and find some space for you.

4. Animal Antics

When I am feeling stuck between what my body needs and what I feel society expects, I always think – what would an animal do?

For example, in Wales, the festive season is the coldest, darkest time of year, weather-wise. Is this the time to act really energetically? To go out to lots of extroverted events? Try and travel across the country to visit people? To eat lots of unfamiliar, rich food? What would an animal do? They would be hibernating, sleeping, conserving their energy. They would make any big migrations before or after winter. I am a human animal, and not exempt from the impact of nature and the weather. So I follow the animals ways and take care of myself with activities that make ‘the soft animal of my body’ feel good.

5. Positive Parties

Parties are amazing opportunities to bask in joy and happiness – but they frequently bring up huge challenges, especially for those in pain or with illness. Travel. Unsuitable food. Emotional or physical overwhelm. Over-stimulation. Navigating expectations. Awkward questions. And, for those of us with mobility aids, new or inaccessible environments. With pain or without, parties present unique issues. But with forethought and savvy planning, they can still be managed and – even more importantly – enjoyed. If there are parties you’d love to attend and want tips to navigate them, check out my article on How to Party with Pain.

What are your tips for managing the festive season? Let us know on Twitter!

Read part 2 here

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