When Chronic Illness or Life Circumstances Affect Your Holidays Negatively
I’ve created some holiday checklists here for those with chronic illness, and those who want to lend a helping hand. Holiday seasons are a time for fun and bonding, yet they can also be stressful periods, more so for some than others.
Whilst many are out shopping for gifts, there are single mothers struggling to provide a simple meal for their children. Whilst many are drinking in celebration, there are also many who are drinking to drown their sorrows. Whilst many are hopping from party to party, others are under their covers crying all alone in pain. The list of contrasts doesn’t end here.
Unlike others, those who live with chronic illness may find the holiday season a trying time. They might even dread instead of look forward to all the festivities.
It is not uncommon for them to create holiday checklists. Many of them start planning a month or two in advance, just so that they will be able to ‘perform their duties’. For those who have loved ones with chronic illness, perhaps you’d like to help, but have no clue on how to do so.
*Post Updated: 06 December 2021.
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Holiday Checklist 1: What to Do with Chronic Illness, Before the Holiday Festivities Go Into Full Swing
- Schedule in Time for Breaks. Have you scheduled in some rest time both before and after each activity? It’s easy to become absorbed in all the fun and festivities. But chronic illness has a way of demanding payback later. Don’t fear it, but don’t neglect pacing your energy levels.
- Ration Your Energy Wisely. Will this dish/decor/routine/task really make a big difference? Is it worth spending your limited energy supply on, or is there an easier alternative?
- Ration Your Energy Further. Is this obligation a necessary one to fulfil? Or would it be better to spend that energy on something more meaningful instead?
- Simplify and Improvise. Is this a task you can simplify? Instead of creating something from scratch, perhaps part of it can be pre-made? Instead of hauling a pile of groceries or presents home, perhaps you can shop online?
- Delegate and Channel the Holiday Spirit. Are there any tasks you can delegate to someone else who’s willing to help out? Don’t feel bad about it, especially if they offered assistance. They will be happy to help, and your body will thank you for it. It’s the season of giving for everyone, after all!
- Pack Your Medications Beforehand. I’m sure every person with chronic illness has a pouch in their bags that contain medications. Both emergency ones, and their regular ones. Ensure that everything’s packed, not expired, and easy to access should you need to pop a pill.
- Don’t Forget Your Comfort Tools. Comfort tools don’t have to be anything fancy, and can make a big difference in helping you to cope. Perhaps a hot water bottle, a pair of migraine glasses, or even essential oils. Things that help to relieve your mind and body of some stress, pressure and chronic pain.
- Rope in a Lookout Buddy. Do you have someone to look out for you? Especially someone who’s familiar with your chronic illness and its pre-flare symptoms? An extra pair of eyes that will notice should you be overdoing things, or if you get a little confused? If you don’t, you can also run a trustworthy person through your ‘chronic illness emergency protocol’.
- Know Your Exit Plan, in Case You Need to Leave Suddenly. In the event where you need to leave early due to chronic illness, what will your ‘exit plan’ be? Do you need to label or put your gifts somewhere first? Do you need to have a plastic bag, essential oil, or medication on hand for sudden symptoms?
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Holiday Checklist 2: Self-Care To Dos Whilst Attending an Event with Chronic Illness
- Check in with Yourself Every Hour or So. Are you drinking enough water? How are you feeling? If you notice a decline in your health or mind, do something to make yourself feel better. For example, lie down on the sofa, rub on some essential oils, or simply take your leave. Set an alarm if it helps you to remember.
- Ignore the Ignorant. Create Good Memories. If someone is making ignorant remarks about your chronic illness, remember that you don’t have time or energy for this nonsense. Their fleeting, thoughtless comment is not worth your health or anger. Spend it on creating good memories that you can treasure and keep instead.
- Keep Breathing! Take some time every now and then to steady and destress yourself through your breath. It’s beneficial for your mind, body, spirit and emotions!
Keep Listening to Your Body & Adapting. Are you feeling safe, assured and comfortable? If not, what can you do to feel more relaxed and thus, last longer with less backlash pain?
Chronic illness and mental health can go in a vicious cycle. So don’t forget to pay attention to both aspects, and assess what you can do to help yourself to feel better. It doesn’t have to be complicated. Sometimes a shift in perspective can make all the difference.
- Speak Up. If you’re slightly unwell but still would like to join in the festivities, then voice it out. For example, you can always sit and watch others play games, without having to participate in them physically.
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Holiday Checklist 3 (For the Supporters): What You Can Do to Support Those with Chronic Illness
Don’t Wait for Those with Chronic Illness to Ask for Help. Offer It. Offer to be their ‘lookout buddy’. You don’t always have to wait for someone to ask for help. Often when they do, it’s because they’re already at their wits’ end.
Be their personal advocate. Ask them for permission to bug them often with questions like, ‘how are you feeling?’. And, ‘is there anything you need help with?’.
- Offer to be Their Kitchen or Cooking Assistant. Even without chronic illness, chopping, slicing, dicing and washing up to prepare food takes effort. For a person with chronic illness, this can lead to chronic pain and flare ups. You don’t need to be a kitchen wizard to help out with such chores, so go ahead and ask if you can be of help!
Offer to Do Their Christmas Shopping or Groceries for Them. Get a list of items to buy, and go for it! Shopping for presents or groceries can be tedious tasks even on a regular day. The extra precautions needed to be taken due to the COVID-19 pandemic can make them even more exhausting.
You can help to sanitise and put the groceries away, which can take them hours to do. Which also means that they barely have much energy left for the rest of the day. Or perhaps help to purchase all their gift items online or offline in one go. Chronic illness can make sitting and/or typing at the computer exhausting as well.
- Engage Their Minds. Set them at ease. Tell them jokes, chat and gossip. Relieve them of the worries that are probably playing on repeat in their minds. And yes, you can talk to a person with chronic illness like a normal person. Chances are, they’ll appreciate that a great deal!
- Offer to Keep an Eye on the Kids or Pets. Children and pets will ultimately be their parents’ responsibility, but you can help lighten some of the load. Children are full of energy and questions. Maybe you can burn that off by running around with them, and satiating their curious minds. It’s your chance to be that cool aunt or uncle 😉
Offer to Take Them Outside for a Short Breather. Ask if they’d like to go out for some fresh air every now and then. Holiday events can be boisterous, chaotic and noisy.
Sound, scents and lights can be huge triggers for those with chronic illness. They not only have an impact on mental well-being, but can trigger pain flares.
Take your friend or loved one with chronic illness some place quiet. Get some fresh air and re-stabilise, before rejoining the crowd.
- Help to Conserve Their Physical Energy. Minimise their need for movement, as this can add up quickly. On a normal day some movement is probably good for them. But attending an event is already an exhausting activity in and of itself, when you have chronic illness in tow. Let them chill out on the sofa whilst you serve up some yummy delicacies, if they can eat them!
- Treat Them Like a Normal Guest. Seriously, I love it when people treat me like a normal person. It makes me feel the most welcomed, understood and comfortable. When people hesitate to ask me questions, or treat me with special attention all the time, it can get awkward. It makes me feel like a child who is incapable of caring for herself.
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I wanted to say ‘treat those with chronic illness with an extra sprinkle of thoughtfulness’. But thinking about it, shouldn’t we treat everyone that way regardless?
Merry Christmas and happy holidays to all! I hope that these holiday checklists were useful both to those with chronic illness and their supporters.
End the year as best as you can, wherever you are in life! Do you have more tips to add to these lists? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!
*Disclaimer: This article is meant for educational purposes and is based on the author’s personal experiences. It is not to be substituted for medical advice. Please consult your own doctor before changing or adding any new treatment protocols.
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