Gearing Up for the Holidays

With the holidays approaching, I’m experiencing a mix of emotions. On one hand, the holidays can be a magical time of family togetherness and traditions, the stuff that memories are made of. On the other hand, the holidays can be very physically demanding and draining. I have rheumatoid arthritis, so I can quickly become depleted and experience an increase in symptoms in response to over-exertion. Therefore, I’m starting to plan ahead so that I can make the most of the holidays while taking care of myself at the same time. Here are some tips that I use to keep the season merry and bright.

Cooking. Food is one of the central components of most holiday celebrations (and one of the reasons so many of us make New Year’s resolutions to lose the weight we gained at all those feasts and parties). There are many shortcuts to use in the kitchen to decrease the wear and tear that cooking has on my body. For instance, there are now many pre-washed and even pre-cut vegetable options in the produce section, and using frozen veggies is another way to decrease the amount of peeling and chopping required. I’ve also found that some recipes can be tailored to be easier to prepare. For instance, I’ve started using new potatoes when I make mashed potatoes, as their skins are so thin that I can leave them on, adding nutrients and flavor to one of my favorite holiday side dishes while decreasing the preparation required. Using ergonomic cooking utensils with fat handles can make chopping and stirring a little easier. I also rely on my food processor to do a lot of the dicing, mincing, and mixing. Lastly, I keep a stool in my kitchen so that I can do some food preparation from a seated position.

Prepared food. Even when using the above-mentioned kitchen tips, cooking can take a toll on my body, especially when factoring in the shopping and cleaning that it involves. Therefore, sometimes springing the money for catering or store-bought items is well worth it. There are now several chain markets that take orders for a whole range of prepared holiday favorites, from hams, to turkeys, to sides, to desserts. This can be a great way to purchase delicious food and save a lot of energy. When going to potluck-style celebrations, I often volunteer to bring dessert, as picking up a delectable cake or pie from a local bakery is so much easier on my body than cooking, and it tastes as good, if not better, than anything I could make.

Crafts. I have small children, so holiday crafts are part of the fun of the season. Luckily, there are many options of low-cost, pre-packaged kits available from art supply stores or Target. These eliminate a lot of the cutting and clean up involved in arts and crafts time, reducing the strain on my hands and wrists.

Christmas cards. While a hand-written card is very special to receive, all that writing is hard on swollen hands, and even those without RA are finding it difficult to make the time to write individual messages on cards. Luckily, there are a number of websites that make designing Christmas cards a breeze. These can be customized with photos and whatever heartfelt message one wants to convey to their loved ones. I use a photo site to order my Christmas cards, and then I use printed address labels to avoid writing out all the addresses. I have a saved template on my computer, which I update throughout the year whenever someone’s address changes. Then when December rolls around, I just print the addresses out on sheets of labels, and I only have to slap them on the envelopes.

Shopping for gifts. Similar to Christmas cards, our age of technology has made it far easier to shop for holiday gifts. Most Americans, even those without chronic conditions, appreciate the ease of online shopping. However, the ability to shop from a chair or even a bed is a very welcome option for anyone experiencing pain and fatigue. In addition, there are many local stores that have websites that allow for pick-up of items. This way I can spend the time browsing online, and then make a quick stop at the store to pick up my items instead of having a prolonged shopping experience on my feet. I love being able to support local businesses, and this enables me to do that without adding too much strain to my day.

Timing is everything. The holidays are such a time of hustle and bustle that it becomes critically important not to overbook my calendar. If I try to make it to every holiday party, concert, and event, I’m not going to make it to the new year without a flare. Therefore, I have to be selective in deciding which festivities to attend. I also have to space them apart, allowing some time to rest. I even do this for Christmas day itself. We have a lot of relatives nearby, so we don’t travel at Christmas. However, rather than have back-to-back days of festivities, we have started celebrating Christmas Eve with extended family and spending Christmas Day with just my husband, kids, and myself. We have a festive breakfast (whenever we want, because there’s no schedule when it’s just us), stay in our jammies until noon (or all day!), and eat Christmas Eve leftovers for dinner. Even though my husband and kids don’t have chronic health conditions, we all enjoy a lazy day spent together at home, playing with gifts and toys, reading new stories, and watching a holiday film. Replacing a regimented Christmas day with a laid-back day of rest has been a wonderful way to take care of myself during the holidays.

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