Having a Happy Holiday Season Without Sacrificing Your Health
Having rheumatoid arthritis is expensive in every way. It eats up money, time, and energy, and it never stops to rest. It also doesn’t give you a break during the holidays, which makes this time of year the most challenging time of the year for many of us. Add the fact that winter weather is really tough on a body with RA, and the inevitable flu season, and you have a recipe that doesn’t sound so sweet. Is it possible to not only get through the holidays, but enjoy them as well? I’ve found that with a few concessions, a few lifestyle tweaks, and the help of loved ones, the holidays can be a fun time had by all.
What RA has done for me
I always like to focus on what RA has done for me instead of what is does to me, so along that vein, RA gives me the opportunity to focus on the true meaning of the holidays, love and support. By focusing on these things, I tend to worry less about the number of batches of cookies I make, or whether I can get to every holiday event. Instead, I think about how to find the most meaningful gifts for my nieces and nephews, and the friends and neighbors I want to say thanks to. Over the years I’ve focused more on quality versus quantity when it comes to the time and energy I put forth for and with the people around me. And during lean years money-wise, I’ve found that by planning ahead and coming up with some special homemade gifts I don’t put extra financial stress on myself but I still spread some real holiday cheer.
One of the concessions I’ve made to stay healthy during the holidays is that I don’t travel across the country the way I used to every year, and although I have to admit it hurts my heart not to see my relatives, I’ve found that it works; I no longer spend most of January recovering. Instead, I spend a quiet holiday with my husband and see the rest of my family at other times of the year. I don’t put pressure on myself to do a lot of baking for friends and neighbors the way I used to, instead I play it by ear. I set aside a few days and then adjust what I do according to how I feel. This year that meant two kinds of cookies instead of three, but I didn’t have anyone complain!
Holidays are a good time to practice self-care, and during the holidays I really try to conserve my energy wherever I can. I often think of something I heard in an interview with Audrey Hepburn. She said when she was just starting out someone gave her the advice to always sit when she got the chance, because the long days on set can be exhausting. I often find that I even if my joints are screaming at me I feel funny sitting in a group of standing people, but I feel emboldened if I remember that Audrey Hepburn would do this too! Another perk of doing this is that by the New Year you will have already created a new health habit; keep it up and you will have a jump on your New Year’s resolutions!
Speaking of self-care, this is the time of year when you can speak up and ask for things, so why not ask for a few items that will make your life easier all year long? If you find yourself unable to justify buying something for yourself, why not let someone else do it for you?! There are so many products out there that make life more comfortable, and often after medications and doctor visits, there isn’t much left over. Just remember that you can make your gifts count; instead of getting another scented candle, as thoughtful as this is, you could get a muscle cream, or a lavender eye pillow, or a massage wand. If you feel shy about speaking up about what you want, have someone else do it for you. Appoint your significant other or best friend to be the one to spread the word. I always send an email to my family with a wish list that they can pick from. That way, instead of another sweater which I’ll love but may not need, I can get a cool kitchen gadget that will save my hands.
One of the trickiest parts of the holidays for me has been spending time with loved ones. I’ll see my seven year-old niece and the last thing I want to do is to stop our game to take a nap, even if I desperately need to lie down. What I’ve learned to do is to plan my time, as much as this is possible, so that I can use my energy in the most efficient way. Is it really going to break my niece’s heart if I don’t join her and eight other kids outside building a snow hut? If I say no to that it won’t be too disappointing and then I’ll be able to spend some one-on-one time that will mean a lot more for both of us. The holidays can be a good time to practice speaking up about your needs, because who better to practice on than people who love you and have known you all your life? When I have to say no to something, I try to say no, but. No, I can’t do this, but I can do that. No, that event runs too late for me but yes, I’m looking forward to having brunch with you tomorrow. Whether you explain why you are saying no is up to you.
Just like many things RA, the holidays can be challenging, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be enjoyable too. I’ve found that the best way to make the holidays enjoyable is to be honest with myself and others about how I’m really doing and then to plan accordingly. For me, this has meant many adjustments to how I celebrate, and beginning to prepare as early in the season as I can. Every year it gets easier to say no to things and every year I find new ways to celebrate that work better for my body and my life. I’ve learned that this isn’t selfish, it’s smart. And I’ve found that it helps me to ring in the New Year feeling ready for what is to come instead of worn down by what just happened.