An open book with holiday-decorated pine trees, a ribbon pathway, a menorah, Christmas lights, and conversation bubbles lining its pages.

RA Holiday Survival Guide

The holidays. There is nary a more stressful time when it comes to dealing with people and as much as I love "people," I also say, "Ugh, have you met people?"

It’s a hectic time of year for those who are "healthy," but for those of us who are chronically ill, it’s much worse because stress, for us, is a killer. Maybe literally.

A chronic illness holiday survival guide

In order to help you navigate the last month or 2 of the year while dealing with rheumatoid arthritis or any other chronic illness, I’ve put together a little bit of a survival guide. These are just some tips I’ve learned over the years to help spread out the stress and responsibilities so that it doesn’t hit all at once.

That, and helpful ways to deflect those "hobbyist doctors" who seem to be especially eager after a few drinks at holiday gatherings.

Take your time with food prep and cooking

One of the first things I’ve learned is that not all food needs to be prepared the day it’s going to be eaten.

Might it taste slightly better if prepared right before? Sure. But you know what I have to say to that? Ffffff… oood doesn’t prepare itself so suck it up, guests.

Truthfully, though, if your family is anything like other families, they will be gobbling up the food so fast they won’t care if you deep-fried a shoe. Once you throw enough gravy on it, it’s all - err, gravy? I didn’t plan that out well.

But anyway, it’ll be fine, I promise - most people are just happy they didn’t have to do all the cooking.

Holiday gift shopping throughout the year

Another helpful "holiday" hint is that you don’t have to wait until the end of the year to buy gifts. That’s why the "holiday" part is in quotes – if I see something in May that’s on sale and I know it would make a good year-end gift, I pick it up. That way, half my shopping is done by the time the holidays roll around.

Now, if it's perishable or alive, obviously, don’t do this. If you stash a hamster in your closet for 6 months, all you’re going to end up with is a horrible smell and a big pile of vaguely hamster-shaped goo.

You’d be surprised, but I have to say this because some people will buy a box of candy or a wheel of cheese and stash it for 6 months. Then all anyone gets for Christmas is food poisoning.

Prepared responses for unsolicited advice

Now, in order to deal with some of those "hobbyist doctors" I mentioned above, you should have some phrases ready to go in case the onslaught of advice begins. Things like,

  • "Yes, I’ve heard of turmeric - it’s not for me."
  • "My kind of fatigue can’t be cured by sleeping more or 'better'."
  • and, "Much of my illness affects me in ways you can’t see but I can feel."

These phrases can go a long way to stopping people in their tracks when they say things like, "I read an article about turmeric" or "You really need to get better sleep... it’s why you’re so tired," and that old holiday classic "Well, you don’t look sick."

It’s the greatest hits of chronic illness ignorance and just like the Christmas music that starts on November 1 at 12:01 am, it plays constantly for 2 months. Be prepared.

Remember to take time for yourself

Finally, one of the last tips I can give you after my 30 years of living with chronic illness around the holidays is more of a reminder to actually do the thing rather than the tip itself because I guarantee you’ve heard it before and that is to take time for yourself.

I know some of you parents out there probably disagree, but it’s still true. You have to remember to let yourself have some relaxing time and enjoy the holiday as well. Nobody wants to spend time with The Grinch. I mean, I guess that little dog did, but he probably had no one else to feed him or tie branches to his head like antlers. Besides him, though, no one wants to be around an Ebenezer Scrooge, even Ebenezer himself.

Don't undo all of your hard work

If you are stressed to the max and strung out, then you are going to be cranky, snap at people, and punch mall Santas in the face who ask for donations. Okay, maybe not the last one, but you get the point.

If you do all this to make a great holiday for the people around you and then take a giant poop on it by being awful, then you’ve literally undone all that work and the stress you’ve endured. Don’t be a Santa puncher.

The holidays are a time for gratitude

As you can see, I’ve been through my fair share of holidays with chronic illness and I’ve made all the mistakes so you don’t have to.

I know the pressure can be great to make things perfect, but the real point of this time of year is to be thankful and spend time with others, whether it’s a catered dinner in a mansion or a Big Mac in a bus station bathroom – it doesn’t matter. Enjoy it as best you can and remember, it’s your holiday too. Talk soon.

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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