Rheumatoid Arthritis and You: How to Make the Holidays Merrier
Here comes the holiday season– are you ready? Are you ready for holiday parties, family gatherings, and most importantly: are you ready to speak up about your needs? The holiday season can be tough on anyone, RA or not, but when you live with rheumatoid arthritis the holidays can take the challenges of the season to a whole new level. Along with all the fun, you will have a greater chance of flaring if you aren’t pro-active about your self-care. Believe me, I speak from experience, and by that I mean I speak from the experience of many, many years that I put my needs on the back burner and paid for it.
The first way you can limit holiday stress is this: start early, and plan your activities. Get your gift list together and shop before the crowds begin on black Friday. Better yet, order gifts online to avoid shopping altogether. Ticking names off your list will take your internal stress down a few notches and you’ll be ahead of the game. While you’re at it, think about some gifts you can put on your own list when people ask what you want, and include some things that will make your life with RA easier.
As the holiday season begins, keep a calendar of activities and events. As the calendar fills up, look at it realistically and ask yourself- can I really handle everything I’ve committed to? If you are being too ambitious, now is the time to speak up. Think about which events are the most important for you, and gracefully bow out of the rest. Now is the time you can practice speaking up honestly to your friends and loved ones about the limitations you face. As hard as this is, the sooner you do it, and the more clear you are about why you have to miss an event, the better you and your loved ones will feel. Your loved ones will have the opportunity to increase their understanding about RA and the daily impact it has.
This type of conversation is really hard, so whenever I have to tell someone I can’t do something I am direct about it, and I explain exactly why. I find that a clear, concise explanation works really well, something like, “ I would love to join you at that party but because I live with RA I have to be extra careful I don’t get sick during the holidays. This means I need to get to bed earlier, and pace my activities. If I don’t do this, my pain gets really bad and I end up unable to do anything. I’m excited to see you soon, though and spend some quality time with you.” I find that when I explain, not just decline, and emphasize how much I want to spend time with the person I’m talking to, feelings are hurt less, and my connection with the other person improves.
Holiday prep always takes three times longer than you think it will, and takes five times the energy you anticipate, so be picky about what you decide to do. Every year I bake a bunch of cookies for friends and neighbors, which is a family tradition, but I have altered the types of cookies I make. Instead of cut-outs, I stick to cookies you mix and drop on the pan. Nobody has ever complained that they didn’t get a frosted gingerbread man yet! And I save hours of work, which to me is a great compromise. Do the things that mean the most to you, and if you can’t modify them, practice delegating some tasks to family members.
The other real issue during the holidays is that is also happens to be cold/flu season. I live in the Western US and my family lives in the East, and in years past I would always travel to see them. I also always ended up sick when I returned home. A few years ago I was ill for six weeks after my trip and I realized that I had to make some changes. I made the hard decision to not go back East during the holidays but instead visit during the spring and summer. It’s tough missing out, but I know that I’m doing the right thing. When I do travel I am always early to the airport to avoid rushing, and I bulk up on zinc and vitamin c beforehand. I also stay as rested as possible and keep hydrated, both things that improve resistance to colds.
Speaking of being rested, if you do find yourself visiting loved ones, remember to stick to your body’s schedule as much as possible. Early to bed doesn’t make you a party pooper, just a really wise person, just ask Ben Franklin! Earplugs and a fan for white noise are my two best friends when I visit people, and I always travel with extra aids to keep me comfortable. It may seem like I’m packing for a two year old, but sometimes this is what I feel like my RA is, so why not?!
During the upcoming months it is even more important to listen to your body, keep tabs on your pain and energy levels, and take the action you need to in order to have a very merry year. How do you take care of yourself during the holidays? Do you have any tips for me? If so, leave your comments below!