Life with RA During the Holidays

While many of us feel the stress of the holidays, the holidays can be a bit more stressful for people living with chronic conditions like Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA). In a recent survey, 264 of our community members shared their thoughts on managing the holiday season with RA.

Almost all survey participants noted that their pain and symptoms get worse due to the stress and extra activity at the holidays (98%). Over half of respondents struggle with cleaning, whether it be their house (77%) or after an event or party (65%).  Holiday cooking and/or baking is also a struggle (67%), as well holiday decorating (49%). Sadly, holiday cooking/baking and decorating were mentioned as two aspects of the holidays participants miss taking part in.

Only 1 in 5 (19%) may hire third-party help for assistance with these types of activities, which is not surprising as issues with finances and expenses affect half of those surveyed. Few respondents work extra hours or a job to supplement their income (29%) this time of year. Beyond financial challenges with gift shopping, the physical effort of shopping itself is a struggle (49%), as well as food/grocery shopping (52%).  Of those citing gift shopping a struggle, 91% shop for gifts online.

Due to RA’s effects on one’s hands, gift wrapping is an issue for many (47%), however very few of these affected individuals use a gift wrap service (23%).  Individuals also mentioned that writing out holiday cards was problematic due to the pain in their hands.

Most individuals surveyed do delegate tasks to their family members to some extent (80%), and 54% delegate tasks to friends.  However, 57% feel their friends and family resent at some level that they are unable to fully participate in the holidays, and more than 1/4 of individuals with RA find that their friends and family do not offer to help more than usual (27%).

Not being able to get enough rest was reported as a challenge for 75% of survey participants, so it’s not surprising that 97% try to rest or nap during the holidays when they can.  More than half (56%) will change their medication regimen during this time of year to cope. A few individuals surveyed mentioned the frustration of their doctor’s office being closed during the holidays, putting extra strain on patients. Unfortunately 26% do not make time or pamper themselves this time of year.

These survey responses can serve as a helpful reminder of how important it is to slow down and take a few moments for ourselves – especially when dealing with a chronic condition like RA. It’s also the perfect time to make use of time- and energy-saving strategies, such as gift-shopping at stores that wrap the gifts for you, as well as buying pre-made or pre-cut ingredients when planning to cook or bake. With the flurry of activity and/or feelings that can accompany this time of year, it’s even more important to indulge in a bit of relaxation and remembering to take the pressure off every now and then. In fact, the most common recommendation provided by survey respondents was to understand individual limitations and pace accordingly -spreading out activities and chores as needed.  When it comes down to it, how you make people feel during the holidays is more important than getting the perfect gift or making that perfect meal. Here’s to enjoying yourself, no matter what you’re doing, this holiday season!

The online survey gathered insights from 264 RA patients, of which 87% celebrated at least 3 holidays this time of year.  Most respondents were female (97%), with an average age of 49.  44% of those surveyed were diagnosed with RA more than 5 years ago and 14% within the past year.  Among those surveyed, 77% were married or in a committed long-term relationship and 81% had children.  Of those with children, 36% had children under the age of 18.

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