The Holiday Season: that fine part of the year that starts with autumn’s sweet, sharp nip in the air. Outdoors, it’s beautiful! Clear blue skies, scudding clouds, the occasional thunderstorm to keep you on your toes. Fall snaps our cheeks and noses (making them run), and there’s the scent of frost and wood smoke in the air. The trees break out in bright colors as the season deepens. Breezes pick up, sending autumn leaves—red, orange, yellow, brown! —skittering across streets and sidewalks. We break out the cardigan sweaters, then our pullovers, then coats and finally, as winter creeps ever nearer, our parkas.
By the end of November, we’ve almost recovered from Thanksgiving. So, the TV cheerfully yells that it’s time to gear up for Christmas.
Here comes the traveling, the out-of-town company, the housecleaning, the shopping and entertaining and … and … and the Big Day is closing in like a shark on chub. Now you must shop. Your knee is killing you and that left shoulder is stiff and sore, but you’ve got to do it, somehow. You pull your coat on and hit the mall, limping and grimacing, braving the grumpy masses of humanity who are just as delighted to be out here doing this as you are.
And as you do, you think about having to buy that evergreen tree to tie onto the car, getting it into the house somehow, dragging the Christmas decorations out of storage, and decorating that tree while it drops needles everywhere and your feet feel like someones beating them with baseball bats and oh my dog, when are you going to wrap all those gifts?
Reluctantly, we consider the second round of the Holiday Home Cooking Marathon. First, there’s the grocery shopping. You imagine your local market packed to the gills with snarling shoppers. The lines that stretch all the way back to Toilet Paper. Many of the people in them have two loaded carts. The Christmas music blaring over the loudspeakers as your RD knees and elbows throb in three-part harmony. Just kill me now, you think.
And of course, the Big Day traditionally starts before dawn with the ritual slide of the humongous raw turkey into the oven, where it will reside (with frequent basting visits) for most of the day. Then starts the Preparation of the Side-Dishes: the stuffing/dressing; the mashed potatoes and gravy; the cranberry sauce; the candied sweet potatoes; the French-onioned green beans slathered in mushroom soup; the Second Vegetable; the humongous salad that no one will eat; the veggie trays; the bowls of chips and dips; and the pumpkin pie. And an apple pie. Both with whipped cream. Or maybe ice cream—homemade and churned, if your sadistic Uncle Tommy has his evil way.
Oh, no. No, no, no! Even thinking about The Holidays is exhausting.
Because you know that all of it happens as you stand for hours on feet that feel like they’ve got nails in them; when you work with hands that gripe and snipe and bite with each stir of the spoon, cut of the knife, or push of the vacuum. Because you know it’s all up to you. You make The Holidays happen for your family every year, year in and year out.
So, OK. Back up. Whoa! You do know it doesn’t have to be this way, right? Because I’m here to tell you, there are a bunch of things you can do to make The Holidays less stressful and—dare I say it—even fun.
- Repeat after me: I do not have to do all of this alone. Seriously—ask for help. You have rheumatoid disease. It makes you hurt. It drains your energy away. The drugs you take to treat it make you feel like warmed over … well, you know what they make you feel like. So instead of taking The Holidays on as your own personal Moby Dick, ask your family to help you out. In fact, demand it. Send that sulky teenager to the grocery store multiple times. Tell your significant other to get that giant turkey into the oven as dawn breaks. It’s not rocket science. Let the kids mash the potatoes. All of them can pitch in on the housework, hunting down the Christmas tree, and decorating it. You can—gasp—shop online and have all those presents delivered right to your door. You can even—gasp—have your family members wrap them, if you didn’t order them pre-wrapped online. While they’re doing all that, enjoy a nice egg nog. Non-alcoholic, of course, if you’re taking certain drugs for your RD. You know which ones those are.
- Rest at every opportunity. Find yourself with 15 minutes free? Do like soldiers do: catnap. Close your eyes and let your mind drift for a few minutes. If you start to worry, think of your Happy Place. Or, if you can, lay down and take a proper nap for 20-30 minutes. Have a little snooze. It’s surprising how refreshing even these short rests can be. Another option is to meditate for a couple of minutes whenever you get a chance. Again, clear your mind. If thoughts about everything you must do drift in, acknowledge them gently and push them away. Think Happy Place. Rest. Just rest.
- Eat the good stuff. Beginning with Halloween, for many of us a healthy, nutritious diet goes right out the window during The Holidays. But you can take control of that. Have a piece of candy—but keep it there. Just a piece. Eat clean foods whenever you can: fresh, lean chicken or fish, eggs, beans and legumes, and whole grain breads and pastas. Eat all the vegetables you can find—leafy greens, tomatoes, roasted Brussels sprouts, etc. Gorge yourself on veggies. Enjoy a little dairy, not too much, and use plant based fats and oils for cooking and eating. Your body will thank you by feeling lighter and more energetic, just when you need it the most. And you won’t hate yourself in January.
- Don’t sweat the small stuff. The Holidays are the most stressful, overwrought time of the year for many people. So, don’t let them get to you. Remember that they’re largely made up–you don’t have to do everything just so. There’s no law!
- So break those rules! We can change traditions, have veggie lasagna instead of turkey and dressing, exchange hugs instead of presents, and even give money to charities instead of to gigantic junk companies and corporations for useless stuff we can’t afford, don’t want, and don’t really need. It sounds hokey, I know, but love—given freely, no price tags, renewed frequently—is the very best gift we can give or receive. Really.
- Slow down and enjoy the world around you. The fall of the year and early winter truly are beautiful seasons. Instead of stressing—and aggravating your RD and its symptoms—slow down. Now is the time; autumn is when the world quiets, and winter when it goes to sleep in preparation for the wild buzz of spring and fecundity of summer. Go with the season. Let yourself just be. Enjoy the autumn colors, the shapes and infinite variety of the leaves, that fresh, cold snap in the air, the flights of geese across a sky so clear and blue it hurts. The world can take care of itself. It may be The Holidays, but it’s time for you to do the same.