IBD Holiday Survival Guide

Elizabeth Roberts Health Guide
  • The holidays bring many things along with them. One of the primary things is gatherings - office parties, family get-togethers, and dinners with friends. Secondarily is food. Thirdly is stress. And for many of us all of these things can build up and possibly cause a bit of depression. Add a little IBD to top it all off and the holidays can be downright unpleasant. But, they needn't be.


    Let's start with all those parties and family gatherings. If you're like me, then even when your IBD symptoms are under control or even in remission, you probably don't have an infinite amount of energy. I find I have far less energy in any one day than I used to have B.C. (before colitis. For me, this means I have to "pick and choose" how I'm going to use that energy. After living with IBD for more than ten holiday seasons now I just know there is no way I'll be able to go to more than two seasonal gatherings in one week and still maintain my health and energy levels. So, I pick and choose. Sometimes this means I don't travel from my home in Colorado to my family home in Wisconsin. Or, I might choose a quiet dinner with some friends over a big, loud holiday gathering with only a few people I'll know and food that's off bounds. Now that I'm self-employed I don't have to worry about an office or work Christmas party, but if that's not an option for you then go, make an appearance, say hello to the important people, then quietly slip out after 30 or 45 minutes.

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    Of course, with all these gatherings comes food. When I was at my sickest and my diet was very limited this seemed like hell to me. Going to a party and knowing that I wouldn't be able to eat anything the hostess was serving only made me feel like an anti-social git. Until that is, I decided to take along a dish with me that I knew I could eat. Of course I called my hostess first and asked if she minded. And I can tell you that never once have I had anyone tell me, "No." Who wouldn't welcome someone helping out? So, I'd make something I knew I could safely nibble on and would also bring a beverage I knew I could safely drink. I also took to eating before I went to a party. This meant that I was fed "my way" before I went and wouldn't be tempted to eat something I knew wouldn't agree with me simply because I was hungry. I've been doing this for ten years now and I've never been shunned, ridiculed, or pestered about why I'm not eating this or drinking that (But, if someone does ask just say you've got a stomach issue, and usually suffices). More commonly I have people ask me for the recipe of whatever it is I made and took along with me. When it comes to food and living with IBD, my motto is "plan ahead."


    We all know that stress doesn't cause IBD. But, even so, I know that stress can make some of my IBD symptoms worse. For dealing with holiday stress I go back to my first point in gatherings and parties when I said "pick and choose." We all want to think that we are a super hero and can do everything for everyone perfectly. Well, the reality is this, we can't. It's not a personality flaw it's just the simple reality of being a human being. You can multitask for 24 hours a day 7 days a week between now and Christmas and one of two things will happen: 1. you'll get it all done and end up sick; or, 2. you won't get it all done, will feel guilty and less of a person, and end up sick. I recommend scaling back your plans to the point that they are realistic. Then, get your family involved in what you do decide to do. Have a family night where you all decorate the house and the tree together. Put on some festive music, a Santa hat or two and let everyone do their own thing. Or, bake some cookies together. Decide to scale back on your gift giving - in the past couple of years my family has taken to having "experiences" with each other rather than giving gifts and we love it. The gift on Christmas morning might be the plans to do A or B in the next week or few months (since we live in Colorado we like to go skiing as a family when my step-son can make it home). Then once the activity has taken place we all have the memories of our experiences for the rest of our lives while a shirt or mechanical gadget will be worn out or forgotten in a year or less. Also, be sure to take time for yourself to help keep your stress under control. Write yourself into your schedule, seriously, I do. Schedule yourself a 30 minute walk, or 15 minutes of meditation, or 30 minutes at the gym, or an hour to enjoy a cup of tea and page through your favorite magazine, or 30 minutes to simply sit and do nothing without feeling guilty. Try it, I think you'll like and appreciate it.


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    Depression and the holidays seem to go together. Holiday expectations and stress, family dynamics, living with a chronic illness like IBD, and economic woes can all add to our feelings of depression. I'm not a psychologist, but I do know that if your depression gets to the point where you find you aren't functioning well because of it then it's time for you to talk about it with your family doctor. For the first year of my colitis diagnosis I met with a psychologist on a twice a month schedule. And I have to say it helped me immensely. Plus, my husband attended a few months of sessions with me and it helped us as a couple just as much as it did individually. But, for short-term holiday depression or blues, I'll go back to some of my suggestions for reducing stress. Be sure to schedule some "me" time. Exercise, write in your journal, meet a girlfriend for lunch or tea, or simply take a bubble bath. We all think there isn't enough time to put any aside for ourselves. But, I actually believe that unless we do put aside some "me" time and take care of our body and spirit then we won't have anything left to give to our family, friends, or co-workers. Sometimes when days are just so jam-packed that I don't get that little bit of me time I like to go to bed about 15 minutes before my husband. I grab my iPod, snuggle up in bed, and just lay there feeling my breath as it goes in and out while I listen to some soothing music. This is the basics of meditating and it is amazing for calming not only your mind but your body as well. It settles all those thoughts and all those muscles and allows me to easily fall into a better more restful sleep making me a happier and healthier person the next morning.


    How your holidays go is up to you. So decide how you'd like this season to go and set out your plan.


    If you have any tricks or ideas for how you manage the holidays be sure to share them with us. Maybe even consider writing your own Sharepost - just click on the "Create a Sharepost" button above and start writing.


    Happy Thanksgiving!


Published On: November 25, 2008