Getting the Most out of Your Holidays Living with Rheumatoid Arthritis

  • Are you ready for the holiday season?  Is everything shopped, shipped, and wrapped?  Have you decorated, cooked, partied, and cleaned up?  Are you traveled out, partied out, and fatigued-ly down for the count?


    WAAAAAAIIIIIIIIIIITTT!!!.....Hold on, it’s not January yet.  We’ve only just begun the holidays. So far, we’ve had the Canadian Thanksgiving Weekend and Halloween.  Next up, this week, is the American Thanksgiving family/food/football/shopping extravaganza.  Then Chanukah, Christmas, and New Year’s.


    Six weeks of go-go-go, high expectations, exhaustion, shopping, gatherings, more exhaustion, chronic illness, and an apparent no-end to the need to have fun, be merry, and to celebrate with an overabundance of, well, everything

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    Did I mention exhaustion?  An excess of that, too, if we’re not careful.


    Those of us who live with chronic illness, especially rheumatoid arthritis, know that the holidays can be anything but merry if we are not careful to pace ourselves and be smart along the way.  The best piece of advice I could give is to take care of yourself first and foremost.


    Be willing to say “no.”  Decide what is most important to you and your family, and then manage expectations accordingly.  Ask for help and let people really help you.  Delegate and simplify.


    Holiday Shopping
    Shopping at the mall can be difficult any time of year, but is especially difficult when everybody else is trying to do the same.  One of the best tools we have at our fingertips is the internet.  We can compare prices, view pictures of items, and stores will often ship to any address you request, something which can be very helpful for those out of town recipients.


    Let me share with you one of my favorite gifts to give in recent years.  Gift Cards.  Seriously, I have found cards provide an excellent way to let others enjoy the fun of shopping for exactly what they would like to have, especially during the excellent post-Christmas sales.  And here’s an even better secret.  Throughout the year I regularly use a credit card which accumulates credit for a “cash back bonus.”  At Christmas time, I will cash in some of that credit for gift cards to give away to family members.  It’s almost like found money and very easy on the pocket book, too.


    Take Care of Yourself
    It may be cliche, but you need to remember to take care of YOU.  Just as you should during the year, continue to get restful sleep, eat well, and exercise.  Respect your body’s need for movement and/or rest.  If you are traveling, please read Lene’s post - Planes, Trains, and Automobiles: Traveling with RA - for excellent advice on staying as comfortable as possible during your excursions.


    Feeding yourself nutritious food which will help to combat the inevitable stress which seems to come during the holiday season.  A change in routine and diet can put enough stress on you mentally and physically to open the door to a flare-up just at the most inopportune time.  When tempted with festive “goodies” be aware of whether your RA is sensitive to the extra sugar, gluten, or saturated fat often found in yummy cakes and cookies.  Balance your desire to partake in all that is offered with your body’s desire to stay inflammation-free.


    Holiday Food and Parties
    Speaking of food, will you be cooking or hosting?  I’m hosting this year and I’m going to do what I did a couple of year ago.  I am ordering a Turkey dinner designed to serve 6-8 people, complete with sides and pie, from the local grocery store for $40 US.  Then I will supplement with one of the dishes I loved as a child (Green Bean Casserole) and a great salad.


    If you are hosting a large group of people, please consider going pot luck.  Design a menu and ask families to bring 1-2 dishes depending upon the make-up of your guests.  As a child, we had every imaginable food at holiday dinners.  But when I think back, we also had 6-7 families coming together, each bringing at least two dishes.  Of course, there was a bounty of food!!  Pot luck is definitely the way to go for a large group, in my opinion.

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    For excellent tips (and links to other articles) regarding cooking when you live with a chronic disease which can impair your mobility, strength, and dexterity, please read Vicki’s post - Food and MS: Tips for Cooking.


    Plan for Medical Issues
    Before the holidays arrive, it is good to know your doctor’s office schedule.  Will the office be closed for an extended period of time?  How can you contact the on-call doctor if an urgent need arises?  Do you have enough medication to get you through the holidays?  What should you do if you experience a flare?


    Make sure that you do have enough medication on hand during the holidays so that you don’t find yourself in need of a refill or new prescription only to have limited or no access to health professionals who can help you get what you need.  If you have a history of using a steroid Medrol-Pak to handle minor flares, request a prescription from your doctor so that you have access to treatment when you need it during the holidays.


    Ask your doctor what he/she recommends you do if problems arise.  Basically have a plan in place so that a bump in the road causes as little extra stress as possible.


    Relax and Enjoy Yourself
    Be clear about your values and priorities for the holidays, then plan your activities according to those values.  If decorations and cookies are not as valuable to you as preserving your energy for other things (like spending an evening with friends) or protecting your painful and often delicate joints from over-use, then do not spend (as much) time baking cookies or creating elaborate decoration displays.


    It may be difficult the first or second year you consciously adjust your own expectations of the holiday season (and those which others may impose upon you), but it is worth it in the end.  Learn to be selective on how you spend your energy.  Learn to say “no” to others and sometimes your own inner voice.  Be willing to enjoy an “imperfect” holiday.


    As For Me....
    I will be coming back to re-read my own words here as a reminder of what I truly believe are important considerations when balancing my own physical, mental, and quality-of-life health needs with the expectations (mine and others) to be merry and have fun during the holidays.  And since I will be traveling to visit family back home in Oklahoma for a full week at Christmas time (including spending extended time with three young nephews), I will need to put my own thoughts into action while I’m gone.


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    What about you?  How do you plan to balance holiday desires with physical needs during the next 6 weeks so that you aren’t sleeping away the month of January?


    Lisa Emrich is author of the blog Brass and Ivory: Life with MS and RA and founder of the Carnival of MS Bloggers.

Published On: November 21, 2010