RA and the Holidays: Dialing Down the Stress
The holidays are here, the time that tradition kicks in more firmly than any other time of year. That means doing everything the way you did last year and the year before that and so on. You have expectations of yourself, expectations to perform at a certain level. You always bake seven different kinds of cookies, because that's what your mother did when you grew up. The silver has to be polished and the house decorated inside and out. You can't not show up to the holiday parties, especially not the ones with a potluck, because people depend on you. There's a mountain of cards to be written and a mountain of work to be done before the end of December. Presents have to be bought and wrapped beautifully, just like you always have.
And when you have rheumatoid arthritis, it can be completely overwhelming. The pressure to do all the things we used to do can wear you down at any time of the year, but even more so during the holidays. Sometimes, it all becomes symbolic of the changes in your life and all the things you want to do, but can't. The gap between your expectations and reality seems impossible to bridge and before you know it, you're in the middle of a depression. How do you stop the spiral and get back to enjoying the holidays?
Keep It Reasonable
Last year, my family started a discussion about downsizing expectations for our annual Christmas Eve celebration. Since we all think Christmas dinner is the best meal of the year, we're not touching the menu. However, we are transitioning from the special china and silverware to paper plates and regular utensils. Doing it the fancy way is all right when there are five or six people for dinner, but our family has grown over the years and 12 people for dinner means a lot of washing up. Lo and behold, we discovered that the best meal of the year tastes just as wonderful on paper plates!
Write everything down and then take a look at your list. Chances are it would bring even a healthy person to their knees. Think about your energy levels, your pain levels and whether the items on your list are reasonable. No one needs seven kinds of cookies. Really. One or two is sufficient and if you want more, there are enough specialty bakeries that you can throw money at the problem. E-cards are easier to write and a lot more eco-friendly. You get the point. Reigning in your expectations starts with taking a good look at yourself and being prepared to see the insanity. Then start trimming items that are not essential to your happiness. If you can't find any, you have been caught up in seasonal madness already. Ask a good friend to help you.
Use a Team Approach
We all have holiday traditions that are important. Often, those holiday traditions tend to primarily be the responsibility of one person. This is definitely not reasonable, even for those who don't have a chronic illness. Remember that it's the traditions that are important, not how they get done.
This is where the team approach can help save your traditions, your sanity and your health. Involve your kids in the preparations — down the road, this will become some of their favorite memories of the holidays. Share jobs between you and your spouse. If you're hosting a party, make it potluck and tell everyone to buy the food, rather than making it from scratch. Talk to friends about getting each other the gift of time and the extra money that would otherwise have been spent on hunting down the perfect present for one another. In my family, making all the food that is important for Christmas has become a team project. In this way, my mother is passing on the ability to make the best meal of the year, everyone bonds together over the gravy and we all have the energy to enjoy the day.
The holidays are not about putting together the dinner for your family that could rival a spread in Martha Stewart’s magazine. Whether you celebrate this time a year for religious reasons or with a more secular bent, the focus is on love, light and togetherness. Your family's ability to truly enjoy each other has more to do with everyone connecting to the light and love. The less stressed you are and the more you have been able to keep yourself (and those around you) from being exhausted and flaring, the better your holidays will be.
The best gift you can give your family is that you are able to be part of it. So relax. Enjoy the season.
Do you have an idea to keep the celebrations reasonable? Please share it in the comments and let's all help each other have a wonderful holiday!
Lene is the author of the award-winning blog The Seated View.