Celebrating the Holidays with RA

  • There’s only a week left until Christmas and you’re looking at your lists and despairing of ever getting it all done. Unlike Santa, you don’t have a cadre of elves helping you out. Your plans for a calm and stress-free Christmas have — let’s face it – gone belly up. You might as well start preparing yourself mentally for the RA flare that will no doubt arrive just as you hear the clop-clop-clop of reindeer hooves on the roof.


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    Or will it? This close to the Big Day, is it possible to derail disaster and enjoy the holidays without having to spend a week healing afterwards? You bet!

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    Managing Expectations

    Something interesting happens when you get a chronic illness like RA. Most people react by increasing their expectations of what they should be able to do. Is it overcompensating? Denial? Who knows, but the end result is that plans for Christmas can start rivaling those of Martha Stewart. And she’s got elves (a.k.a. staff)!


    The first step to sanity is to manage expectations, both those of others and your own. If you`re hosting Christmas, assess what’s necessary. Is it really essential to make an elaborate turkey dinner for the whole family, with seven side dishes, three desserts and four different cookies for later? Is it essential that you are the person who makes every dish? Decide now what`s important and start talking to your family about delegating the work. It’s better to successfully pull off your part of a potluck dinner, than to destroy yourself being solely responsible for an elaborate spread. If everyone contributes one dish to the meal, no one will become stressed to the point of breaking and you’ll all be better able to enjoy the day.


    When you start the process of managing expectations, perspective is soon to follow. Asking yourself what is truly essential is a wonderful way to get back in touch with the reason for the season. This time of year is about showing the love you have for others. It’s about spending time together and making time for each other. The wrapping on the gifts doesn’t have to look like a magazine spread and it’s all right if the tree is a little crooked. Tradition is an important part of a family holiday, but if following tradition means that you’re laid flat for a week afterwards, it’s not worth it.


    All traditions had a beginning. Even if it feels as if you been doing that particular part of Christmas forever, there was a time when it wasn’t part of your Christmas – or perhaps your parents,`if it goes back further in your family history. Think about making new traditions. Every member of the family could be charged with creating something that celebrates what Christmas means to you. It could be a decoration, a song, writing letters to each other, making each other something nice instead of buying an expensive gift, eating dessert before the main course – the possibilities are endless. What matters is that it’s something that makes you all smile, laugh or perhaps tear up a little.


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    When you have RA, rest is an important part of managing your disease. People with RA need more sleep and can often benefit from a nap in the middle of the day. During the busy holiday season, rest often becomes optional. Combine less downtime with more stress and you have a recipe for a flare.


    Going to bed at a sensible time and having a short nap can make all the difference. If you give your body the rest it needs, it will repay you by carrying you through the holidays without your joints having a temper tantrum.


    Just in Case                                                     

    Even if you rearrange Christmas to be utterly sensible, this time of year is busier than normal. It’s a good idea to prepare for the possibility of an RA flare – you hope for the best, but prepare for the worst. Talk to your doctor about a “just in case” prescription for prednisone, should you get a flare. Make sure you have some backup meals in the freezer and enough movies to keep the kids happy if you collapse in a heap the day after Christmas. Make your plans flexible enough that they can be downsized, should you need it. And most of all, remember to tell yourself that you and your family being together is the important thing. Maybe ordering pizza will become your new Christmas tradition!


    Best wishes from the HealthCentral team for a wonderful holiday season!


    Lene is the author of Your Life with Rheumatoid Arthritis: Tools for Managing Treatment, Side Effects and Pain and 7 Facets: A Meditation on Pain. She blogs at The Seated View.

Published On: December 17, 2013