Tips for Surviving the Holidays with RA

  • The air is a redolent with the aromas of pine and gingerbread, there’s a Santa on every corner, and kids are counting down the days. For those of us who live with RA, the expectations and activity of the holidays also tend to bring a twitch by your left eye, increased exhaustion, and every day, the impending flare builds a little more. How do you stop from pushing yourself so far past your limits that you spend New Year’s in bed nursing a massive flare? This post will give you some tips on how to get through the holidays in one piece and actually enjoy them.



    Image credit: Lene Andersen

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    Embrace “Good Enough”

    So much of the stress of the holidays can be traced back to the pressure to create a perfect occasion. It’s more than a little unreasonable and is a surefire recipe for an RA flare. Take a deep breath, step back, and get a different perspective. Perfection is for Martha Stewart and other people who have staff. For the rest of us, embracing the concept of good enough can be liberating.


    Store-Bought is Just Fine

    The December holidays raise the bar significantly. Whereas ready-made is just fine for normal busy weeks, at this time of year, everyone’s baking five kinds of cookies, making hostess gifts, and serving a big spread where everything must be made from scratch. Considering that many of us who live with RA are pushed to the limit by our regular routine, these kinds of expectations will add a level of stress to the psyche and body that virtually guarantees you won’t have a good time. Luckily, December also raises the bar for grocery stores, filling them with special treats and delicacies. Throw money at the problem and buy what you can.


    Scale Down

    Christmas is not a competition, yet every year, we try to outdo ourselves. Why not try a different approach this year? Instead of going all out, look at where you can scale down. Call a family meeting and talk about what’s essential to each of you and which traditions can be put on the shelf. Set a $20 cap for Christmas presents or use the Secret Santa system. Not only can this help you find a more intimate and meaningful way of celebrating the season, but it also leaves some money in the bank.



    Why should you be responsible for most of the preparations? Delegate wherever you can. If you’re hosting the dinner, ask everyone to bring a side dish or dessert. Nominate decorators and dishwashers. Share the load so everyone, young and old, contributes to creating a special day. A wonderful side effect of this approach is an atmosphere of togetherness and laughter that gives everything a special shine.


    Shop Online

    I truly believe that online shopping is a thoughtful gift from the universe to people who live with chronic illness. Instead of rushing around the malls carrying heavy bags, you click things on your computer and your mail carrier brings them to you. Most places will even gift wrap your item for a small fee.



    Taking care of yourself is a novel concept to many people who live with RA, but it is also an essential part of managing your disease. Listen to what your body tells you about its limits and let that guide what you do each day. I bet that sentence made you snort in protest, while exclaiming that nothing would get done. If that’s so, consider whether your list is too long. Remember that the other person who has a really long list this time of year has elves to help him and only works one day a year. Is it reasonable for you to do it all without elves?


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    Seek Out Rest

    People with RA need more sleep than the general population. Grabbing some rest whenever you can will help you get through the holidays without too much extra pain. Finding space to rest in a busy season can be a challenge, but you don’t have to go for a two hour nap (although, if you can, by all means do so). Recharging can be as simple as taking 10 minutes to drink a cup of tea while looking at the Christmas lights.


    Shift Your Focus

    The busyness makes us all turn inward, running through mental lists of what we still have to do. We rush through preparing for the holidays, moving so fast that we don’t enjoy them. Take a deep breath. Slow down. Look around. Listen to the carols, take the time to wish store clerks and bus drivers a happy holiday. Really look at them when you say it, creating a moment of quiet in the middle of the frenzy. Enjoy the sights, smells, and sounds of the season.


    Do you have any tips for getting through the holidays without triggering a large flare?



    Lene writes the award-winning blog The Seated View. She’s the author of Your Life with Rheumatoid Arthritis: Tools for Managing Treatment, Side Effects and Pain and 7 Facets: A Meditation on Pain.

Published On: December 10, 2014