The holiday season offers many opportunities to relax, party, shop, spend time with family and friends, travel, eat lots of goodies, and have fun. However, for people living with chronic diseases like multiple sclerosis (MS), the change in routine can take its toll, especially if you go-go-go until you drop.
How can you protect yourself against the consequences of holiday fun?
Remember that MS is a constant companion. Just because there are so many cool things to do during the limited number of days of the holiday season doesn’t mean that you should neglect your own health. Continue to eat nutritious food and respect your body’s need for exercise and rest.
Stay hydrated. Holiday parties frequently offer special drinks, particularly alcoholic beverages. This is not the time to substitute your eight glasses of water each day with eight glasses of wine, beer, or eggnog. To compensate for the dehydrating effects of alcohol, increase your water intake. Alternate a glass of wine with a glass of water to keep those brain cells plumped up and hydrated.
Get enough sleep. Living with MS can mess with your sleep, but a change in routine can make problems worse. Try to avoid staying up late on the computer just to get in a little more online shopping or to look at all your friends’ party and pet photos on Facebook. Allow yourself time to wind down in the evenings to prepare yourself for sleep. Keep the bedroom dark and avoid all electronic screens for at least 30 minutes before bedtime.
Anticipate medical needs. Stay on schedule with your medication even if your schedule gets off-kilter. Before the holidays arrive, it’s a good idea to make sure you have enough medication on hand to avoid a desperate call to the doctor’s office for an emergency refill only to discover that they’re closed. If you are traveling, pack extra medication just in case your travel plans change.
Stretch daily. Even if you don’t have the time to exercise as much during the holidays, take time each day to stretch thoroughly and move through your full range of motion. Time spent cooking, shopping, decorating, and socializing take a toll on the body and stiff muscles can quickly make it difficult to function. Staying limber will help you enjoy time with friends and family.
Be selective. Carefully choose how you want to spend your energy. Be clear about your values and priorities for the holiday season and plan activities accordingly. If decorations and cookies are not as valuable to you as preserving your energy for other things, then don’t devote as much time to baking cookies or creating elaborate decoration displays. Learning to say “no” to others, and your own inner voice, may be difficult at first, but an “imperfect” holiday can quickly become a most enjoyable holiday.
Take a time-out. If you are sensitive to sounds and easily feel overwhelmed, schedule your quiet time; even 30 minutes of meditation can help you feel more physically and mentally balanced. Since I experience sensory overload on occasion, I try to anticipate the situation. At parties I’ll ask the host where I can go to find a quiet spot for a few minutes during the evening. Once there, I might plug my earbuds in my phone and listen to some soothing music for several minutes and close my eyes to help “reset” my brain.
These are just some of the very practical ways I try to reduce the risk of triggering a relapse during the holidays. What are some of the ways you manage the stress of the holiday season? Please share in the comments below.
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Lisa Emrich is a patient advocate, accomplished speaker, author of the award-winning blog Brass and Ivory: Life with MS and RA, and founder of the Carnival of MS Bloggers. Lisa uses her experience to educate patients, raise disease awareness, encourage self-advocacy, and support patient-centered research. Lisa frequently works with non-profit organizations and has brought the patient voice to health care conferences and meetings worldwide. Follow Lisa on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.