Self-Care for the Holidays with Chronic Illness

Patient Expert

Do you remember the holidays last year? If you’re like me, you have only a vague impression of exhaustion, pain, and needing several days to crash. It’s a holiday myth that these days are filled with quiet joy and love. Instead, they become a frenzied rush of shopping, socializing, and desperately trying to subdue your chronic illness while you do all that you feel you should. And it’s a recipe for spending the holidays in a world of hurt.

How about we make 2015 the last year that happened? This post shares ideas for how you can get through the season with your health and sense of humor intact. It’s inspired by my new book Chronic Christmas: Surviving the Holidays with a Chronic Illness, an Advent calendar of tips to help you get through the holidays and actually enjoy them.


Get reasonable

The holidays are characterized by exuberance in everything — food, decorations, parties, shopping, baking, and so on. All of it is done to the max and it’s exhausting.

One of the best things you can do for your self-care is to approach it all with the intention of being reasonable. Moderation is key to getting through the marathon of holiday celebrations. For instance, eating small amounts of the rich and wonderfully tasty foods will make you feel better than if you overindulge. Talking to your loved ones about getting reasonable with gift giving will help everyone face the new year having a bit more money. And limiting the events you attend will make it less likely that your chronic illness will flare.

Also, looking at everything you feel you should do with a critical eye helps you eliminate what isn’t truly necessary.

Ask for help

You see this particular tip in every article that talks about self-care. This is because it is an essential part of living better with a chronic illness. And also because we are all so very bad at admitting we need some support. There is a perception that asking for help shows weakness. Which, when you think about it, is completely ridiculous. Everyone needs help at some point, whether you have a chronic illness or not.

Asking for help can make your holidays much less stressful and give you the time and energy to do everything on your list (well, almost). Accepting help also can be a gift to the people who love you. They may feel helpless in the face of your illness and giving them something practical to do to make you feel better will make them feel better.


No, that wasn’t me having a hairball. “Hygge” is a Danish word and concept that’s hard to translate exactly. It connotes warmth, love, togetherness, and coziness, and that’s a big reason that the Danes are the happiest people in the world. We (as you might know, I hark from Denmark) treasure time together, talking over some yummy food with the table lit by candlelight. Although candles and food are a big part of hygge, all it really takes is two people together enjoying each other’s company. This holiday season, why not embrace your inner Dane?

What makes the holidays memorable isn’t an impeccably decorated home and a perfectly cooked meal with seven side dishes. What we remember is spending time with each other, talking and laughing, and sharing treats (store-bought is just fine). And when you focus on what’s really important, you’ll be able to participate instead of being curled up on the couch in pain.

One of the “side effects” of living with chronic illness is that it tends to increase your expectations of yourself. As you come face-to-face with no longer being able to do all the things you could before getting sick, you may try to hang on to a sense of normalcy by forcing yourself to keep going. And as the holidays approach, with their emphasis on creating the perfect celebration, it just gets harder. And so, instead of looking forward, we come to dread the inevitable exhaustion and pain.

Thinking about what you really want to do this season can help you prioritize where you spend your time and energy. Which makes it more likely that you will be able to enjoy yourself this holiday. Because that’s the goal, isn’t it?

You can get my new book Chronic Christmas: Surviving the Holidays with a Chronic Illness on Amazon. It is also available in Kindle format.

See More Helpful Articles:

I’m Fine: Learning to Ask for Help

Four Tips to Stop Pretending and Live Authentically with a Chronic Illness

10 Tips for Building and Maintaining Energy with Rheumatoid Arthritis

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