Surviving the Holidays with Chronic Illness – Tips and Tricks

Tips for the Holiday Season with Chronic Illness

The holiday season is here and with it comes a collective groan from almost everyone in my chronic illness communities. Everyone seems excited about the holidays, but we are all expressing worry, dismay, and stress at surviving the holidays with chronic illness without flaring.

The holiday season is stressful on those of us who have limited energy and suffer from pain. We have to manage our health while getting through shopping, cooking, winter events, travel, and much more. Click To Tweet

I’m speaking honestly when I say that November and December are my most dreaded months of the year.

The pressure is always on to do more during these two months. After spending two out of the last four years in the hospital at this time of year, I’m very aware that I should be doing less! I rest and pace as much as possible to end the year on a semi-decent note with my health.

New Taipei Christmasland

Surviving the Holidays with Chronic Illness

Here are a few quick tips that I use to get through the holidays with Ankylosing Spondylitis, Fibromyalgia and ME/CFS:

  • Pacing and management are key to getting through the holiday season.
  • One outing per week is my golden rule for the whole year, but it’s especially important during November and December.
  • Plan a rest day before and after each outing or event.
  • We try to attend one or two events during December IF WE CAN. If we can’t, we don’t feel bad about it.
  • My husband does the grocery shopping. I help him unpack, but I let him do all the grocery shopping and remain grateful that he is able to do this for us. I try not to feel guilty about not being able to help him with this anymore.
  • I do all my Christmas shopping online. I never feel bad about sending gift cards.
  • Keep it simple. We don’t go overboard on decorating.
  • Say ‘no’ and don’t feel bad about it.
  • Remember to practice self-care and self-love.

De-Stressing

As I mentioned above, the holiday season is stressful for those of us who are chronically ill. Over the past four years, I’ve made some adjustments to our day to day life during November and December to get through the holidays without making myself worse.

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My number one rule for life, but especially during the holidays is to manage my time well.

I have an online calendar that I’m diligent about with upkeep. I allow myself one short outing per week and a hospital visit.

If I have to leave my house, I make sure I don’t do anything the day before or the day after so I have time to rest. This really helps with stress as well because then I don’t have to worry about how much energy I’m burning through over 48 hours. I know I have two 24-hour recovery windows before and after each event.

2016 Banqiao Christmas Light Show Photo by New Taipei City Government

Savoring

Right now, I’m savoring the end of this year and looking forward to 2019. This year has been my worst year in terms of health. I have been housebound and in pain all year. Now that I’ve started a new medication that seems to be giving me a little more leeway with my day to day activities, I just enjoyed a very short walk in the sun for the first time in four years!

I’m hoping the last part of 2018 stays this way so I can usher in 2019 and feel good about it.

Extra call times with my family are precious to me. Unfortunately, we live half a world away from our families, so we don’t have to travel for the holidays, but that also means we don’t get to see our families. Everyone looks forward to these calls and appreciates that we’re together even though we’re so far apart.

I really savor quiet Christmas days with my husband. We stay in our pajamas and we nibble on treats all day. All the things I don’t eat during the rest of the year are allowed on Christmas Day, as long as I eat in moderation.

Simplifying 

I took a huge leap a few years ago by moving to shopping online for everything. I’ve always mailed gifts wrapped and ready for Christmas by my own hands, but shopping and wrapping became too much for me for me to handle, so I switched to online shopping. No one seems to mind that I send online gifts now.

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I’ve also changed how I cook for events. We don’t host an event at our home now unless my husband wants to cook. He usually likes to do this for Thanksgiving, so I help him with the easy tasks. He does all the heavy lifting. We limit how long guests are at our house to ensure I don’t overdo it. (We don’t normally have people over throughout the year because this is our space and it’s where I spend most of my time sick in bed. I don’t like having to entertain people in my home unless it’s at my husband’s request.)

We have gone to the Grand Hyatt for their Christmas buffet for the last 10 years for our Christmas meal. In the last four years, my husband has helped by getting my food for me so I can sit and enjoy eating with everyone.Letting Go Doesn't Mean Giving Up

Simplifying our home has become a huge mission for us. Last year I spent my whole year moving slowly through our home and de-junking each room.

Everything that was a reminder of my old life: party dresses, heels, big bags, and so on, all of it was donated. Clearing out doesn’t mean letting go or giving up. It means making room for new things to enjoy.

The relief I felt at having more room to enjoy without the clutter was amazing, and those reminders of my old life were no longer around to make me feel bad about what I’ve lost.

We also made another massive change to simplify things last year. We don’t put up a Christmas tree anymore.  I know that sounds awful, but we don’t have kids and having to put up and tear down a tree every year is extra activity that I don’t need.

Surviving the Holidays with Chronic Illness

Last year, we moved to making a Christmas table. It was just as cheerful and festive as a tree and it was at a height that I can sit at comfortably, so that made all of it quite easy to manage.

It looked nice and we’ll jazz it up a little more this year and add some more lights. It made our Christmas morning much more enjoyable. (Plus we didn’t have to worry about our cats getting into the tree.)

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Resting

Rest is the most important thing on my mind at all times.

If I do something, I time it and then rest for the rest of the day. If I know I have something coming up, I rest before I do it.

Given my extreme health limitations, I plan ahead and pay attention to what I have to do and what I'm doing while I'm at it. Click To Tweet

Pacing for and during each activity is also really important. For example, if I go out, I limit how much time I’m out and I make sure I know exactly how much energy I have to get things done. Once I hit the magic number on my FitBit, I stop.

This means that I’ve been ticking things off my year-end to-do list since September and I’m not feeling so anxious to wrap the year up.

So far, things have gone well and I’ve managed to keep my health in check with the exception of one event that I planned for that I knew would cause a flare. As we all know, some things are worth a flare.

Finalising

I’m ready for 2018 to be over. This has been the worst year by far for my health. My switch to a new medication seems to be going well (so far) and I’m really hoping that 2019 will be looking up and possibly give me a little more to work with, keeping in mind that pacing and management are still key to living life with a snowball of chronic illnesses, including Ankylosing Spondylitis, Fibromyalgia, and ME/CFS.

It’s so important to rest. I’m hoping to end my year feeling rested and unstressed, which is how I feel right now.

I don’t have many more tasks to complete for 2018 aside from mailing some packages and finishing our Christmas table.

The only thing I had left that I really wanted to do was finish my year with A Chronic Voice’s link up party and now, CHECK. It’s done.

Happy Holidays, everyone!

I’d like to extend a huge thank you to Sheryl at A Chronic Voice for hosting another year of successful link up events for chronic illness bloggers.

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Post Author: Carrie Kellenberger

I'm a chronically ill Canadian who has been living in Asia since 2003. I moved from China to Taiwan in 2006. I'm an experienced businesswoman and have worked in many leadership positions. My husband and I have owned our own business in Taiwan since 2012. In addition to my own work, I've been writing professionally about Asia, travel and health advocacy since 2007, providing regular content to several publishing companies and travel publications in Asia and North America. I started writing about my health journey in 2009 after being diagnosed with Ankylosing Spondylitis. In 2014, I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia and ME/CFS, which came with other massive health issues. These diagnoses were the start of my journey as a health advocate and patient leader. Since then, My Several Worlds has been recognized worldwide as a top site for chronic illness by WEGO Health and Healthline. Twitter @globetrotteri Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/carriekellenberger/. I also have a dedicated page for My Several Worlds at https://www.instagram.com/myseveralworlds/. Each IG feed features different content.

20 thoughts on “Surviving the Holidays with Chronic Illness – Tips and Tricks

    Sheryl

    (December 3, 2018 - 5:23 pm)

    Thanks for joining us this month Carrie, and so efficiently, too (I love it!). It’s nice to let ourselves go once in a while for sure, without any of the guilt! I hope you have a lovely season x

      Carrie Kellenberger

      (December 30, 2018 - 3:09 pm)

      I guess I was great at getting the post up, but terrible at checking my comments. Where did this month go? I’m making the rounds with all these lovely ladies today to say thanks for dropping by.

      A special thank you for you, Sheryl. I am so glad I met you this year and that we have such a great friendship. I’m looking forward to sharing more with you in 2019. All the best!

    Jen @ The Frozen Mind

    (December 3, 2018 - 7:41 pm)

    It sounds like we have made a lot of the same adjustments to our lives. I have not done the decluttering and that is on my agenda for next year since we plan to sell our home. I am also looking forward to 2019 because we are going to build a new home that is one story and takes my limitations into consideration!

      Carrie Kellenberger

      (December 30, 2018 - 3:11 pm)

      Jen, that is amazing! I live in a one-story flat and it’s awesome. Every time I travel – which isn’t much these days – I’m always concerned about where I’ll be staying and how many stairs I’ll have to climb. It always causes a lot of anxiety for me because my parents and my sister both have homes with three floors. I hope your move goes great and you have a wonderful 2019! (Decluttering is worth it. I’m still feeling the effects of ditching everything last year. It made more room in my home for my indoor garden!)

    Maya

    (December 5, 2018 - 12:31 am)

    I’m sorry to hear it’s been such a tough year for your health wise, but glad that the new medications may be helping to improve things, and that you were able to get out for a walk in the sun! I love the concept that simplifying in areas – like the clothes closet – means making room for new things. I think at times it can be so hard to let go of those things because it does feel like giving in or giving up. But looking at it as making room (a concept I love for life in general) takes it from something that could feel negative to something that offers some hope – room for new things, whatever those things may be. Great post!

      Carrie Kellenberger

      (December 30, 2018 - 3:13 pm)

      Hi Maya! Thank you so much for stopping by. Just that one walk in the sun this year made me feel so much better. Yes, simplying and clearing everything out really made this year more bearable for me. There weren’t as many reminders of my old life to look at. Plus I made room for my indoor garden, which I adore. I guess it really is the little things that we depend on when we’re sick. Wishing you all the best for 2019.

    Nikki

    (December 6, 2018 - 2:35 am)

    Online shopping is a Must for me as well, although we have a postal strike so maybe some of these gifts will not make it for Christmas

      Carrie Kellenberger

      (December 30, 2018 - 3:13 pm)

      I read about that! I hope your gifts arrive on time, Nikki. Happy New Year!

    Rhiann

    (December 8, 2018 - 6:27 pm)

    Hi Carrie
    A great post and some excellent observations on the difficulties that Christmas can have for those with chronic conditions. I hope that despite all the difficulties and the obstacles to overcome I hope it will still be a very happy Christmas for you and you are able to enjoy the season.

    Wishing you all the best for 2019 and beyond.

    Rhiann x

      Carrie Kellenberger

      (December 30, 2018 - 3:15 pm)

      Hi Rhiann! It’s great to hear from you. Christmas was pretty low-key this year. We had a small celebration, but we didn’t make any special visits or decorate our home. We kept it simple and ate what we wanted to eat on Christmas Day. I think this Christmas produced the least amount of anxiety on me this year because we decided not to get into the hype. I hope you have an amazing new year. Wishing you all the best for 2019. I will see you on Twitter!

    Kathy

    (December 18, 2018 - 2:32 am)

    I enjoyed reading this Carrie! I’m struggling with pacing. I overdid it yesterday and now my fibro is flaring and I don’t feel well at all. I hope the last of December is kind to you. Merry Christmas!!

      Carrie Kellenberger

      (December 30, 2018 - 3:19 pm)

      Hi Kathy! Happy New Year and thank you for dropping by. I love your posts and your IG. I really hope your flare subsides soon. This time of year is tough on all of us, but I have to say that I’m pretty excited to say goodbye to 2018. I have a feeling 2019 will be a little easier. All the best to you!

    Alison

    (December 31, 2018 - 7:15 am)

    Sounds like it has been a rough year for you, health-wise. I’m so glad you were able to enjoy what you could, and that you were able to go out and enjoy your walk! I aim for a daily walk, but haven’t managed to go out for a decent nature walk for a few weeks, which frustrates me. I can’t imagine having to go over a year between walking adventures! I totally feel you on laying low on home decorating – my partner and I simply don’t bother to decorate at all! We also don’t have children, and are sure the cats are better off without the additional temptation! We do live near both of our families, so do have holiday trees around for our Christmas celebrations!
    Your plans sound great – and I need to do more on the decluttering front – so glad for you that you have! Love that you start your prep for the end of the year in September.
    Hope you have a very happy new year and that 2019 is a better year for you!

      Carrie Kellenberger

      (January 31, 2019 - 1:32 pm)

      Hi Alison,

      It’s so nice to meet you! Thank you so much for dropping by and I apologize for my taking so long to respond. Honestly, I thought I’d be blogging in January and I just wasn’t in the mood so I took the month off and hid amongst my books instead and kept decluttering. I’m trying to create an indoor jungle in my apartment. It’s going quite well, but as you can imagine, all the watering is a workout in itself. February will be better and I’m aiming to get my next article up for A Chronic Voice’s February link-up party as soon as possible! I look forward to learning more about you!

    Claire

    (November 7, 2020 - 8:39 pm)

    I definitely agree that pacing is so important, and I’ve had much smaller Christmas celebrations the past few years. This year will be the same. And so much yes to online shopping!

      Carrie Kellenberger

      (November 9, 2020 - 2:15 pm)

      Personally, I wait for really bad days and use online shopping as therapy. A gift for you, two gifts for me, etc. 🙂

    Katie Clark

    (November 9, 2020 - 7:23 am)

    Celebrating with our loved ones is important. I’ve been the keeper of the family memories and traditions since I was a teen. So, letting them go has been difficult. But really, it’s about adjusting them, not losing them. Some, my kids have taken over for us. Some we’ve paired down, and some we just talk about. This is a very helpful list.

      Carrie Kellenberger

      (November 9, 2020 - 2:14 pm)

      It’s easier for me because we don’t have kids (at least not in Taiwan). Caleb is with his mom in the US, and we don’t have family here, so the pressure isn’t there to keep up with holiday expectations. We do get a triple whammy with Christmas, New Year’s and Lunar New Year being one after another, but it’s spaced out enough that we can take it easy. Plus our Lunar New Year holiday gives me time to rest fully. The whole island shuts down and everything is closed, so it’s nothing but rest and relaxing for me. It was hard to cut back on certain traditions that we tried to keep going when we first moved to Asia 17 years ago, but it has gotten easier as it has become more necessary to do so because of my health.

    Sheryl Chan

    (November 12, 2020 - 6:18 pm)

    I love how this linkup entry is still so relevant a few years later! Thanks for the throwback… can you believe we’ve known each other and been linkup-ing for this long now?!

      Carrie Kellenberger

      (November 15, 2020 - 3:57 pm)

      Right? I can believe it, but it’s so nice going back through memory lane to see how it all started out.

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