Experiencing JOY during the holidays can be a challenge when you have an autoimmune or chronic disease. There are so many social and personal expectations from holiday parties, family dinners, family traditions, gift buying and more that the season can be daunting for an incredibly healthy person let alone someone who is struggling day to day with health symptoms.
Below is a list of 5 tips to help bring you more good cheer as was intended during this magical time of the year.
1. Eat, Drink and Be Merry, to Stay Healthy. “One cannot think well, love well, sleep well if one has not dined well”. Virginia Woolf said that and while everyone’s definition of dining well might be different, as someone diagnosed with an autoimmune, I know that she is right! For someone with an autoimmune or chronic illness, diet is usually a component in feeling well. Once I clearly identified which foods helped me to think, love, sleep… really just plain LIVE well… there was no going back. The first step is knowing which foods cause you to not feel well. This can be done by pure observation or there are great food sensitivity tests on the market that you and your doctor can discuss to determine this. Once you KNOW what to avoid, the next challenge is ensuring that happens. If you are visiting others and don’t know if you will be able to eat their food, call them. It is not inappropriate to ask what will be on the menu. If the menu offers few to no food options for you, consider offering to bring something. Whether you are bringing food to a party or you are throwing the party yourself, if the thought of the work to prepare something is daunting, consider a pre-made ordering service that delivers to your door in dry ice! Some even offer to cook a whole holiday dinner for you! These food services have dramatically changed my life for the better whether it is a holiday or normal day of the week.
2. Remember the Reason for the Season. What is YOUR reason for the holiday season? When I ask people this question, I get a wide variety of answers. Take the time to discover what YOUR reason is. Next, make the list of everything on your task list for the holidays. Next to each item, specify how it satisfies YOUR reason for the holiday season. Does everything on your to do list for the holidays meet YOUR reason for the season? If not, consider letting it go. Next, number the items on your list from 1 to the number of items on the list… with 1 being an item that MOST meets YOUR reason for the season and the top number being an item that LEAST meets YOUR reason for the season. You’ve just created a priority list to help guide you through the season.
3. Do you Hear What I Hear? Your Body is Talking. Your body is a magical instrument. It talks to you all the time. Do you hear it? Do you understand its messages? If headaches and unbearable fatigue are what your body is expressing, when do they show up? Is it shortly after eating certain foods? If your body is expressing generalized pain all over and it begins increasing in intensity, when does it show up? Is it when you have taken on a big task, promised to get it done, and you are going to push thru no matter what to make sure you keep your word and not let anyone down? Your body is expressing its limits, are you recognizing them and honoring them?
4. Tis the Season… for Healthy Boundaries. “Love is what’s in the room with you at Christmas if you stop opening presents and listen.” ~ Author unknown, attributed to a 7-year-old named Bobby. If you are so busy just trying to survive the holidays due to the stress of a to-do list and autoimmune flares, it can be hard to imaging noticing the love in the room that Bobby so wisely noticed. The most magical word I have learned once I was diagnosed with an autoimmune was the word ‘no’. It was quite a challenge for me to us this word because I realized, it really was not a part of my vocabulary! Not only was I committing to way more than my body could handle in sickness, but when I was well, I had committed to more than was healthy for my body to maintain health! Say ‘no’ to food that doesn’t make you feel well, say ‘no’ to tasks that don’t meet YOUR reason for the season, and then say ‘no’ when your body is expressing symptoms and sharing what your physical limitations are.
5. Good Tidings and Good Cheer. How do I Say it? – “One day I will find the right words, and they will be simple” – Jack Kerouac. I remember struggling with finding the right words to say to people when I didn’t want to eat the food they prepared because I knew I would end up with headaches, bloating, and incredible fatigue when the food had gluten or dairy. I was afraid that I would “hurt their feelings”. I didn’t know what to say when I knew an activity was not top on my priority list and I didn’t really want to do it. I felt guilty that “I didn’t want to help”. And it was even more of a challenge to communicate that I couldn’t do something because I was tired or my body ached. Can’t I just push through this? And I hear the common phrase from those that I am trying to communicate with… “you don’t look sick”. As Jack Kerouac said so beautifully in the quote, I found that the right words were simple. I remember the day that they blurted out of my mouth and appeared to have a magical effect on the person I was communicating to. “I choose not to eat ____ because it triggers the autoimmune I have and makes me sick”. Feelings weren’t hurt, the other person certainly didn’t want to convince me to do something that made me sick, so there was no further discussion. “I choose to pass on ____ activity this year because I looked at my calendar and in order to do that, I would have to overdo which triggers the autoimmune I have and makes me sick”. People really don’t want to ask you to do things that are going to make you sick! “I choose to stop _____ activity right now because my body is telling me I am overdoing it or committed to too much and I don’t want to push it and get sick”. Notice, I don’t say “I can’t”, because in reality, you can and if you are like me, you have pushed the envelope for years and cycled through getting sick over and over. “I choose” is very powerful… choose something different.
I hope these tips help in some small way to bring more joy to your holiday season AND every day of the year.