There are reasons to stress all year long, but the added social events and holiday tasks in November and December consistently encourage us to overdo it. People expect things from us, and we place expectations on ourselves.
Sometimes – or a lot of times – “just” getting to work, paying bills, keeping house, caring for others, and maintaining some modicum of basic health is an overwhelming goal. Add the holiday season expectations, and those of us with MS can be vulnerable to increased symptoms.
I firmly believe that these suggestions are good for anyone, those in perfect health and those with chronic illnesses. It’s just that what may be optional for them is critical for us.
Establish the minimum: Decide what the absolute minimum is that you need to do to maintain your health and be happy this season. Not being able to do everything we want to do is a daily harsh reality with MS, but being strategic about how we spend our time and energy can help alleviate the discouragement.
For holiday tasks, be very clear on what is needed and what is preferred. Anything beyond what is necessary is a choice, not an obligation. Sometimes just a shift in thinking can change how I feel from resentment to joy. If I’m doing something expected and I’m coming from a place of resentment, I will suffer. When I’m gifting, I’ve decided this is something I’ve chosen to do and I’ll feel good doing it. When it’s appreciated, it’s only an added bonus.
Reduce the demands: Ask yourself the following:
- How can I do this so that it lessens my burden?
- Can someone help?
- Does it need to be done at all?
- Can it be done at a different level of effort?
- Can I purchase it without compromising my finances?
- When someone asks me to do something, I’ll ask them the
questions above. I’ll ask myself: Would I enjoy it, and can I do it without
overloading myself? If I’ll resent it, I better adjust my attitude or not do
Organize and plan ahead: Don’t expect to remember everything without any extra effort. I keep a list of holiday season tasks that I want to make sure I do each year. It includes things I’ve done in the past, mailing due dates for cards and packages, gifts given, gifts received, thank you notes sent, and events attended.
If possible, I’ll proactively schedule time off from work to do holiday tasks. Trying to accomplish them all during evenings and weekends often doesn’t allow enough rest for maintaining health.
Make room for joy: Connect with loved ones in person or by phone, text or letter. For many years I’ve alternated between Christmas cards sent in December and New Year’s cards sent in January depending on how much I had to do that season. Some years I didn’t send cards at all.
Include time to recharge in ways you love that feed your soul. I love getting outside and moving my body. It’s important to not just set sights on getting through the holiday season. Experiencing joy along the way is crucial for my sanity, and I will not do without just because I have a chronic illness.
Adjust to changing plans: I’d forecasted the things I would do this holiday season to match a level that I thought could accommodate my MS fatigue. Then my career placed demands on me I hadn’t anticipated. Sure, I whined about the surprise demands before verbalizing that it’s my choice to participate. The truth is I want to do these events; it’s only the scheduling that frustrated me given it challenges me with fatigue. To adjust, I found time on the work schedule where I could come in late or take some time off to offset the longer days. I also talked to a couple people who scheduled the events and asked them to consider spacing them out if done again in the future.
Receive judgement with compassion: People will judge the choices you make. Understanding that we can no longer do everything we’ve always done is hard to take for those that know and love us. Sometimes it’s not about the task, it’s about them wishing our health will be okay. It’s hard for us, but it’s also hard for them to accept that we have a serious illness that affects every aspect of our lives. Other times due to the invisible symptoms we experience and successfully accommodate, they forget we have limitations. It’s up to us to share our limitations when they affect others. No one who cares about us really wants our health compromised because of them. Usually they don’t understand that the little things could be a tipping point for us that requires a long time to recover.
It takes a lot of effort to live well with a chronic illness among people that have much more natural energy. They haven’t been forced to face these issues, and they may not understand how little things for them can be big things for us. It’s our job to take care of ourselves while nurturing relationships and living a life we love.