“The most wonderful time of the year”…or is it?
The holiday season is supposed to be full of merriment. Or so we’re told. I find that many friends have a hard time from the end of October until January.
And while there’s lots of tinsel and cheery music blasting from every store, it is considered to be the most stressful and depressing time of the year for many. It doesn’t have to be that way, though. With some thoughtful planning, and a different mindset, the end of the year can be manageable and end on a good note!
For those living with MS, and I know because I’m one of them, the faster pace of the holiday season can be very daunting. There’s usually a huge shift in schedules, with family and friends in and out of town; or maybe traveling oneself; office events and family gatherings; extra shopping to do; you know what I’m talking about – no need to list them all. The challenge comes with trying to maintain our health and manage fatigue while still participating as much as we’d like. If you’re a party person like me (And I do love a party!), that means being very disciplined about your schedule. Doesn’t sound like much fun, but very necessary in the long run. I’ve worn myself out too many times to count – but now I plan ahead and pick and choose more carefully. Spending time in bed recuperating, or worse, the hospital, is not worth it!
I thought I’d share my ideas with the MS community – nothing Earth-shattering here, but hopefully some practical advice. While it makes sense all year-round, I find it especially helpful during this concentrated frenzied time.
First of all, let’s get real. By that I mean, be honest with yourself. What’s your stamina level? If fatigue isn’t an issue for you, that’s great. But maybe you have chronic pain or spasticity.
Whatever your symptoms are, allowing yourself to become exhausted will only exacerbate them. The challenge is in not becoming exhausted. Here are some ideas:
• Learn to say “no” – nicely, of course. But don’t bite off more than you can chew.
• Schedule down time. Even 20 minutes of rest, whether sleeping or not, can be hugely beneficial.
• Speak up and communicate with those around you. If you are tired and need a break, say so. Let go of the idea that you are a burden or don’t want to ruin other people’s fun. Believe me, they’d rather you say you need a nap than have to visit you in the hospital. (That’s actually a direct quote from my daughter)
• Stick to your exercise and/or stretching routine. Your body doesn’t know it’s the holidays.
• Eat properly and on-time. Running on empty is never a good idea. If your diet could use some tweaking, find a health coach to work with. There are many ways to improve your health with the right food.
• Shop online. This one is HUGE. I never, repeat NEVER, go into a mall after November 1st. I’m pretty sure this has saved my sanity. Once I quit that habit, I actually rarely go into malls anymore. They drain me of energy.
So, those are a few ideas directed at managing fatigue. What about the holiday blues? It seems the holiday season focuses a magnifying glass on any and all family struggles – maybe there are loved ones being missed, or the opposite – a relative you’re not looking forward to seeing. (C’mon, be honest – every family has at least one difficult person!) There’s the potential of financial burden with gift-giving and entertaining. The lack of daylight can affect people’s mood. The rushing around and overextending oneself (see above). The need to be perfect (that’s fodder for a whole other article). The concern about having a flare-up or getting sick with whatever colds and viruses are floating around the office, school, etc. All of these stressors can lead to overeating or overindulging in unhealthy habits. Hence the typical weight gain during this time of year. Not to fear! I have ideas about this too:
• If there’s a loved one being missed, try to focus on happy memories. Better to have them bring a smile to your face than tears.
• Dealing with difficult people, especially relatives, is challenging. But if you can just keep smiling and send them loving thoughts (I know it’s tough, but dig deep), everyone will benefit.
Remember it takes two to tango. Take deep breaths and don’t respond to negativity. Additionally, if you are self-conscious about your condition, don’t feel the need to talk about it. While most people mean well when asking about your health, you are not obligated to discuss your medical issues. Find a cheerful way to redirect the conversation instead of feeling embarrassed or put upon. If the person is truly interested, offer to speak about it another time. Education and knowledge are a great help to those who love you.
• The bigger or more expensive the gift does not equal the love attached to it. Maybe it’s time to scale back on gift-giving. Don’t we all have enough stuff already?
• If you are affected by SAD, look into special lightbulbs that simulate sunlight. Or at least open the blinds during the day. Go outside as much as possible.
• Remember that you are unique and have something special to offer those around you.
• Get decent amounts of sleep. Your immune system will thank you.
• Go easy on the alcohol. While it may relax you, it also lowers inhibitions, leading you to say the inflammatory thing, or eat too much, which leads to a different kind of inflammation. Try alternating drinks with water to slow down your intake.
• Eat dark leafy greens everyday. There’s a lot of sugar and heavy carbs to entice us during the holidays. Balance it out with something from the ground.
• Play upbeat or soothing music. If you hate holiday music, don’t listen to it!
• And finally, have a good time! Enjoy yourself! Dress up whenever possible – you’ll feel fabulous!
Lastly, take one day at a time. At the end of the day, go over in your mind all that was good. Focus on all that you do have. What we focus on expands. Consider how you want your new year to be, and start working towards that goal.
Dawn Silverstein was diagnosed in 2002 with RRMS. That event was the catalyst to improving her health, and led her on a journey to becoming a Holistic Health Coach. She works with the MS community to help others find balance and peace in their lives. She can be reached at (914) 588-5268 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit her on the web: gainbalanceny.com.