The holidays are supposed to be about love, joy and peace. Instead, too often they end up producing guilt, stress and conflict. This can be especially true for people with illnesses like fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome, who may struggle just to cope with everyday life. Throw a holiday and additional family pressures into the mix and life can quickly become overwhelming. With a little preparation though, you can get through the holidays and even enjoy them! Here are 10 steps, plus a few tips to help you survive this holiday season.
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- Examine your expectations.
When you think of the holidays, what picture comes to mind? Does it resemble a scene from a Normal Rockwell print? If so, its time for a reality check. Few holidays ever live up to the idyllic images in those pictures. Its time to accept the fact that you cant do everything you once did. Are the holidays really about elaborate decorations and frenetic activity; or are they about expressing your love and appreciation for family and friends? Now is the time to set new expectations based on what is most important to you.
- Refuse to feel guilty.
Guilt develops when you fail to live up to your own expectations, or you feel like you havent lived up to the expectations of others. The fact is you have a very real physical illness that limits what you can do. Its time to stop blaming yourself because you cant do everything you used to do or because you cant do everything you think your family expects you to do. Make the decision right now that you refuse to accept any guilt feelings. Remember that the holidays are not about how much you do, but are about expressing your love for your family.
- Communicate, communicate, communicate.
Communicating clearly with your family ahead of time is key to a happy holiday season. Sit down with your family and explain that you want everyone to enjoy the holidays, but you have some physical limitations. Decide together what aspects of the holidays are most important to all of you and enlist their help with the things that you cant do. Some family members may not understand at first, but dont allow yourself to be pushed into doing more than you can handle. Try to remain calm but be firm.
- Prioritize your holiday activities.
Every family has its own holiday traditions. List all of your familys possible holiday activities then ask each person which activity they consider the most important (i.e., decorations, big home-cooked meal, baking cookies, visiting with relatives, etc.). Number them in order of importance. Focus your energy on the things that are most important. For each item on your list, decide: if there is an easier alternative, if someone else can take the responsibility, or if its not really necessary.
- Plan ahead.
A big part of holiday stress comes from the last-minute rush to get everything done. Start planning as early as possible. Make a list of everything you need to do and figure out the easiest and best way to accomplish each task. Work on a portion of your list each week. Know that things will go wrong and youll probably have some days you dont feel well enough to do anything. Be sure to allow extra time so those bad days dont throw you completely off schedule. By not waiting until the last minute to do everything, hopefully youll have enough energy left to enjoy your holidays.
- Share the workload.
You dont have to do everything yourself. Dont be a martyr. Ask each family member to take responsibility for part of the preparations. If you can afford it, hire someone to help you clean the house. Pay a student to address cards or help you bake. If everyone is coming to your house for dinner, ask each person to bring a side dish or dessert then you can just prepare the main dish. Dont be afraid to ask for help.
For every item on your to do list, ask yourself these questions: Does this really need to be done? Is there an easier way to do it? Can I get by with doing less? (e.g., instead of baking 12 kinds of cookies, make your familys three favorites; put up fewer decorations or decorate fewer parts of the house.)
- Find alternatives.
Try to think outside the box. For every holiday task, try to think of an alternative that would be easier and less stressful for you. Instead of fighting crowds at the mall, do your shopping online or from catalogs. Rather than cooking a big meal, consider having your holiday dinner at a restaurant. If everyone usually comes to your house, ask another family member to host the festivities this year. Be creative and make things easier on yourself.
- Schedule time to take care of yourself.
This may be the most important step of all. Its so easy to get caught up in everything that needs to be done and making sure everyone else is taken care of that you forget to take care of yourself. Make sure youre taking time to eat healthy foods and keep up with your exercise program. And be sure to schedule time to do whatever is most relaxing and refreshing for you, whether that is soaking in a warm bubble bath, getting a massage or curling up in bed with a good book. Take time to pamper yourself.
Remember that the holidays are to be enjoyed. Youve done the best you can do, so its time to let go of the shoulda, woulda, coulda and just have fun. Happy Holidays!
- If youre traveling out-of-town to spend the holidays with relatives, think about staying at a hotel for at least part of the time. Having your own separate space where you can escape to and rest when you need to will reduce your stress and give you a sense of control.
- If the hubbub and pressure of holidays with lots of relatives is more than you can handle, consider taking your immediate family away for the holidays. A holiday vacation to a ski resort, a dude ranch or Disney World can be a wonderful and fun family time. As an added bonus, you dont have to cook, decorate or entertain guests. And you can probably get by with less shopping, too, because all your gifts will have to be packed.
- Instead of baking 10 different kinds of cookies, have a cookie exchange party. Invite nine friends and ask each to bring five-dozen cookies made with their favorite recipe. Each guest then takes home a half-dozen of each cookie. Its easier (and cheaper) to make a larger quantity of one kind of cookie than smaller quantities of several kinds. You can adjust the number of guests and quantity of cookies to whatever you would like.