How to Survive the Holidays When Living with Multiple Sclerosis
A friend of mine sent me an article published by Saint Louis University about managing the holidays while living with MS. She thought it would be the perfect topic for our MS community, and she was right. The article, titled “Managing the Holiday Hustle with Multiple Sclerosis: SLU Experts Offers Eight Tips for You and Your Family” is both informative and valuable if you’re already feeling the anxiety of the upcoming holidays.
The author focused on subjects such as managing expectations, communications, pacing yourself and managing travel, and then broke them down into YOU and YOUR FAMILY. Under these subtitles she provided suggestions on how to be gentle and kind to yourself while also communicating to loved ones about your specific needs.
When it comes right down to it the holidays can be a time of great stress, leaving us feeling overwhelmed by all the preparations and running around we need to do. It can be a time of anxiety for many, sometimes leading to depression or feelings of loneliness.
No matter how MS manifests itself it’s important to create a plan on how you’re going to get through the holidays without risking an exacerbation.
When my son was young we were thrilled to host Christmas Day festivities. Since we’re Jewish and my father’s birthday is December 25 we lovingly call the day Herb(ert)mas. Herbmas is a special time of getting together with my family. I always loved celebrating my father’s big day and combining it with our Chanukah celebration. Watching the expressions on the faces of five boy cousins as they tore their gifts open was, indeed, heartwarming.
Cleaning, food shopping, cooking, gift shopping, gift-wrapping and decorating was easier when I was in my thirties. When I reached my mid-forties hosting was a challenge as my fatigue and weakness increased with each year.
I’m thankful my brother has been hosting Herbmas for several years.
It’s important to communicate your needs during the holiday season. Speak up, advocate for yourself and don’t forget to take breaks to simply breathe.
Here are a few other ways to help you manage the holiday season:
Lists – I have always been a list person and use Post-It notes to create lists of what I need to accomplish in December. Lists help me stay focused and also provides a way of maintaining a daily schedule based on it. Example: Monday morning I will grocery shop, Monday afternoon is naptime, Monday early evening I will bake and freeze holiday cookies.
Stress and Anxiety – We all know how overwhelming the holidays are for people with MS. The key is to pace yourself, reach out to others for help and be honest about how many tasks your MS will allow you to do. Do you really need to cook the entire meal from scratch? Are all of your decorations necessary or can you cut back? Do you need to personally sign every holiday card or can you order and have them mailed out from a holiday card website?
Family – Some families mirror a Norman Rockwell painting where everyone is happy and filled with joy. Other families are closer to a reflection of the Hatfield’s and the McCoy’s. Somewhere in the middle of these two are where most families are. At family functions old tensions, anger and wounds are opened. What can you do to create the kind of holiday you remember from childhood? This article from Psychology Today suggests planning ahead, knowing your triggers and listing your coping strategies to deal with anger. It’s worth the read to help you take one step closer to a happier celebration.
Listen – Listen to the beauty in holiday music, in the joy of holiday specials and be grateful for the blessings in your life. The twinkling of holiday lights always warms my heart. The laughter of children, the hugs from loved ones and the compassion of friends and family. Take the time to listen. It’s a great gift to give to yourself.
Merry Christmas. Happy Chanukah. Happy Kwanzaa. Joyful December. Healthy Days. And, as my late beloved uncle used to say to me, “I hug you with my words.”
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