Managing The Holidays

It’s that time of year again when we look at the calendar and a sense of panic sets in - where did another year go and what are we going to do about the holidays? And then the overwhelming sense of guilt can set in, followed by anxiety and depression. For many people with MS (or any chronic condition), this is the cycle of the holidays and there is a great sense of relief when the calendar flips to January. All too often, it’s not what others expect of us but rather what we often do to ourselves with negative ‘self-talk’ that makes the holidays worse than necessary, and I thought it might be helpful to visit some of the ways we can improve our holiday mood.

All or nothing

First, we have to eliminate the "all or nothing" thinking. For example, yes, I want to do that cookie exchange and reconnect with my longtime friends, but finding the perfect recipe and making 14 dozen cookies to share is a bit much with limited physical energy and my ever-present MS fatigue. Instead, I have compromised and dropped the all or nothing approach and met myself in the middle where I’ve opted to not exchange cookies but still went and caught up with these longtime friends. Think about where you can do some things but not feel you must do all or nothing.

Must do vs. can do

The holidays also cause us problems in the area of ‘should do’ vs ‘must do’ and can create self-loathing when we fail to meet all the items we imagine accomplishing. For example, it has taken me years to stop feeling guilty as I open beautiful holiday cards that are sent by friends, feeling like I must always send one in return. Some years, I don’t send cards at all and others I have mailed them well after the holidays are done. There are many times when the must do’s and should do’s, turn into ‘there’s no way I’m going to do that’, and that’s OK.  Give yourself permission to take it easy.

Everyone else does it

Then there is the pattern of over-generalizing. When I think everyone else is doing entertaining, decorating, card-writing, and creating the picture-perfect holiday, it affects my own mood. I think if they can do it, so should I, and then I feel especially bad when I barely find the motivation to put up a small tree. The reality is there are few people anymore creating perfect holidays, and I need to stop thinking everyone else does it all and expecting to match their efforts.

First, be kind to yourself

Maybe it comes with age or time, but I’ve found the less self-talk I do about expectations of myself and comparing my efforts to those of others, the happier I am.  Depression and anxiety are common symptoms in multiple sclerosis due to the disease, and adding to those with negative self-talk ideas is counterproductive.  This holiday season, I urge you to be kind to yourself and try to let go of the thought that you have to do everything and that you have to do it perfectly. See if you can find small moments of joy, peace, and happiness to lift your spirits.

Wishing you well,


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