I’ve written countless articles on surviving the holidays while living with Multiple Sclerosis. I’ve suggested and outlined how to tell others how stressful this time of year can be for us. I’ve repeated time and time again that the ho-ho-ho’s of Christmastime creates added anxiety for people with chronic illness. And that the enormity of our to-do lists leaves us feeling frightened and overwhelmed.
Brace yourself because I’m about to do it again. I feel strongly about this topic. It speaks to the mental health of our community. And that is something that bears repeating.
Stress – When December rolls around it’s time to prepare for the holidays. Some people aim for the Norman Rockwell version. Perfect family, perfect meal, perfect house, perfect outfits and perfect gifts.
Hallmark Channel has a vision of Christmastime that’s Utopian. Every story has a happily-ever-after ending.
But that’s not real life, and wishing our reality matched what’s on TV is impractical. We do our best to create a magical existence, but real life comes with cuts and bruises and ours also comes with an autoimmune disease.
In our aim to create holiday magic our body shouts for attention. How are we going to answer its call to stay healthy?
Prioritize. What you absolutely must do and what you want to do are two different things.
Create a list called “Things I Must Do in December” from one through ten (or more) and write your to-do’s in order of importance. Keep it handy every day.
REMINDER: Leave a space for four little words. GO EASY ON YOURSELF. If you don’t get everything done the world will keep on spinning. Believe me. It will.
Remember to take breathers. Meditate. Read a book. Write a journal entry. Do some stretches. Call a friend. Eat some chocolate. Listen to music. Watch a funny movie. Take time for yourself.
Do whatever it takes to stay healthy this season.
Anxiety – It’s easy to feel anxious in December. We want to keep up with others, attend parties, go shopping, bake cookies, wrap presents, see loved ones or plan vacations. This is hard to do when your body says no.
On top of that you wish you could enjoy the holidays like you did before your diagnosis.
You are not alone in these feelings. Many of us have them, particularly this time of year. It’s difficult to say goodbye to the person you once were and acknowledge your new, unwelcome normal.
Take stock of the blessings you have. It’s important to be grateful for what’s truly important in your life. As Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of mindfulness-based stress reduction says, there’s always more right with you than wrong.
Count your blessings. Loved ones, furry friends, the beauty of a sunset, the first snowfall, Christmas music, Hanukah or Kwanzaa (or whatever religion you observe) candles, the smell of freshly baked cookies, the sound of children’s laughter, singing, reciting a poem, enjoying a cup of coffee with friends. A beautiful flower.
Be grateful for whatever abilities you have. If you are reading this be grateful for your vision and the ability to use a computer. Or the ability to process what I’m writing.
Acknowledging your blessings helps alleviate anxiety.
As always if none of this helps seek help from a qualified therapist. Discuss what’s causing your anxiety and, if necessary, any medications that might be helpful for you.
Joy – The holidays can be a lonely time of year. It’s hard to find joy when you’re not feeling well. We miss loved ones who passed on or mourn our inability to take part in holiday festivities.
Sometimes it seems like an able-bodied world goes on without us.
My advice, based on personal experience, is to seek joy wherever you can find it. Call a friend, attend meetings or services that inspire you. Watch a beloved movie, even if it’s a cartoon you loved as a child. (Charlie Brown’s Christmas, Frosty the Snowman and How the Grinch Stole Christmas come to mind!)
Cognitive behavioral therapy teaches us to replace negative thoughts with positive ones. Working on this every day will allow for happy, joyful thoughts to become your new norm. It’s takes some effort but it’s well worth it. (See National Alliance on Mental Illness: Psychotherapy
Visualize what brings you joy and focus on that. Reconnecting with others? Asking a friend out for coffee? Spending time outdoors? Playing soothing music? Volunteering for those less fortunate?
Here is Deepak Chopra’s Guided Meditation for Stressful Moments. It’s offered for our total well-being and is worth a look, especially this time of year. Let me know what you think.
I want for you what I want for myself. Joy. Love. Connection. Good health. And peace. Lots and lots of peace.