How to Survive the Holidays with a Chronic Illness

It’s that time of year again! The excitement, anticipation, and…the stress! But why is it so overwhelming? Every year I hear others with chronic illness talk about how much they are dreading the season and how they just want to crawl under the covers and sleep until it’s over. Does anyone else feel like the expectations are set so high that the spirit has been taken out of them?

Halloween costumes, Thanksgiving dinners and Christmas decor need to be pinterest or instagram worthy. Gifts need to be better than the year before and wrapped beautifully under the tree. Everyone one is stressed trying to make everything so perfect, but at what cost?

Then on top of all that, for people such as myself, also trying to keep up and manage a chronic illness. It just feels impossible and that’s because it is. Here are some tips I’ve learned on how to not only survive the holidays with a chronic illness, but enjoy them too!

It Doesn’t Need To Be Perfect

The first few years after my diagnosis, I was always worried it was going to be my last and that everything needed to be perfect. And all I did was wear myself out emotionally and physically. It took all the joy right out of me and left me feeling more like the grinch instead.

One year I decided that I was no longer going to sabotage myself and my holiday magic. Instead I was going to figure out what I needed to do to make it all work. And the truth is, I just needed to step back and let it happen. I mean sure I had some work to do, but by taking that weight off my shoulders, I was able to enjoy it all that much more.

Accept Your Current Condition

This is a good place to start. The thing about chronic illness is, you never really know what to expect. How are you feeling this week? Are you in the middle of a flair? Have you been struggling with fatigue or nausea? Are you on the rebound and feeling a little more energetic than usual?

Take a look at how you feel and decide if you can do the things you want to do or if it will just be an energy drainer. Don’t push yourself to do things you will not enjoy for the sake of the holidays. Instead conserve it for things that you know you can do and that will fill your heart with happiness.

Keep Your Options Open

Having a back up plan is the best way to make sure you enjoy the magic of the season. If you are planning a night out, keep a “just in case we have to stay in” option in mind. Planning a dinner? Make it pot luck style so you don’t have to do all the cooking. Or have a catering backup.

When my boys were little I always had a secret stash of backup plans. If we made plans to go out I made sure I had a “staying home plan.” A pack of premade cookies to decorate or hot cocoa and a special movie. This way, I didn’t feel that guilt of not going out and instead we could stay home and make memories. Grab things here and there that you can stash away and pull out when plans have to change.

Treat Yourself Too

Oh the joy of holiday spending. It’s like a 3-month shop-a-thon, unless you are one of those people who shop all year round. Buying for friends, family, co workers, the mailman. Always buying for everyone one else.

Whether you are at the mall shopping or in bed on Amazon, make sure you buy yourself a little something too. I feel like I am always trying to give to or help others because I feel so guilty for needing their help. You too? Treat yourself for once and get those extra comfy socks or the bath bombs. Get a new candle that you have been wanting. A little something just for yourself to enjoy. You deserve it!

Remember the Why

Why do we celebrate? Why do we feel pressured to give the best gifts and throw the best parties. Take a minute to remember what the holidays are actually about. The best gift we can give our friends and family is not actually a perfectly wrapped present but our actual presence.

The holidays aren’t about going big. Your decorations don’t have to be flashier than your neighbors. Your cookie plates don’t have to be filled with perfectly decorated cookies. The holidays are about spending time with the people that you love and love you back.

Just Say No!

Read that again. Just say no. And don’t apologize for it either. Let’s be real here. There are going to be times where you physically can’t, and other times when you just don’t want to. You don’t have to go to every holiday party you are invited to. Pick and choose which ones are the most important, and go from there.

You don’t have to be a part of the neighborhood spookiest house contest or the company cookie exchange. If you don’t feel like going out, just say no. If you already had plans, just say no.

Check Your Expectations at the Door

Every year I say, I’m going to go bigger than the year before. I’m going to put up even more Christmas lights and decorations. I’m going to make even more food for Thanksgiving. I’ve been saying that for years and then the time comes and I think to myself, do I really need to? Do I have to make everything from scratch? Do I have the energy and the budget?

It might sound cheesy, but it’s worth it to remember that the most important thing is that everyone is together and healthy. What the kids will remember most isn’t all the decorations or hours spent slaving away in the kitchen. They’ll remember the time shared together.

When it comes to getting through the holidays I know to go easier on myself now. I’ve learned to accept help when it is offered and to let things go when they become too much. Are the holidays feeling heavy for you too? Put it down. Be thankful. Share a meal with loved ones. Be Merry. Spend time with friends. Be you. And you will survive the holidays too!

Kimberly Munoz

Kimberly Munoz

Kim is a 37-year-old wife and mother of two boys. She was born and raised in the South Pacific and is now living in Texas. In 2008 she was diagnosed with Budd Chiari Syndrome, a rare liver disease. When she couldn’t find anyone else living with the same condition, she started her blog Hope Whispers to share her journey and give hope to others living with chronic illness.