December is the holiday season -- a time of celebration with family, friends, and co-workers and a time of giving back to our communities. But the season of joy can also bring feelings of stress, anxiety and depression, which is more difficult to manage when you have a chronic illness. It’s important that we stay mindful of what we need to manage our lupus triggers so we can stay energized and be able to take part and enjoy what should be a happy, healthy time.
Full disclosure, as I write this column I’m reminding myself to take this advice too. I’ve been blessed with a wonderful year. I got married, moved to a new home, and we’re hosting my first family holiday dinner… albeit it a potluck, but still. It’s easy to get overwhelmed with all of the things we feel that we need to do. But remember (again, I’m talking to myself here too), the people who love you want you healthy and the people who love you are there to help.
So in this busy time, here are some tips for us to consider so we can feel the joy of the holiday season:
Know your limits. Some family or friends may not really understand what life with lupus can be like, and during this busy time of shopping, travel, going to parties and hosting gatherings, you may not be able to keep up with expectations. First and foremost, be realistic and at peace with your own limitations. You may not be able attend every event, or stay until the end when you do. You may not be able to host an event at your home, or you may not be able to buy a gift for everyone. Create a holiday budget and event calendar so you can manage your shopping and better prepare for a night out or hosting family and friends at home (again… think potluck or ordering a pizza).
Communicate your needs. If you’re feeling like you need to slow down during this season, consider taking this time as an opportunity to educate family and friends about your condition, and be honest about what you need and what they can expect from you during this season. You can share resources from the internet, write a letter or enlist a friend or family member you trust to help explain lupus and its effect on you. Be ok with saying no -- ask for help or delegate.
Stay involved. Sometimes the holidays can be overwhelming enough both physically and emotionally that we end up not wanting to do anything, and we stay home alone, which can lead to feelings of depression. Spending time with friends and family isn’t the only way to make sure you don’t isolate yourself during the holidays. Take yourself out to a movie, lecture, holiday concert or play, such as at your local place of worship, school, library or community center. If you are feeling down, you can also look for a support group.
Give back. Another great way to feel good during the holiday season is to volunteer. Remember, be mindful and honor your limits, and always balance action with rest. If you’re feeling physically and mentally healthy, check www.idealist.org or www.volunteermatch.org for volunteer opportunities. If you need to take it easy, there are still plenty of ways to spread joy. If you have a friend or family member who may be living on their own, call them just to say hello. Better yet, write a letter, in fact, write a letter to anyone who may have supported you along the way. Give a compliment or a smile to a stranger on the street.
Grieve if you need to. It’s appropriate to mourn the loss of a loved one during the holiday season, or to be sad if you’ll be separated from family or friends. Take this time to share some happy memories of family members who have passed. If you won’t be able to make a family event, plan to celebrate your own holiday with them at a later time.
Forgive and accept. If a family member or friend has made you feel bad before, it may happen again. Try to let it go and don’t let those instances get in the way of sharing a good time with someone else. If anything gets uncomfortable, try finding a place to sit by yourself and taking 5 deep breaths.
Watch your diet and exercise. This is probably most important during the season of sweets and indulgence. Unfortunately, fatty and sugary foods affect our mood and our energy level, so we can end up feeling more run down. Take a walk if you can before sitting down to a big meal and if you’re not up for walking, be mindful of your food intake.
Plan a rest and reflect day. At the end of a busy, buzzing time we can sometimes be left feeling a bit sad, and exhausted when it’s all over. Prepare for that and put it on your calendar. Maybe plan on taking yourself to a movie, going to a restorative yoga class, or writing in your journal to start the New Year off right.
Be thankful. I know when lupus gets the best of us it may be hard to see what we can be thankful for. But showing gratitude and recognizing what you have to be thankful for can be a powerful way to beat the holiday blues, feel energized, and more engaged with family and friends. We all have things we can be grateful for. Take this time to write them down, share with family and friends or even with the lupus community on Facebook or Twitter. Your gratitude can be a motivator to others who may need a boost. Be well, take good care, and cheers to a happy, healthy and joyous holiday.