Heather Finlay-Morreale MD

Presents of Mind

Tips for the Holiday When Dealing with Chronic Illness

Strategies and tips for managing a life with limits.

Posted Dec 04, 2019

Communicate with your family and friends about your limits. You don’t need to give health specifics but relay that you have an illness and x, y, z is difficult. If you can’t stand and help do dishes — let people know. If you’d prefer to skip hugging and kissing everyone as your immune system is low — let people know ahead of time. People like knowing clearly what you can and cannot do.  Ask for understanding. 

Travel: Plan for travel and arrange as best you can for comfort. Things I have found helpful include requesting a wheelchair for airports even if you don’t regularly use one. The airport is a great deal of steps and if walking the airport will exhaust you ruining the following day, get a wheelchair. The attendants are professional and will not ask for proof of disability. Bring empty bottles to fill with water in the airport to keep hydrated. If flying, consider a nasal saline gel to keep the nose hydrated to potentially avoid getting sick later. Bring favorite snacks. Consider leaving a buffer day at the start and end of your trip with a cleared schedule for recuperating. Arrange for grocery delivery the night of your return home so you have essentials fresh and ready for you. 

Expectations: Adjust them. Holidays will be different after chronic illness sets in as your limits have changed. You can still have fun. Different doesn’t mean worse. Consider making new traditions. Perhaps rather than a hike through the woods to cut a tree down maybe you can sit inside a warm home and craft homemade ornaments. Maybe you can’t visit multiple homes on Christmas Day — do what you can and visit other family members a different day that week or on when the season is less busy. 

Gift giving: If you can, avoid malls and busy stores. Mall shopping is exhausting to even think about. Do as much of your shopping online as you can. Buy gift bags in assorted sizes at the dollar store to make wrapping easier. People appreciate the thought and effort of gift exchange. If your financial resources are less this year consider giving ornaments and heartfelt notes of gratitude or appreciation for those in your life. 

Cooking: consider scaling back holiday cooking. Maybe go to a community or temple based latke making party rather than cooking them a home. Swap out laborious dessert recipes for simpler recipes or consider store-bought items. Explain to family and friends that you just can’t handle the cooking like you did before. 

Sleep: Sleep can be disrupted with the holidays and even more so if you are traveling. Try to stick to the same sleep schedule if you can. If traveling consider earplugs or a white noise machine - there are portable ones on Amazon.