The holidays are once again upon us. They should be a time to enjoy and relax, but getting through the holidays is often a series of challenges: surviving the long lines at the supermarket, kitchen disasters, over-snacking and frayed nerves. For people with fibromyalgia, the problem caused by stress can be multiplied many times over.
One of the best things you can do to prevent stressful holidays is to avoid taking on too much responsibility. The early warning signs of this problem are a lack of motivation, procrastination, or outright avoidance of tasks. Are you really the only person that can tackle that holiday event? Or is it time to call in the troops for backup? This applies to both the mental and physical tasks of a particular event. Dividing tasks among each member of your family can make the work easier on you and gives everyone the opportunity to contribute.
Taking on too many responsibilities is common during the holidays, says Venetta Cambell, a psychology professor and stress-management expert at Mount St. Mary’s College in Los Angeles. “We get caught up in meeting everyone else’s needs and expectations,” Cambell explains. “The season represents a blur of social activities and hurried shopping instead of a time of enjoyment.”
Cambell has a four-step program for getting back to something simpler.
Start by de-emphasizing materialism. Sure, stores are bombarding us with advertisements to spend like there is no tomorrow, but as the saying goes, there is a tomorrow, and it will be stressful if you overspend.
Minimize your sense of obligation. Do not over-promise or take on too many obligations. Set limits or find creative solutions. For example, if the stress of cooking for a family gathering becomes too stressful, make it pot-luck.
Stay connected to family, friends, and community. Statistics show that those of us with strong social ties lead healthier lives. It is also proven that laughter is an excellent way to combat stress and to improve your mood. Smile often and enjoy the holidays rather than worry over things that you have no control over.
Recognize the importance of relationships. Use the holidays as a time to reaffirm the value of family.
If you are traveling to that family gathering, make the trip as stress-free as possible. Doctors advise arriving early at airports, booking flights at the least busy times of the day, and sitting in the bulkhead where there is more room or sitting over the plane’s wings, which provides a more stable feeling. If walking a long distance is a problem for you, make sure you reserve a wheelchair. This will help you to save your energy for other aspects of the busy holidays.
Air travel also means exposure to large crowds. The last thing you want, on top of fibromyalgia, are the aches and pains of a cold or flu – all too prevalent in crowded airports. Cold and flu viruses are spread by contact. The best way to avoid them is to wear a mask, wash your hands often and drink plenty of water. Planes can be very dehydrating too, so make sure to have plenty of bottled water on hand. If you are concerned about comfort, bring two pillows (you can get the inflatable pillows at your neighborhood travel store) and place one under your feet and use the second one to lean on.
Now that you have your new strategy in place, you can think about enjoying your holiday meal. If you tend to feel guilty about overeating on holidays, there is a palatable solution, says Dr. Jo Ann Carson, professor of clinical nutrition at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. Try consuming fewer calories the day before and after the holiday. “It’s basically a matter of calorie balance,” explains Carson. “By consuming 500 calories less the day before and after a holiday, you’re leaving room for 1,000 extra calories.”
So now you know how to manage the travel, the huge meals, and the crowds, but there is one last note about another time-honored tradition—holiday decorations. The danger is not in the decorations themselves but in that innocent-looking ladder you will be tottering on while hanging the festive whatnots from walls and ceilings. Lifting boxes and unpacking them can also be more difficult than you realize. If fibromyalgia sometimes causes you to be unsteady on your feet, do not attempt to climb a ladder. If the box of decorations has grown in size over the years, don’t lift it. Instead, enlist the help of a friend or family member. Overdoing it while preparing for the holidays might leave you unable to enjoy the festivities!
With a few precautions, your holidays can be both safe and enjoyable.