The holidays bring back memories of my RA diagnosis. Here’s how I choose to honor my physical and emotional health at this time of year.
My rheumatoid arthritis (RA) diagnosis came in November 2017.
Soon after, I began following an anti-inflammatory diet to help reduce the severe inflammation and pain I felt at that time. My apprehension surrounding food grew as Thanksgiving approached because my sister-in-law was hosting that year.
During a brave conversation with her and my mother-in-law, I communicated my needs and even offered to bring my own food if necessary. I didn’t want to feel like a burden or cause them more work. They were so gracious and ended up exceeding my expectations with food accommodations. They made a Thanksgiving feast that I fully enjoyed and didn’t cause me a flare afterward.
I was so grateful for their care and concern for my health during a time when I was navigating a new diagnosis.
It’s now been 5 years since my diagnosis, and this time of the year always brings back some difficult memories. It can be a stressful time of year for many of us. Trying to navigate the holidays with an autoimmune disease can be particularly tough.
Here are nine ways I’ve learned to prioritize my own physical and emotional health during the holidays.
I’m sure you’ll understand why this is my first tip! Talking to my sister- and mother-in-law about my concerns for our Thanksgiving meal was difficult. But it was also the first step I took to prioritize my own health after my diagnosis and during the overwhelming season of celebrations.
Because of my willingness to speak up and advocate for my needs at that critical time, I truly enjoyed a great day with family.
Talk to party hosts ahead of time about dietary restrictions or any special accommodations you may need during your time together. Gracious hosts would rather know than not know at all. They don’t want you to feel uncomfortable during their party.
You deserve to have a good time just like everyone else.
Don’t feel guilty for raising any concerns or asking for accommodations. If you were hosting an event, I’m sure you’d hope your guests would feel at ease and could raise any concerns. Give yourself the same respect and grace.
Let friends and family help when they can, and do not dwell on any initial feelings of guilt.
It’s called a holiday season for a reason! There are many celebrations to come, and pacing yourself will ensure you’re able to enjoy the whole season.
Know your limits to try and avoid a post-holiday flare. There’s nothing worse than an RA holiday hangover. This might mean avoiding staying up late, overly exerting yourself, or eating out.
Only you will know what works best for you, and identifying these triggers can be helpful.
Saying no to an invitation or declining something that might be detrimental to your health isn’t a bad thing.
If you aren’t up for hosting or taking on additional responsibility, then respect yourself and your own personal health boundaries enough to politely and respectfully decline. Your health takes priority.
In some cases, explaining the “why” behind your boundary is sometimes the polite or kind thing to do, but you’re under no obligation to do so. You don’t always owe an explanation for your individual choices.
You are also not responsible for how people react or feel about your boundaries. That’s on them, not you.
Boundaries around the holidays will look different for each of us. Some examples of what these may sound like include:
“I’d love to come, but I’ll need to leave by 9 p.m.”
“Thank you ever so much for the invitation, but I can’t make it this time.”
“I’d love for you to come visit! Let me get you the names of some hotels in the area.”
“Can I help you with anything here in the kitchen while I’m sitting at the island? I’d love to help in any way I can. If I am sitting, I’m good to go!”
“Sure, I can do that, but I am going to need help with X, Y, and Z.”
“That sounds fun, but I just can’t commit to helping with that this year.”
When some of your accommodations can’t be met, you can always bring your own necessities to a celebration or event.
Your own essentials might include alternative foods, drinks, sleeping items, or specific adaptive and assistive devices. This can make you feel more comfortable and help you enjoy your time with family and friends.
I often make some of my own dishes to bring to celebrations. I might say, “I made my own ________. Do you mind if I slip it into the fridge before dinner?”
Take time to consider what you can do this holiday season. Don’t focus on what you can’t do. This is one small way that you can keep your emotional health in check.
Focusing on the good in your life, your everyday joys, celebrating the small wins, and practicing gratitude are ways you can avoid spiraling into any holiday blues.
Choosing optimism isn’t always easy, but it is still a choice.
Remember, you can feel sad or frustrated as well as optimistic and grateful at the same time. Genuine gratitude comes from a place deep within where you might not necessarily love your circumstances, but you can choose to find the good in a specific situation.
Take advantage of any pockets of spare time, and make sure to rest.
If you’re a parent or caregiver, and family members are able to look after your children at any celebrations, take a seat and try to enjoy a respite.
Avoid being on your feet for extended periods if possible. Short naps can also provide a number of benefits, such as boosting your mood and energy levels.
Being with certain friends or family members can cause anxiety. Catching up with those you haven’t seen for an extended period of time can bring up topics of conversation that might not be good for your emotional health.
If this is the case, keep conversations light and don’t engage in anything that will unnecessarily cause stress. Excuse yourself if things get too intense.
For example, if someone asks me about my RA and I don’t feel like talking about it, I simply say: “My autoimmune condition isn’t something I’m comfortable talking about right now. Can we please change the subject?”
Maintaining annual traditions and participating in new traditions will create memories that last a lifetime. But always try to remember what’s most important for you personally.
Memories are created in all shapes and sizes. They aren’t just formed by going to a big celebration. Getting cozy in front of a fire with a film is just as wonderful — maybe even better in my eyes.
Fiercely guarding your health, both emotional and physical, is a nonnegotiable this time of year. Honor yourself and your health. I hope these tips help you have the happiest of holidays.
Fact checked on November 23, 2022
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