Celebrating can be exhausting. But these tips will ensure you have energy for the holiday season when you live with RA.
The holiday season is upon us, and it’s time to celebrate.
There’s a marathon of back-to-back winter holidays, including Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, and New Year’s Eve. It’s an exciting time, but it can also be quite overwhelming.
For many people, this can mean extra commitments on top of already full schedules. If you have rheumatoid arthritis (RA), and the fatigue that often accompanies it, this can be a tricky time of year to navigate.
My goal each year is to not only survive but have fun doing it! After all, this should be a time full of festivities.
Whether you’ve had RA for a month or a decade, you may have heard of the “spoon theory.”
This was coined by Christine Miserandino, a Lupus warrior, writer, blogger, and speaker. You can see more of her work on her Instagram page @butyoudontlooksick.
She used this creative theory to explain to her able-bodied peers that she had limited energy, and it doesn’t regenerate quite as theirs does.
Sitting in a café, trying to explain the impacts of chronic illness to her friend, Christine glanced upon a spoon. She used spoons as a symbol for energy, with each activity of life requiring so many spoons. For example, showering might use 1 spoon while an 8-hour workday may use several more. When you have a chronic illness, such as RA, you might have limited energy, or limited spoons.
In reference to this theory, some people with RA and other auto-immune diseases call themselves “spoonies.”
During this season of holidays, with lots of events and celebrations, it’s important to value and budget your spoons.
So, here are some tips for saving spoons from a fellow RA warrior. I use these to try and prevent a flare or worsening of any symptoms so that I can enjoy one of my favorite times of the year.
You wouldn’t buy everything you saw in an aisle or overspend on an item worth significantly less, right?
You might like to shop sales at the grocery store, and buy things when they’re slightly cheaper. Likely, you have also waited to afford a larger purchase, like a handbag or appliance, until you had the funds.
Think about energy-consuming activities before you do them in this same way. Budget your spoons the same way you do a bank account or other financial account.
For example, if you want to go to a Christmas event, but you think you don’t have enough spoons that day, think about alternative options, or opt to save your spoons for the future. It might not feel as fun at the moment, but in the long run, it will ensure you enjoy the whole festive season.
Start with making a list of everything you need to do.
Then go back and give each task a priority rating. If it’s very important to you, give it the spoons, or energy, required to complete it properly.
This way, you will make sure to do the tasks that are most important to you, instead of feeling overwhelmed by a long to-do list. When you prioritize, it often feels more rewarding to complete those top tasks first.
Over time, you’ll get a better understanding of how many spoons each activity might require, and will be able to prioritize tasks accordingly.
Sleep is needed to replace chemicals and balance immune function. Not getting enough quality sleep can actually make you sick.
According to this study, sleep loss interferes with your immune system by increasing inflammatory cytokines, which are cells that fight inflammation. So, a lack of sleep can increase inflammatory factors and could make your RA worse.
Make sleep a priority to regenerate your spoons at an optimal speed. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends 7 or more hours of sleep per night for those between the ages of 18 and 60.
But RA can complicate our relationship with sleep and interrupt our sleep patterns. This review found that sleep disturbances were more prevalent in those living with RA. Different factors of sleep quality are also affected by RA, and correlate with disease activity.
If you feel tired at certain points of the day, schedule in naps and rests.
I am always most fatigued in the early afternoon. I used to try and power through this time day after day, but this was never successful. Now I just plan around it. I don’t commit to anything during this time, unless absolutely necessary, and I try to rest and take a small nap.
Never underestimate the recharge power of a 30-minute nap. It could lead to better cognition, improved memory, and boosted immunity.
A lack of sleep not only makes you tired but also reduces your ability to deal with pain or stress. There is some evidence — with results from a small sample size of 11 men — to suggest that napping could help to restore pain thresholds affected by sleep restriction.
If you’re anything like me, the term “meal planning” instantly evokes anxiety and dread.
When it comes to the timing of your meals, what you eat, and how you eat it, this is a personal choice and you have to determine what is best.
But it can help to have some plan, however rough, to know how to budget your spoons effectively. This is especially important around the holiday season when meals can become an important occasion and are often shared with loved ones and family.
Try these tips to help save your spoons when you can:
Making efforts to be more physically fit is always good, and has so many benefits for your physical and mental health. But this can often be forgotten around the holidays when spoons are needed for other tasks.
Even if you only manage a brief walk around the neighborhood, the benefits are worth it.
Give yourself flexibility. If you can’t work out today, don’t. If you can do a little more, and it feels good, go for it.
A really great way to use your spoons efficiently, is to combine your fitness goals with holiday activities. This might include walking around a new neighborhood to see festive decorations, or walking to and from a market.
Asking for help can be … helpful!
If you’re clear, direct, and appropriate with what you’re asking you might be impressed at the response. For example, you could ask “Can you please empty the dishwasher?” But try not to say “You never help around the house.”
Also, be mindful of what you ask for. The holidays can be a tough time for many people and for different reasons. But maybe there are ways of helping each other and saving you both energy in the long run.
Asking for help can really save spoons, and if you’re in a position to share yours, there’s nothing quite like offering a helping hand to others in need during the holiday season.
I hope these tips help you enjoy all of your holiday celebrations.
Medically reviewed on November 02, 2022
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