When Holidays with Chronic Illness are Hard: How to Find Rest and Survive Them
Suffering from chronic illness even when it’s not a holiday can make it hard to get out of bed in the morning to face the day. There are days when getting a cup of hot water for tea or making a cup of coffee can send you over the edge. Add in the holidays to the mix and even cracking our eyes open in the morning can be depressing because the thoughts start swirling and the pain starts kicking in reminding us we are limited. We are finite. We are fragile.
Have you ever been there? Are you there right now?
Hashimotos has rocked my world in more ways that one. In years past, going through the holidays with Hashimotos has threatened to literally wipe me out causing me to bring in the new year with dread and utter exhaustion.
A Do It All Type of Person
I am an – in recovery – do it all type of person. I used to suffer big time from FOMO (fear of missing out) plus, I just really enjoy participating in festive adventures, creating traditions for my family, giving them a Christmas they’ll remember and fellowshipping with friends and family as much as possible. Until I learned to reign it in and rest (not in the traditional way), come January first I would cry in my bed and wonder how I was going to make it through yet another year with the beast of my chronic illness.
In past years, I wanted to and felt I had to:
- Have an all-day baking session and pass out homemade cookies and candies to all our friends and neighbors. I used to make about 10 different kinds of treats each year. Of course, they had to be wrapped in pretty tins and each treat had to be labeled too!
- Find the perfect gift(s) for 15 people in my family and wrap them like they were going to appear in a magazine.
- Plan and execute a Christmas feast complete with 3-4 courses that included at least 5 dishes each.
- Make sure the table was set to the “nines” and each person had a place card.
- Do fun Christmas crafts with my kids more than once during the season.
- Invite friends over to do Christmas crafts too.
- Attend all the Christmas Bazaars and tree lightings around town.
- Go to every Christmas party we were invited too.
- Go see all the lights in the neighborhoods.
- Go caroling in the neighborhoods.
- Volunteer at church for help with the Christmas events.
- Be sure that all extended family was happy by doing Christmas Eve festivities as well as Christmas day activities.
- Put together an advent calendar for my kids
- Do an advent devotional every.single.day leading up to Christmas.
- Entertain and have Christmas parties in our home with our friends.
- and I am sure there’s more. That’s just what I can remember right now.
I shudder just typing that list… It’s overwhelming just to see it all again. Seriously, I am getting heart palpitations right now.
The crazy thing is that NONE OF THESE THINGS had to be done at all. I added these things to my crazy schedule because I bought into the lie that these to-do’s are what makes Christmas and that we can’t have Christmas without them. It was terribly stressful and exacerbated my Hashimotos leaving me depleted.
God has allowed Hashimotos in my life to help me understand that being “on” all the time and doing all the things distract me from Him, His purpose, and His glory. Sad thing is that all of the above was for my glory and it was exhausting.
I had to become clear-sighted about my limits and come to the realization that I was falling into the trap of the “Martha” syndrome. The anxiety, the exhaustion, the facade had to go.
I had to trade it all for REST
For the longest time, hearing the word rest caused me to become flippant.
“How can anyone rest during the holidays?” I would say.
“Yeah right, there’s no way I can sit and do nothing.” were in my thoughts.
I would fib to myself and say, “I will have a less busy schedule in January and I’ll have rest days then.”
An Important Discovery
Through the limits of the chronic illness God allowed me to have, I eventually discovered that rest is more a state of mind than a lack of action.
Understanding that rest started in my mind changed everything for me. It helped me to find freedom in doing some of the things with the right perspective. I didn’t just have to sit and stare at the wall or go to bed to find rest. I had to pare down the activities and choose only the ones that I could do with my limitations and be sure that they were purposeful. I had to acknowledge that these could change year by year. I like routine so that was hard for me.
Realizations for Enjoying the Holidays, Yet Resting With Chronic Illness:
- Everything I committed to and said yes to meant that I was saying no to something else (often times my own health.)
- My purpose and worth were not in the crafts I created or the food I served. Rather, my worth came (and comes) from God. I didn’t and don’t have to do anything in order to receive His love. (The acceptance of that is still a work-in-progress for me.)
- I could still do the things so long as they weren’t distractions from the real purpose of the season and as long as I wasn’t making them an idol.
- If the thing I wanted to do felt like a burden more than a joy, it had to go.
- If I didn’t do anything that looks like Christmas, it’s ok. My heart and mind are present with Jesus, who is the reason we have Christmas anyway.
Non-Traditional Ways with Chronic Illness to Find Rest in the Holiday Season
With the understanding that we have limits and that TRUE Christmas isn’t about the shopping, gifts, food, crafts, outings, and parties, these are some things you can do that will help you find rest during the holiday season.
Take a Walk
Getting outside, even if it’s cold, and taking a walk can help calm and redirect your mind back to God – the Creator – Elohim.
Get at Least 8 Hours of Sleep Every Night
Sleep is always vitally important because our bodies recover during sleep time. When we are in a busier time of life rest becomes imperative. We endure more oxidative stress during chaotic times and our bodies need the time to rid themselves of the free radicals caused by the oxidative stress. The God-given way they do this is through the detox that happens during long hours of sleep.
Remember, for you Type-A’s like me, downtime doesn’t equal staring at walls and doing nothing. Instead, downtime is a time where you are not out and about racing from one thing to the next. It might be sitting by the fire playing your favorite game with your spouse or children. Maybe it’s a family read-aloud or singing some Christmas songs together as a family. It could be protecting one day of the week where you eliminate screen time for everyone and stay-in doing things that make you happy. Or, in opposite fashion, it may be staying in and watching one of your favorite Christmas movies. The goal is that you are escaping the hustle and bustle during the downtime and doing something that refreshes you and makes you happy.
This may sound silly. We are always breathing, right? But we aren’t always focused on our breathing. Take 10-20 minutes alone in a quiet place. You can be sitting up or laying down. Close your eyes and allow your thoughts to slow. If they aren’t sowing then take captive every thought purposely and tell yourself that you are not going to think about that right now. Allow the thought to go to the back of your mind. Focus on your breath. Focus on your lungs filling with air and your lungs releasing the air. Hear your heartbeat. Doing this will activate your parasympathetic state of mind and chemically cause your body to relax and find rest.
Create Boundaries and Non-Negotiables
Ask yourself what the worst thing was about your previous holiday season and what you vowed never to do again. Purpose not to repeat the same worst thing. Do what it takes to create boundaries so that doesn’t happen again.
As for the non-negotiables, write down the things you will not be doing this year. For instance, we will not be going to tree lightings. It’s non-negotiable this year. That activity brings on too much stress, it’s extremely cold at night and there is not much joy brought from it for us. In contrast, write down the one thing you absolutely want to do this season and plan to do it.
Gone are the days of making 15 dishes for a family feast. We still enjoy lots of whole food made from scratch that’s Paleo but many people contribute to make this happen. When it comes to things that need to get done, like wrapping presents or cleaning the house, get help. Who cares if the presents don’t look the way you want them to or the house doesn’t have every corner dusted. It’ll do. Get the burdens off your shoulders.
I don’t know about you, but crowds generally drain me. Now, I am all for shopping local and supporting small businesses but you certainly won’t find me out on Black Friday or the day after Christmas shopping anymore. I do it online! During the week when people are back at their day jobs is when I may venture out to one local store to find something unique. Shopping online saves time, money and eliminates stress. It can really be quite restful doing it in your pajamas with a cup of hot tea in front of the computer.
Deliberately Rest the Day You Have an Event
If you know you have a Christmas party to go to that night, don’t plan on going to five stores for groceries, getting your hair cut, cleaning the bathrooms and doing a craft with your kid the same day. Well, I guess if you want to go bananas you can but you will not find rest. Instead, if possible, sleep in that day. Have a lengthy quiet time in the morning and a nourishing breakfast. Take some time to read your favorite book and maybe take the dog for a walk. You will be able to enjoy the party that night better since you are going into it refreshed.
Don’t go Overboard on Anything at Christmas
Our kids don’t need 10 presents each under the tree. They don’t even notice the wrapping paper or the cute little tags. In any area for Christmas, it’s easy to do too much. Be mindful and don’t.
Turn off Your Phone and Screens at 6 pm Every Night for December
The blue light that we experience from technology today can destroy optimal levels of serotonin, dopamine, etc. which causes depressive thoughts and sleep problems. The only exception to keeping screens on would be a family movie night or a date night with your spouse. The constant input we get from our screens is completely draining. Your body will find rest when you turn the screens off.
Don’t Focus on Your Limits
With chronic illness, there are always limits and consequences if those limits are stretched. Don’t set your mind on what you can’t do. Rather, focus on the things you are able to do and enjoy them to the fullest.
Sounds like an oxymoron to me but it is very fruitful to plan to laugh. What this looks like for us is finding some of our funny home videos or searching for funny videos online. We love Simon’s Cat, Epic Dog Fails (be careful searching this one with kids), American’s Funniest Home Videos (we like the older ones of these). We also love to do Mad Libs together.
Eat Nutritious Foods and Reduce the Treats (even the Paleo ones)
I know this is hard during this season but even unrefined sugar can deplete your body of certain vitamins and minerals. Plus, these treats can create insulin crashes that are really bad for moods and energy. Place a limit on yourself that you only have 1-3 small treats (only with unrefined sugar – no GMO’s) during the week. Also, add in lots of bone broths, veggies and organic, pastured meats. Nutrient dense foods help source your body with the components it needs to function at a high level and heal from within.
Prioritize Self Care
I often say that without our health we have nothing. I have been in that unhealthy place before. The place where I watched life go on around me while I lay desperately sick and in pain in bed. I never want to experience that again. You need to put your health at the top of the list. Take time for relaxing Epsom salt baths with the treat of essential oils. Take time to go in the Infrared Sauna or participate in a hobby you love. Refresh your soul by catching up with a friend (if that’ refreshing to you – for some people that’s draining.) What comes to your mind first in taking care of yourself? Do that.
Give Your Guilt to God
I have found out the hard way that the pressures I put on myself are the worst. As moms, we work under a lot of pressure each day but this way is not what God intended. He wants us to give Him the guilt we have, the pressures we feel and the burdens we bear. There is freedom and rest to be found when we come to Him humbly, on our knees, in prayer offering these things to Him. He will receive them if we are willing to give them.
Survive the Holidays and Find Rest Even with Chronic Illness
My goal in writing this to you is not to give you yet another list of things to do. Nobody needs that. We are filled to the brim! My intention is to give you some ideas to implement that will absolutely help you truly rest no matter what your holiday season looks like and no matter where you are at with your chronic illness. Rest doesn’t mean crashing at the end of the night, hoping you’ll fall asleep and maybe get 6-7 hours of sleep. Rest comes from intentional choices we make throughout the day, throughout the seasons to keep our souls centered on Christ and focused on the things that are not of this world.
My name is Jennifer and I am thrilled you stopped by. Grab a cup of tea and stay awhile with me. You are valuable. You are worth it. You can heal. You are powerful. You can have the life you always dreamed of. My pain has become my purpose. It's my biggest joy to help you move from merely surviving your life and just "getting through it", to thriving and loving every part of your life!
Are you with me?