The holidays can be a stressful time of year. They are busy and hectic. A lot of your time and energy seems to be given out that you simply do not have. It is a joyful time of year but if we are not careful it can be overwhelming as well. All this combined can increase our pain levels and fatigue and generally decrease our enjoyment of the activities we spend with our family. We want to be able to enjoy ourselves, enjoy the time with our family and friends and still partake in holiday events.

Pandemic holiday version

Can actually be quite a bit more stressful. There can be financial concerns because people have lost work and because inflation is, well, really inflating and the cost of everything due to that and shipping issues strains already strained budgets. There is a lot more isolation and even if we see or chat with people online or via technology it really lacks that physical contact element. Many people are already having a hard time coping with pandemic stress and you add holiday stress on top of that it can be quite distressing.

With all the stress lately, I am beginning to think simple and mellow is much, much better.

Text: Avoiding stress during the holiday season and during pandemic Christmas as well

Image: blue background of night sky with two clouds in sky. Cartoon images of two trees bracketing the image at the bottom. Each evergreen tree has one ornament on it. Between them is a small house.
Avoiding stress during the holiday season

Here are some things to consider over the holidays

Ditch the guilt

With fibromyalgia and chronic pain, there is often a struggle with guilt.

For some reason, this can rear its ugly head during the holidays because again we have these expectations of ourselves that we simply cannot live up to.

Unfortunately, we all also have this wonderful idea of what the perfect holiday should be like; there should be family, friends, food and parties along with holiday joy. Yet the fact is on the best of days fibromyalgia and pain limit what we can accomplish. This discord between reality and our ideal image of what should be causes this guilt.

Instead, we should be focusing on what we really want to achieve and how to achieve it realistically. The holidays are about expressing how much we care for our loved ones and our friends. We are still capable of that without running ourselves into the ground in the process.

Ask yourself what makes the holidays memorable for you?

This tip is basically the think about what it is you value about the holiday season. This tip becomes even more important during the pandemic when we can be limited on larger family gatherings or any gathering at times. We all have some sort of nostalgia for Christmas or how you specifically celebrate the holiday season. And that nostalgia is what gives birth to the traditions we like to keep alive during our holiday season and Christmas. We just have to think of why we do those traditions, why they are important to us, which ones have the most Meaning to us to keep alive… and how we can do them.

Essentially, you need to decide what parts of the holiday season make it memorable and important to you and your family. Take those important things and eliminate the rest so you are free to focus on the essentials. You can discuss with your family which traditions they find to be most important and defining to them.

In normal times, if you like big holiday ventures, delegating tasks to family is a good idea to manage your pain and symptoms. Some people have a tradition of a big family meal that is homecooked but maybe going out for dinner, or having take-in, where everyone is free to just relax and visit, might be fine as well.

Some people have decorations all over the house but maybe just less extensive decorating with a tree might suffice. This can manage stress, pain and fatigue.

Pandemic addition:

You may not remember exactly what happened at the holidays from year to year, but when something this different happens, it’ll stick out. “Things that go wrong often make the best memories,” Rubin says. “This exceptional holiday season will probably be more memorable because it’s so different. We just have to find a way to make the most of it.”

Real Simple
Text center of image: The last year taught me Christmas & the holidays can look entirely different and still be meaningful
Background:Christmas tree and decorations
We have to just decide what is meaningful to us

During a pandemic, we have to understand some of these traditions we value may have to be put aside for now, while others could be changed to be done with the advantages of technology. Anyway, maybe it will be different but the meaningful part is that time with the people you love.

But if when I found myself alone sometimes I just create that nostalgic vibe. If it is just our little household we still cook the Christmas dinner. We binge Christmas movies. I listen to my favourite Christmas tunes. We unwrapped gifts together. I had some hot cocoa. We, of course, decorated. Just vibed on the small things that remind me of the season.

The same as above you can pick things about the holiday itself that you value and do those. Make a new tradition out of them. Maybe corny Christmas things like the whole family wearing matching PJs to chill in. Connect over technology with extended family and share what you are grateful for. Facebook chat with a contest on who decorated their tree the best- with pictures for people to vote on- and maybe some sort of prize. Do a funky/cool Advent calendar by yourself or with a friend online (there are so many cool ones out there)

CDC recomendations and ideas for celebrating

  • Decorate your home and get into the holiday spirit
  • Try a video chat with friend and family
  • Host a meal with the people that live with you
  • Host an outdoor event with social distancing (assuming the weather in your area lets you)
  • Do virtual parties or celebrations (or games)
  • Try a walk or drive around your area to wave at the neighbours (Or check out the lights)
  • Take some food or a gift to family or friends, without contact
  • Celebrate outside with your neighbours
  • Volenteer to help those in need

Remember the mighty list

Brain fog hits at the worst times and planning is your friend as are lists. Gift lists are very helpful because you can cross off as you go along. If you are doing a lot of planning for an event yourself then a to-do list or even a menu list might help as well. Remember not every item has to be completed by you. You can delegate parts of the list to others.

This way you can prioritize what is important to you and your family and ensure you are able to get things done without being rushed. Try to keep it simple. If something on that list is not that important to you or your family just get rid of it. If it is something that does not need to be done by you consider delegating it. And finally, of the things you want to accomplish consider the easiest way to accomplish the task, if there are ways to make it simpler or compromises that can be made. Once you have your goals laid out, spread them over your timeline so that you only need to accomplish a fraction each week allowing for bad pain days in the mix.

Budget your time

Shopping can be done online and if you have done so then you are a step ahead of the game. With the delayed shipping this specific year most online shopping is already done. And anything we forgot we might have to do in person just because we know it will not arrive on time if we order it.

If not online then decide what you’re getting, choose low peak times to go get it and go for the quick in and out. Not everything has to be bought in one day. Shopping all day in a mall can be quite taxing. I can’t handle it most of the time. I get so fatigued. It can flare my fibromyalgia pain or trigger a migraine.

If you do hit the mall for an all-out shopping adventure consider switching the heavy winter gear in the car for comfortable shoes, light comfortable clothes and a light purse to help with the fatigue and strain of the walk-a-thon. I figured this one out because I overheat so fast and everything gets So heavy and cumbersome.

Pacing is important no matter what. I know some people really like elaborate holidays and large dinners. I get that. But you have to remember we always must pace no matter what you choose to do.

Remember to say ‘No’ when needed

We have limited energy and pain flares from stress and strain can occur if we exceed our limitations. Therefore, don’t feel obligated to attend every event or gathering you’re invited to. Choose which ones you can attend and stick with those ones. You can always plan an event with people you decline after the holidays when things settle down.

Pandemic version:

Some of us are fully vaccinated. Some of us are not at all. It can be socially tricky to ask if someone is vaccinated or not but some of us have fatigued immune systems or compromised immune systems- so even vaccinated we are still higher risk. It is recommended where I live to only socialize indoors with fully vaccinated people. Outdoors with unvaccinated people, in limited numbers.

CDC safe holiday guidelines:

  1. To protect those who cannot get vaccinated around you, get your vaccinations
  2. Protect those around you- “You might choose to wear a mask regardless of the level of transmission if a member of your household has a weakened immune system, is at increased risk for severe disease, or is unvaccinated.”
  3. Wear well-fitted mask in public indoor settings. Outdoors is safer than indoors.
  4. Avoid crowded, unventilated areas.
  5. If you are sick, do not host or attend gatherings.
  6. Consider risk level and percautions “If you are gathering with a group of people from multiple households and potentially from different parts of the country, you could consider additional precautions (e.g., avoiding crowded indoor spaces before travel, taking a test) in advance of gathering to further reduce risk.”

Of course, follow all regulations in your local area and according to your specific health needs.

Consider your budget

In these times when money can be more strained, it is important to stick to a firm budget and avoid any additional financial stress. Financial stress over a time when money is spent more easily at the end of the year and the beginning of the new year is an extra burden no one needs.

Pandemic version:

Especially, during this pandemic. It has really strained so many of us financially. And our budget doesn’t even stretch as far as it used to.

Try a present game:

One of my favorites is Pass the Present, or the Left-Right game. Here’s how it works: Everyone brings a small, funny gift (we typically set a $5 limit) and wraps it however they like. Everyone sits around a table with their own gift in front of them as a poem is read out loud (here’s the one we use). Every time the word ‘right’ is read, you pass the gift in front of you to the right. When the word ‘left’ is said, you pass to the left. At the end of the game, you unwrap the gift in front of you and guess who brought the gift.

Better home & Gardens

Or draw names for gifts. This is also a good time for some very practical gifts you know will help others out – even if it is gift cards to the most frequently used stores to cut costs.

Maintain your schedule

Just because it is the holiday season doesn’t mean you should change your routines. Keeping your regular eating habits and sleeping habits are important to maintaining energy and low stress. It is easy to get into the holiday spirit and want to partake in too many tempting treats or have a few extra glasses of wine but sometimes moderation is better on both counts when both can be triggers that can flare up symptoms. Definitely, if we stray too far from our routines it can flare us up.

One day or a few spread out of extra goodies or a little extra alcoholic celebration and some indulgences isn’t going to be an issue for some of us…. we deal with those situations all the time the rest of the year (we know our personal limits, we know if we exceed them what recovery time we need… whatnot). But basic routines we follow for our well-being we should try to stick to most days, if not every single day (our sleep, most eating habits, and any relaxation techniques we do, de-stressing methods)

If we choose to have company over

In regards to housekeeping, we often feel the need to clean the entire house for company, which is an exhausting feat. However, people don’t trek through the entire house on a visit so clean the areas people will be in such as the living room, bathroom and maybe the kitchen. Personally, I don’t go crazy either. People know I am a bit cluttered. It is how I roll.

For the meal itself, other compromises can be made such as having someone in the family cook with you or having parts of the meal be bought cooked already. Or alternatively, you can ask the guests to each bring a dish and you can do the main course. Choosing to do a more casual lunch instead of an extensive diner is also an option. Anything ideas that can ease the overall stress of the preparation of the event should be considered if this is something that is stressful.

Pandemic wise:

Well, all that depends on the regulations in your area, of course. I think most places this way only allow for small gatherings anyway. That does keep things pretty chill.

If it is recommended it is just your family only, that is cool. Do the whole meal deal, if you want. Order in, if you want. There is nothing to say your Christmas has to be One way. Ordering in can help with some of the stress.

Avoid isolation

If you find the holidays to be particularly stressful or even at times depressing then this is all the more important for you to avoid stress. At times people want to just isolate themselves during the holidays because they feel too sick to socialize but it is better to do even a little bit of casual socializing than none at all.

Retreating during this part of the year can be depressing and therefore letting yourself get into the spirit of things even in small ways can lift your spirits. Simply going out for small shopping trips and listening to Christmas music, going to a Christmas work party or having lunch with a friend. Permit yourself to enjoy the small pleasures that come with the season and give yourself a break from any negative self-talk. There are plenty of people who find the holidays difficult but when dealing with a chronic illness it can be isolating and depressing in a different way.

Pandemic isolation:

The pandemic does make socialization a really creative venture sometimes. Certainly, something we have to organize way more. And it definitely seems just less frequent. And therefore way more important we get at least a little. And if we can’t at all then what I do with SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) is make sure I take nice walks outside to just help with the depression. Also, chat groups online can help me – just have some connection.

There are so many ways to connect with family and friends virtually now. To chat, play games, do virtual celebrations… you name it. Even if you have no one to socialize with on social media there are little groups that do online social get-togethers for this exact reason. You can try a baking party with friends and family. Or host a virtual movie night with Netflix!

Enjoy yourself

Picture: My small Christmas Tree
Top text: Getting into the festive season!
Side text: It's going to be a quiet Christmas. It's going to be a simple Christmas. But I still decorate to get myself in the mood to be festive in simple ways
I like my wee little tree

The best gift you can give yourself is to enjoy the holiday season in any small way possible. With loved ones close, or far away. To not take on extra stress and to relax. Some of us have too many obligations over the holidays and elaborate celebrations and some of us dread the holidays and avoid it altogether. We should all aim for somewhere in the middle where we are not spread too thin but are able to be involved with the holiday season with whomever we choose to celebrate it with (friends, family, online friends, by ourselves)

Some things to try with family at home (or family and friends virtually)

  1. Cookie baking and decorating!!
  2. DIY ornaments. This sounds so fun. Like connecting to my childhood.
  3. Dress up. I am thinking Ugly Christmas Sweater Party. But it can also be any theme at all for fun.
  4. Do a massive family jigsaw puzzle. Or lego work.
  5. Binge Christmas movies. Even virtually with family.
  6. Take yourself out- to your fav coffee shop for a cocoa. Just people-watch and relax. Maybe write in a journal. Take a walk around the neighboourhood to check out christmas lights.
  7. Do a little de-cluttering. It helps with mood (I know that one for sure) but for the holidays you can set aside some things to donate, bring them in and donate them. It is a good time for it.
  8. Visit the neighbours outside. Bonfire included, if you can!
  9. Mail out 1 Christmas card. Or a bunch. People love gettting mail that Is Not bills.

See other Christmas posts

Chronic Illness Christmas Book List
Chronically ill Christmas gift ideas
Christmas gift ideas made by people with chronic illnesses

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4 thoughts on “Avoiding stress during the Holiday Season- and during a pandemic Christmas as well

  1. Great tips, Nikki! Holidays used to stress me out big-time until I hit 2017 and realized I just can’t keep doing what I’m doing. Luckily I have a partner who recognized the toll it was taking on me, so he suggested we start winding down on everything. Being away from family, I don’t have to worry about making trips to different homes over the holidays, but it is hard since I haven’t been home for the holidays since 2015. We try to do things slowly and keep it simple. If I can’t do it, my partner will and that’s super helpful. I love being able to stay at home in new jammies (even though I rarely leave home) and listen to Christmas music and enjoy foods that I wouldn’t normally eat. Hope you have a great holiday season!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I love Christmas. Or I love the nostalgic feeling it gives me. So i always make it special for myself and those around me.. even in a pandemic. But simple is always fine by me!


  2. These are such great tips and especially needed! Saying no is so important yet so much harder during this time of year when we’re expected to do more and receive more invites than other times of the year. Doing tasks that don’t require as much energy like listening to Christmas songs, watching Christmas movies and eating traditional festive foods always helps me feel more positive and like I’m not missing out as much. Unfortunately no one else in my family can cook so I have to save a lot of my energy to make the Christmas dinner for everyone myself! I hope you have a great Christmas Nikki 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I can understand your problem there not because I can cook… but because I can’t so my bf takes that all on! But I wonder if you can prep— pace that as well. I do that sometimes when i cook dinners.
      I like that we know our positive Christmas vibe… and that is most important… just doing what is important to give us the good vibes and not overdoing it all!


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