Chronic Illness and the Holidays: Finding Reasons for Self-Care

In the spirit of the upcoming holidays, I think now is as good a time as ever, to hop back into my blogging. I have been MIA for the last 10 weeks due to a case of chronic urticaria...a nonspecific health condition, which I will write an entry on, in November.

For now, I want to address the fat man in the room. By fat man, I mean Santa Claus and his fat bag of expectations. I am by no means a Grinch, but I find myself getting more and more leery of the holidays, each year. Some of this has to do with the necessary stress they bring, in order for the day to be as epic and memorable as they always turn out to be. Some of it has to with the fact that my body, has been on a medical rollercoaster, each year more intense and unpredictable than the year prior.

Here in the U.S., the holidays last realistically between October through January... so we're talking four months out of the year, of sugar-stuffing, credit-card swiping, expensive meal-making, family-visiting, party-going, get-together-hosting, smorgasbord of chaotic, exciting, draining, fulfilling, laughing, crying, giving and taking, one-third of the year, people!

First winter in our first home
Taking a minute to enjoy the warmth of the fire

People everywhere are searching high and low currently, on Pinterest, Facebook, Insta...for tips to gear up for the holiday season. I have found countless ways of practicing self-care online, but what I have yet to find is a list of justifications for self care. I think, as women (and definitely some of you men out there), we feel we need a justification, as we can be fixated on taking care of everyone else, that we forget about the fact that we haven't done something truly nice for ourselves in months.

Taking inventory of how much self-care we don't do, is probably pretty easy, but what I hear often, when I talk to other women about these issues, is they don't find reason enough that they are worth it...worth the money, the time, going out of the way, for themselves. It's like we need permission from God himself, to go to take a day. Although we don't need justifications or reasons to take time for ourselves, it doesn't hurt to know why and where we are, on the list of caretaking. 

We won't lose steam in meeting our life goals, by making a little bit of time for our souls and well-being once a day (or once a week if that's all you have). If anything, it will help us bloom into who we need to be for ourselves, others, and those goals.


In this post, I talk about some of the best reasons for self-care and soul-care, and their importance, especially during the holiday season. I encourage everyone to find their own reasons, these are just the reasons that surfaced for myself. I refer to them as reasons, because some of us may feel guilt if we buy ourselves things or take a good chunk of time for just play or enjoyment. Excuses that come to my mind for me include, "Oh well... that could be an extra $x-amount for so-and-so's gift...". I wiggle my way out of it.

I think it is important to start reciting these reasons at the latest, the start of November, so that once the holiday season begins, I am not playing "catch-up", and still physically and mentally recovering all the way into February. It is never too late though, to get on the soul-care train. Not to mention, I am sure "more self-care" will likely be on some of our New Year's Resolutions, so this way, you'll already have ticked that box by the time the ball drops.

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Here are Some Concrete Justifications for Self-Care During the Holidays: read on before the trick-or-treaters, the pumpkins, the turkeys, or the fat man talk you out of it. 

 

1. Mood-swing prevention, i.e., you'll be more fun to be around. Now, at first glance, some may say that self-care is selfish or cheesy, or they just plain don't have time, because after all, it is the season for giving to others.  I really do love giving gifts to others. I love seeing family's or friend's faces light up when opening a special gift I put time into. I love the wrapping, the decorations, the card-writing, and just the whole essence of it. But I beg to reason that if I can't find little ways to bless my body or mind, I would likely be in a bad mood around others.

If my energy reserves have run dry, I'll likely be in a lot of pain or the beginning of a flare-up, which can make me very irritable (which can translate to others as mood-swings). It won't matter how big the holiday bash is that I throw... I won't be any fun to be with. So taking a minute to figure out what I've got to give myself this holiday season, will be well worth it. Paying close attention to give myself time and a half to get things done, will overflow my cup, and naturally the excess in my cup will spill over into my interactions with others. I will be able to give and listen better.

So my first question is, "How will I bless my body and mind this new season? Is it going to be a massage before that get-together? A day at my local meditation center? Sipping some tea by the fire? Or a swim at the gym, a warm yoga class? . . .With my chronic pain I find I have to be proactive with stressors, like get-togethers. Having big group interactions and noisy environments can be sensory overload for fibromyalgia patients like myself. It literally exhausts my body and mind, after having social interactions for hours at a time. With chronic pain, it takes a lot of effort to smile and have the right amount of extroversion needed in these group settings.

 

2. Quality Testing: Experiment with presents before you give them. It seems that somehow we always are able to find "some wiggle room" in our account, for those we want to give a special Christmas, or make a lovely brunch or dinner. If you cannot get out of the thinking that splurging on something for yourself is unjustified, do it as a means for preparation of giving to someone else. If you want to give someone a massage for Christmas, try the therapist yourself first, to make sure they are good at listening to preferences for pressure. If you were planning to get your mother-in-law candles or lotions for Christmas, get yourself a trial size, to make sure it's quality stuff. This concept can be applied to practically any stretch of budget. Allow me to give you permission, to take that gift-giving passion of yours, and turn into a treat for yourself, somehow, even if small. The other elves can fill in while you're out.

 

3. Those around you will be inspired by your self-care, and want to take care of themselves more. This couldn't be truer. I noticed that when I started doing more yoga or more meditation, people around me were asking questions about it. It conjured up a natural interest for them by seeing me benefit from it firsthand. I think part of the struggle is the way our society views self-worth. Society tells us that self-care is indulgent, selfish and unaffordable, and we're better off overly-caffeinated, worked to the bone, and never taking a minute for ourselves.

One of my favorite authors, addresses this mindset in a quote:

 

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I can't inspire anyone to care for themselves, if my top priorities are pushing myself to burnout, constantly on edge. Where am I really sitting with gratitude for the blessings around me or those in my life?

It's not about out-doing someone else's Christmas party, spending the most cash, or seeing if I can be a martyr with my time and money. It can be about sharing the gratitude and belonging I have with those I am lucky to have in my lives. And taking care of myself is part of this. It means that I can be more present for those around me. To love and laugh more and inspire them to do the same for themselves.

 

4. Because, Soul-Care. Try to get in the habit of meditating for at least 5 minutes a day (and really every chance you get). Meditation, among many other benefits, has been scientifically proven to help lower our cortisol levels (which are definitely highest this time of the year). So if we don't meditate, we're doing our hormones (which regulate nearly all functions of our bodies) a disservice. Last Christmas, I found myself hosting a family holiday for 12+ people, if you include myself and hubby. This was to say the least, highly exciting, but also very time-consuming. I found that if I pulled myself away from the bustle for even 5 minutes (this sometimes may look like a bathroom!) to just take some deep belly-breaths and re-center, amidst the (lovely) chaos, I was better able to serve others less stressfully and had less overwhelm. This is also a time of year where many people celebrate their religious traditions. If you don't have religion, or traditions, meditation is a great way of getting in touch with our spiritual needs. Take 5 and reconnect with gratitude for making it another year. If we find ourselves behind at resolutions we make at the beginning of each year...we're doing it wrong. Maybe if we take more time for a gratitude practice (write 5 things at the end of each day you are grateful for) and meditation, we can be more mindful about choices we make during the holidays. This will avoid starting out the next year to come with regret.

Bless your body and mind with gratitude for what it is able to still do. Even though I have had some of the roughest days of the whole year these last ten weeks, I really did feel better when I forced myself to name 5 things I was grateful for...even if they seemed petty or minor in comparison to my body's symptoms.

I am always just an instagram DM away, if you ever need support my fellow spoonies or just someone to chat with. Comment below if you have any more reasons/justifications for your self or soul-care. I am grateful for those of you who read to the end.

Make sure to tune in the coming weeks for another post addressing rheumatology and autoimmunity. I plan to touch more on my experience with medical appointments in the next post.

Wishing you all plentiful spoons this season,

Ash

3 thoughts on “Chronic Illness and the Holidays: Finding Reasons for Self-Care

  1. A great quote and a fascinating blog entry. Are usually rather reserve Christmas but this year I feel somewhat sad because my children, being grown-up, Are beginning to say “we are not kids anymore, why buy us presents?” Although my daughter, who is almost 50 loves Christmas and giving and receiving presents. We have hit up on the idea of doing it but not killing ourselves financially, telling each other things that we are interested in having that aren’t too expensive. I think this will help. I look forward to having grandchildren being able to give them things. But yes it can get crazy and it always does. So I should probably be glad that my Christmas will probably be a much quieter one and it has been in terms of this and yet I will still see my kids. Thank you.

  2. A great quote and a fascinating blog entry. Are usually rather reserve Christmas but this year I feel somewhat sad because my children, being grown-up, Are beginning to say “we are not kids anymore, why buy us presents?” Although my daughter, who is almost 50 loves Christmas and giving and receiving presents. We have hit up on the idea of doing it but not killing ourselves financially, telling each other things that we are interested in having that aren’t too expensive. I think this will help. I look forward to having grandchildren being able to give them things. But yes it can get crazy and it always does. So I should probably be glad that my Christmas will probably be a much quieter one and it has been in terms of this and yet I will still see my kids. Thank you.

    1. Isabella,

      Thank You for your comment! Christmas can be a hectic time of the year, indeed. It is rather wonderful to opt for a quieter holiday season. We are focused on going to the mountains this year and reflecting more on what we are grateful for. Less expenses= happier family= more positive memories and less stress. Happy Holidays to your family, stay safe and warm

      -Ashley

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