Holiday Survival Guide for Fibromyalgia & Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Tips for Getting Through the Season Without a Flare

Getting through the holidays can be tough on anyone. For those of us with fibromyalgia (FMS) and chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS)… let's just say, if you don't go into it with a good game plan, you're going to crash around the time your Thanksgiving turkey goes in the oven.

A good plan comes down to 3 P's: planning, prioritizing, and pacing.

The simple process here can really help you focus on what's important so you can keep some of the joy in the season.


Planning: Make a List, Check It Twice

Decorating gingerbread house as family
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Make a list of everything you want to accomplish this season. Be sure to include:

  • grocery shopping for baking or special meals
  • cooking and baking
  • gift shopping
  • decorating
  • wrapping presents
  • assembling toys
  • stuffing stockings
  • attending parties and family functions
  • whatever else is part of your tradition

Think about everything you've done over the past few holiday seasons and put it on the list. Give it a day or two and go over it again, to see if you've forgotten anything.


Prioritizing: What Do You Want Most?

Now, take your list and prioritize it. What things are most important to you? What absolutely has to happen for your holidays to be happy?

A temptation here is to think about what everyone wants. If you're having trouble prioritizing because you know your mother-in-law wants pecan pie, your brother's on a diet, and Great-Aunt Suzie still puts lights on her house so why can't you, STOP!

While you may want to take care of everyone, you need to be realistic and take care of YOU first! You may have to work on saying "no."

As you prioritize, think not only about what's important, but what you truly love to do. If wrapping presents with lots of elaborate ribbon and bows makes you happy, don't short change your own enjoyment by going with gift bags or delegating it to someone else.


Pacing: Cut, Simplify, Delegate

Close up of a delete key.
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Pacing yourself is the key to surviving every day with FMS and ME/CFS, so don't forget it during the busy times! Now is when you need it most.

Several steps go into pacing, and the first is cutting down your list. Count up your items, then delete the bottom half. Don't worry about those things anymore—you've already determined that they're non-essential and don't bring you joy.

Now, simplify. What can you make easier? Gift bags instead of wrapping? Online shopping instead of going to a dozen stores?

If you have some labor-intensive things on the list, have a simpler back-up plan. For example, if you like to make pie crust from scratch but you just don't have the energy when you need it, accept that store-bought crust is the right option this time.

Now look at your list again and see what you can delegate. Turn Thanksgiving dinner into a potluck. Who can come over to help you decorate or set the table? Who can help you clean up? You might be surprised at how much people are willing to do to help you.

If no one's willing to help, then what? If it's a family dinner or gathering, perhaps their unwillingness to help shows that it's not a priority for them, which means it doesn't need to be a priority for you.


Pacing: Cut Again!

Now that you've seen what can be simplified and what can be delegated, take another look at your list. Estimate how long it will take you to accomplish everything on it.

One of three things is likely happening as you do this:

  1. You've done such a great job that you're thinking, "Wow, this is totally do-able!"
  2. You're thinking, "It's a lot, but I'm determined to do it all and make the holidays perfect!"
  3. You're getting anxious and thinking, "I can't do it!"

For you number ones, as long as you're being honest with yourself, you can now move on to Step #5.

If you're a number two, STOP! Be honest, and think back to the last time you forced yourself to work that hard. The last thing you want to do is wear yourself out, stress about what you're not getting done, and send yourself into a flare-up.

If you're a three, take a deep breath. You don't have to do all of that!

Start cutting again, and whittle that list down to about half of what it is now. It's scary, but if you get everything done and have the time and energy, you can always revive some of the things that didn't make the cut.


Back to Planning: Make a Schedule

A red bow sits on a December 25 calendar page.
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Now's the time to figure out when you can get things done. What can you be working on in, say, September? Make notes on your list of when you want to start things.

Now get out a calendar with any parties or events written on it so you can plan to have down time before and after. (Don't plan to shop or hang lights the day after a party—it won't happen!)

As you start to identify busy days, think about how long you can typically be functional and schedule rest periods. If you can usually handle four hours of activity, cut it down to three hours with an hour to rest. Pacing yourself like this means you'll have more periods of activity.


More Pacing: Adapting as You Go

A woman naps on a couch next to a Christmas tree and presents.
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If you get half way through the season and your body is sending warning signs, listen! You may need to revise your list as you go in order to keep yourself functional.

If you need to cut, simplify, or delegate some more, now's the time to it. Make sure people are aware that without their help, things won't get done.

Recovery is Crucial

After a busy period, we need some recovery time. On top of scheduling downtime throughout the season, make sure you give yourself time for a long winter's nap (or three) afterward. It can make all the difference.

Happy Holidays!

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