Op-Ed: It’s OK to Prioritize Your Health Over Socializing During the Holidays

parents video call their children and grandchildren on a laptop for christmas

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Rachel Charlton-Dailey (she/they) is an award-winning journalist specializing in health and disability. Their work is featured in publications such as Healthline, Huffpost, Metro UK, The Guardian, and Business Insider. Charlton-Dailey often uses their platform to spotlight issues that affect disabled people. 

The winter holidays are said to be “the most wonderful time of the year,” but for people with chronic illness, it can be an exhausting time of year. While it can certainly be lovely to celebrate with friends and family, the pressure to socialize with so many people can be overwhelming. When you have a limited amount of energy or chronic pain, these social demands can be too much.

This year, in the middle of a pandemic that is disproportionately affecting those of us with weaker immune systems, we need to prioritize our health more than ever before. That said, it’s hard to do that when it means overcoming societal pressure and family guilt.

Last year, we almost had a “safety net” to fall back on while the world was in lockdown. We were not allowed to socialize by order of the government. While it was scary to have to shelter in place, the prospect of going out now when few people are following the rules is even scarier.

Although COVID is still ravaging the world, the focus seems to have changed. Many people who are not immunocompromised or disabled want to have a “normal” Christmas or whichever holiday that they celebrate this time of year.

For those of us with ill health, it can seem like we’re overreacting about safety concerns if we don’t demonstrate the same eagerness.

You should do only what you want to do—not what others are guilting you into doing.

However, the fact remains that COVID is still disproportionately affecting disabled and vulnerable people more than non-disabled people. Data shows that 6 in 10 COVID deaths in the United Kingdom in 2020 were among disabled people.

Our immune systems also have been shown to generate lower levels of antibodies in response to the vaccines, meaning that we are more at risk of catching COVID even after we get vaccinated.

Given these realities, it’s natural for disabled people to still feel apprehensive about socializing when the new case rates are still so high.

That said, it’s also hard to get over the feeling of disappointing our families—but sometimes, it’s easier to be upfront and honest. That might mean letting them know in as plain terms as possible what your boundaries are and asking that they respect them.

It’s your choice to decide how much or how little socializing you’re comfortable with. You should do only what you want to do—not what others are guilting you into doing.

For instance, your comfort level might be only seeing close relatives who you know are vaccinated or spending time with people in an outside setting. Perhaps you’d prefer to do a Zoom gathering again this year. 

Remind them that they chose to not get the vaccine, but you did not choose to have a weak immune system.

It’s completely valid to have anxiety about who is vaccinated and masking and who is not. If you do not want to socialize with someone who is not vaccinated, that’s your choice.

If people respond by saying that you’re making them feel unwelcome because they chose to not be vaccinated, you have two options. The first is to ignore them. The second is to remind them that they chose to not get the vaccine, but you did not choose to have a weak immune system.

If you’ll be socializing with people that you do not see all the time, it’s OK to ask if everyone who will be at the gathering has been vaccinated. Then, you can decide whether to attend. If you decide not to go because someone is not vaccinated, that’s your choice and it should be accepted.

It can feel tough to assert your boundaries when you feel hesitant to attend and you’re confronted with, “Well, everyone here is vaccinated.” However, your concerns about socializing are still valid even if everyone at a gathering is vaccinated.

As more people have been vaccinated, there seems to be a sense of complacency. Fewer people are following other safety measures, such as social distancing and wearing face masks. It seems like they are relying too heavily on vaccines as a way to give them a fast track back to “their old lives.”

However, disabled and chronically ill people know that we will never get “back to normal”—and many of us do want to. What many people experienced as pre-pandemic “normal life” was not accessible to disabled people.

If someone cares about you, they’d want you to feel safe—whether that means seeing them or not.

Again, it’s OK to assert your boundaries. If people in your life respond with, “But we got vaccinated so that we could see you!” that’s guilt-tripping and it is not fair to you. If someone cares about you, they’d want you to feel safe—whether that means seeing them or not.

If your loved ones are in the latter category, you can politely suggest meeting in smaller groups or whatever you’re most comfortable with.

Hopefully, your loved ones will accept that you have to put your health first. In my experience, the people that try to push your boundaries or make fun of your concerns are not people that you should be spending time with. If anything, the pandemic has shown disabled and chronically ill people who in our lives we can trust to take our health concerns seriously.

It’s been a tough year for everyone, but especially for disabled and chronically ill people. We deserve to celebrate the festive period stress-free and safely—just like everyone else.

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

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  1. U.K. Office for National Statistics. Updated estimates of coronavirus (COVID-19) related deaths by disability status, England: 24 January to 20 November 2020.

  2. Munro C. Covid-19: 40% of patients with weakened immune system mount lower response to vaccinesBMJ. 2021;374:n2098. doi:10.1136/bmj.n2098