How to Navigate the Holidays With Fibromyalgia and ME/CFS

Woman laying on sofa behind a christmas tree and gift bags
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The holiday season is supposed to be a happy time, but it comes with a lot of stress and expectations. It can be a trying time even for healthy people, and for those of us with fibromyalgia (FMS) and chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS), it can turn into the worst time of the year.

It doesn't take long for most of us to learn that negative events (i.e., stressful incidents, confrontations) make you feel a lot worse. But have you also connected happy events to a downturn in your health?

A 2008 study shows that positive events as well as negative ones can rev up FMS symptoms for a couple of days. It doesn't go into why these events have this impact on us. (And we're not alone. People with rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis get it, too.)

However, it doesn't seem like a stretch that an emotional, high-energy-output day can take a toll even without the negative effects of stress-system activation and anxiety. Just being social for several hours takes enough energy to wipe some of us out. Throw in too much sugar and maybe a dash of alcohol, it's a perfect recipe for a good, old-fashioned holiday crash.

The sad thing about this is that we need those good times! Who wants to spend their lives avoiding fun and happiness? Fortunately, while our illness may not be under our control, how we live with it is. Sometimes, we may just need to accept the consequences of having a special day.

Also, it can help to think a little more about planning for fun events: the lead up to them, the events themselves, and the aftermath.

The resources here can help you manage all the aspects of the holiday season that make it difficult for us, and there are a lot of them! It can be overwhelming to try figuring it all out at once, so take your time and focus on what you most need first.

The Planning Stage of the Holiday Season

The sheer volume of stuff we have to do to prepare for the holidays can make you want to run away and hide. We can help you set priorities so you know what to focus on first, and what can go by the wayside if you run out of time or energy.

The best thing to do is to start early and really spread out the work. If you're getting started later, though, that's perfectly fine. Just know that you may need to manage your expectations a little more.

Things that can and do cause problems for us—and not only during the holidays—are:

The holiday season emphasizes the need for these skills, so there's no better time to start setting these good habits.

Here's one final bit of good advice from one of your fellow readers:

"Stop before you're ready to stop. If you go till you're too tired to do more then you'll crash. When you think 'I'll just do that 1 or 2 more things, or visit 1 or 2 more shops, or go up 1 or 2 more aisles'—don't! Thinking this is your cue that you should stop—works for me. Keep it simple. Decorate—but not as much, celebrate—but not as much, cook if you can—but not as much."

The Lead-Up: Food, Shopping, Gifts, Travel

Regardless of what retailers want us to think, most people consider Thanksgiving the official start of the holiday season. From then on, it seems like we're bombarded with food. That can be hard for those of us who have food allergies or sensitivities.

Now we come to the day after Thanksgiving—Black Friday. Even the thoughts of someone with these conditions in the middle of Black Friday mayhem makes us shudder. Why? Let me count the ways!

  1. We'll probably be too worn out from Thanksgiving,
  2. We can't afford to lose the sleep,
  3. It's too much exertion,
  4. Waiting outside in the cold is especially rough for those of us with temperature sensitivity,
  5. The chaos of it can lead to over-stimulation, anxiety, panic attacks, and flares.

Yes, the incredible savings are amazing, but these days, a lot of stores have "doorbusters" online as well. This is one time when insomnia may be a bonus since the sales start at midnight.

Even shopping during a more "normal" time can be tough on us.

When it comes to people shopping for you, do you sometimes get gifts that you can use because of your FMS or ME/CFS symptoms or sensitivities? It might help to give your friends and family this article: "Good Gifts (or Not!) for Someone with FMS or ME/CFS."

And don't forget to give extra thought to traveling during the holidays.

Aftermath

It's pretty much inevitable that we're not going to feel good on December 26. If at all possible, just stay home and rest. The more time you can take, the better.

If that's not an option, do the bare minimum and take good care of yourself. You should probably be prepared for a flare.

New Year's Resolutions

Of course, New Year's Eve is just around the corner from Christmas. If you're considering a resolution, and want to make it stick, it helps to approach it in the right way.

Holiday Depression

No matter how careful we are, symptoms can still knock us down and spoil our plans. Some of us may be alone or may feel left out and forgotten as people celebrate around us.

Whatever the cause, holiday depression can become a reality for any of us. The resources below can help you identify the problem and begin to deal with it.

If your feelings start to overwhelm you and you're thinking about suicide, or know someone who might be, call this number:

Millions of people have FMS or ME/CFS, and millions of people suffer from depression. What that means is that, thanks to the Internet, we are never alone, and we never have to bear the full burden of our illness alone. Finding out that someone out there understands and cares about you can make all the difference.

If you know someone who might be feeling alone or depressed right now, reach out to them in some way. If you think someone you know is suicidal, help them get help before it's too late.

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