Helping women with chronic illnesses

Happy Chronic Holidays

Today I wanted to write about a subject I believe many people can relate to right now. Holidays are known as a potentially stressful time for many people to one degree or another. While some people are less affected than others by the hustle and bustle that occurs at this time of year, most people I know feel some degree of extra pressure and responsibility when compared to other times of the year.

My intent with this post is to share a few ideas and opinions for how patients with chronic illness and chronic pain can minimize stress at a time of year that is often busier than usual. What works for one person may not work for another. Here, I am including tips that have helped me and that have helped other people I know who live with chronic pain and chronic illness.

Ideas for protecting your health:

  • Learn how to say no and mean it. This may sound harsh but the power of setting boundaries to protect one’s health from sliding backwards is important. Sometimes saying no is a necessary step for protecting one’s health. Some activities are simply not wise given one’s medical condition(s). If possible, suggest some sort of compromise. However, forcing oneself to engage in activities that will hinder healing and induce pain or other symptoms may lead to regrets later. Try to think ahead to what impact engaging in a given activity will have on your body before agreeing to do it.

  • Pace yourself and know/respect your limits. Spacing activities apart to allow for rest in between them can make all the difference in the world. There is nothing wrong with resting when your body is “asking” for it. Listen to your body and give it the time it needs to manage the activities before you. This can be easier said than done at a time of year when people may be flying in from out of the area and such. However, your body will thank you for respecting its need for adequate rest.

  • Avoid triggers when you can. If you are exposed to a trigger unexpectedly, make peace with the fact that you may have to leave the room or even leave the situation entirely. For example, if you have multiple chemical sensitivity or migraines and you’re at a holiday gathering where your symptoms are triggered by someone with fragrance, make peace with the fact that you may need to leave earlier than expected. Your health needs to be given high priority.

  • Accept the fact that there may be relatives or friends who don’t understand your special needs… whatever they may be. So, if you have to follow a special diet or have to avoid exposures to “air fresheners” (containing toxins that are unhealthy for everyone) or cannot be anywhere near cigarette smoke and someone just doesn’t understand it, you are not responsible for giving them a tutorial on food allergies/sensitivities or multiple chemical sensitivity triggers. Educating people is fine but there are some people who may never really “get it” unless it happens to them (or perhaps if it happens to someone they live with… where they witness it daily). Your job is to keep yourself safe. If you have an opportunity to educate someone, that’s OK. However, at holiday time people’s attention is often focused on many other things. So, a holiday gathering may not necessarily be the best time to attempt to create awareness about your illness(es).

  • Give yourself permission for an abbreviated visit. If, for whatever reason, you are not feeling up to spending the amount of time you originally planned and/or agreed to, you have the right to modify that timetable.

    You only get one body.

    While holidays can present unique opportunities to spend time with people we may not see often, it’s important to keep in mind what your body will be feeling like the next day or week or month. Overdoing things can do a number on someone with chronic illness(es). Sometimes, even though we know this intellectually… many patients with chronic illness(es) develop “temporary amnesia” at holiday time and try to take on too much. Doing so can result in increased pain, setbacks in healing progress, anxiety, depression, and exacerbation of symptoms. It is especially important to remember self-care when times are busy.

    By drinking lots of water, exercising care in dietary choices (at a time of year when this can be trickier than usual), getting sufficient rest, setting boundaries, and saying no to activities that our bodies simply can’t handle… we can get through the holiday season feeling stronger, healthier, and happier.

    This post was written by Jeanne at Copyright © Jeanne — All rights reserved.

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    Reading: Happy Chronic Holidays


1 JasmineNo Gravatar { 12.17.10 at 3:37 pm }

Very good advice to listen to your body while it’s “asking” you to rest instead of waiting until it’s screaming through pain, brain fog, and fatigue.
.-= Jasmine´s last blog ..Making friends with my discomfort =-.

2 JeanneNo Gravatar { 12.17.10 at 3:53 pm }


I spent so many years not listening to my body. 🙁 Finally, I learned that I need to be proactive rather than reactive. This wasn’t some sort of epiphany for me. Over a period of years, I talked with large number of fellow patients (in local support groups), discussed it with various health care practitioners (particularly the “alternative” health practitioners), and finally I have talked with many fellow patients online. All of the little “bits” so many people told me added up for me… and they all point to the importance of self-care.

It took me awhile to hear the “chorus” of voices all telling me the same type of thing (with the core of the message being “listen to your body”). Frankly, I didn’t always want to hear it. Even once I had pretty much figured out how to pay attention to that message, I had a hard time implementing it. Sometimes, I still do.

I try to remind myself of these things I wrote about. It’s not always easy. As I was writing this post, I thought back on some of the times where I did not listen to my body… and what happened next. The consequences were not pretty.

It takes time to really “get” this idea, I think. At least that has been my experience and that of many people I know who have been chronically ill for a very long time. I also think we all forget sometimes… or do things that we know have a certain degree of risk in the hope that the payoff will be worth it.


3 JasmineNo Gravatar { 12.17.10 at 5:08 pm }

“It took me awhile to hear the ‘chorus’ of voices…”

I love the way you put that, and I can completely relate. I didn’t want to hear the “chorus” furiously playing in 2001 until it reached its final crescendo . I allowed myself to get so sick my body gave me no choice, but to crash.

As you said, it isn’t easy remembering to listen; it’s a daily test.
.-= Jasmine´s last blog ..Making friends with my discomfort =-.

4 AnnieNo Gravatar { 12.17.10 at 11:41 pm }

This is an important reminder for this time of year. Thanks for posting it. I’ve been doing many of the things you suggest for awhile now, much to the chagrin of a few friends and acquaintences. I say no. I don’t make many committments. And I’ve long since given up trying to explain. You are quite correct in stating some people just won’t “get it”, no matter what. Of course, in protecting myself from overdoing it, I also end up more isolated because others get frustrated with me. It’s a very difficult balance to protect myself and also maintain relationships.
.-= Annie´s last blog ..A Touch of Sin =-.

5 JeanneNo Gravatar { 12.18.10 at 2:36 am }


I hear you about the “chorus” turning furious. Once the sound switches from chorus to cacophony, it’s not a good thing! For me, 2000 was the year that things shifted into cacophony (having been chronically ill since 1982). Yes, I am all too familiar with the crash that occurs when the chorus or even cacophony are ignored or pushed through.

It’s not fun or pleasant the day your body reaches the point where it crashes and you realize that eventually you cannot “force” it to submit to your will any longer. Someday it all catches up. Sooner for some than others. Eventually though, it all catches up and it is not at all fun once one pushes his/her body (and/or mind) THAT far. Sadly, by that point there tends to be some degree of “point of no return” element to things.

Paying the piper at this point is not fun at all. It really is a daily test to remember to listen AND to heed the message(s). Listening and then plowing ahead doesn’t cut it. This is one time when follow-through matters greatly. I knew you’d understand. 😉


Thank you for your feedback. I know it can be extremely difficult to implement these things. I know it can result in backlash, comments, and grief from people who don’t “get it” or, frankly, don’t care because they simply don’t wish to have someone’s illness(es) “wreck their holiday plans”.

As far as friends and acquaintances go, I have an easier time with them than family. If they give major grief, it’s a sign to me that I need to take a closer look at the relationship. I’m not suggesting it’s grounds for immediately terminating the relationship. I’m saying that I don’t have time/energy in my life for people who don’t believe me, think I am exaggerating my illnesses, or tire of me being what they construe as “difficult”.

I bend over backwards to be flexible and to be the polar opposite of “difficult”… and try to gently educate people about my illnesses (if they’re open to it). If me canceling a get-together because I’m simply not well enough makes someone mistakenly conclude I don’t value their time (despite painstaking efforts on my part to fill them in about my medical condition without overwhelming them), then at some point I need to decide if the grief aimed my way is worth it.

Family is trickier. Needless to say, it can be more challenging dealing with relatives who “don’t get it” than friends and acquaintances. This can be very, very challenging. What I personally have found over many years is that setting clear boundaries and expectations may even be more important to do with family. Without clarity, things can get messy for all parties. Does that mean the boundaries I set are always well-received or popular? Hell to the no! However, I only get one body and I have to take the best care of it that I can. If setting boundaries and expectations helps me protect my body from even further harm, I honestly don’t see where I have a choice to do anything but set boundaries.

It is a difficult balance… and isolation can pose its own dangers (depression springs to mind as one). I have reached a point (after many, many years) where I have accepted that some people are going to be disappointed no matter what I do!

So, I might as well do what I can to keep my body as safe as possible. It’s difficult. You’re right. I just tell myself again and again that I only get one body. So, I operate accordingly.



6 EndochickNo Gravatar { 12.18.10 at 10:23 am }

Great advice Jeanne. I know my work has been inundated with holiday treats and it’s tough to pass those up that may not do our bodies best. I slipped and indulged in a cream cheese bite – surely just one won’t trigger my lactose intolerance! Yet it did. And make sure, if you have food allergies or sensitivities, you ask people what’s in the food they made. It is VERY easy this time of year to find common – and not so common – food allergy ingredients mixed in food items you would least expect them to be.
.-= Endochick´s last blog ..Pain =-.

7 JennNo Gravatar { 12.18.10 at 10:51 pm }

Wonderful ideas Jeanne! One bonus to hosting our first Christmas this year–a smoke-free home.

I’ve had a few overwhelming moments, but luckily I am remembering to stop, take a deep breath & refocus. I can only do what I can do, & no more. Thanks for the fantastic tips!
.-= Jenn´s last blog ..RELUCTANT RECOLLECTIONS =-.

8 DarleneNo Gravatar { 12.19.10 at 12:50 am }

I feel we absolutely must listen to our bodies. I find if I don’t pace myself, I end up in a big fibro etc. flare. It’s so important to take extra good care of yourself, especially at holiday time. Life can be very stressful. If you don’t take care of you, no one else is going to do it for you. I could go on and on but this is my first comment:)

9 JeanneNo Gravatar { 12.19.10 at 2:15 am }


Thanks! Yes, holiday treats can throw the most careful eater off-kilter. I’m sorry that one cream cheese bite was enough to cause trouble for you. I know there have been special holiday foods that have tempted me in recent years where afterwords I swore, “never again”. Sometimes it’s easy to forget how much grief a food is likely to cause later when it has been so long since a reaction has occurred (thanks to diligent avoidance of triggers)! Yes, it is that time of year where those with food allergies and sensitivities need to be especially careful. Sometimes trigger ingredients are found in unexpected places.


Yay for smoke-free festivities!!! That’s great! Enjoy hosting your first Christmas!

A gathering involving smoke would be impossible for me. At holidays, what I struggle with smoke-wise is actually third-hand smoke. For example, my father is a smoker. So, his clothes are saturated with smoke. The smoke on his clothes makes me sick if I get within a few feet of him. It’s a real problem. I don’t think many people understand just how sick things like that can make someone. Cigarette smoke isn’t healthy for anyone, of course. However, with my multiple chemical sensitivity it’s a major thing. Now that I have migraines as well, I seem to be even more sensitive than before. When we go to a gathering where anyone is a smoker, I have to make sure I watch things like where I put my coat. For example, if there are too many people to hang coats in a closet and they are put on a bed, I must make sure mine is nowhere near any smoky ones. Otherwise, the smoke transfers onto my coat! (Bear in mind that I can’t then go and get my coat dry cleaned because MCS prevents me from tolerating the chemicals they use. So, I’d likely be out a coat)!

I’m so glad that you’ve been able to stop in the overwhelming moments to take a deep breath/refocus. That’s right. You can only do what you can do. Worrying about things won’t get more accomplished. If anything, the anxiety might slow you down. Good for you!

Welcome Darlene!

Woo hoo! Look at you! Your first blog comment ever. I love it! Yes, it’s important for us to listen to our bodies. Pacing is huge. It really is. Being in a fibromyalgia flare currently, I know exactly what you’re talking about there. This cold weather does a number on my fibro. Self-care is so important. Yes, life can be stressful for anyone. When one has chronic illness issues on top of “regular” stress, it seems to just makes things more challenging and complicated. Self-care then becomes even more important. Yes, it’s important for patients to take responsibility over their own health to the best of their abilities. Advocating for ourselves, asking questions, seeking second opinions when appropriate, etc. are all important. You’re right. I’m sure we could go on and on about this topic because there are so many facets to it. For now, I would like to thank you for your maiden blog comment… It was nice to hear from you here!!! 😉



10 AmandaNo Gravatar { 12.19.10 at 12:10 pm }

Whoa, I am waaaaaay behind on commenting, sorry Jeanne! Actually, I’ve been behind for months but I realised months ago I had to limit how many blogs I commented on, choosing only to comment on posts I knew I had something really meaningful to say because otherwise I would stress about it – I am slowly learning time-management in terms of my health… slooooowly haha

See, I’m pretty good at keeping the stress levels as low as I can in normal life ;o) but when it comes to the holidays I can overwork myself… mostly because I adore Christmas (my dad even said that it doesn’t feel half as Christmassy now that I don’t live at home and sing carols every moment of every day, watch a million Christmas movies throughout the month, and insist the house be decked to within an inch of its life!!) What can I say – I love a good celebration! Even so, I find I have already taken measures to limit my stress this year without even realising consciously what I was doing… we are staying with the in-laws over Christmas (so no stress of buying food and cooking it for us… we are however providing the turkey!) and presents have been kept to an absolute minimum (which is a shame as I find wrapping presents one of the most relaxing things to do… I used to actually beg my mum, my grandma and anyone else who would listen to let me help them wrap their presents!!) but it does mean I haven’t been worrying over where the money would come from for each gift. I’ll never be able to do a “stress-free Christmas” as I just love making a big fuss over it too much, but I’ll always try to keep the stress levels down!
.-= Amanda´s last blog ..Advent at the North Pole – 19th December =-.

11 Family, Facebook, and Frenzy: A Holiday Infertility Meditation — { 12.19.10 at 11:48 pm }

[…] Jeanne noted in her wonderful last post, this is a stressful time of year. We’re told (and, for some reason, we believe) that […]

12 RellacafaNo Gravatar { 12.21.10 at 1:56 am }

Thanks, Jeanne, pacing is a very valuable reminder!! It really is the only way to avoid the giant pitfalls of chronic pain (most of the time, at least!)

.-= Rellacafa´s last blog ..Ramping Things Up! =-.

13 JeanneNo Gravatar { 12.21.10 at 2:06 am }


I consider you a “pacing expert”! 😉 I agree. You have written about pacing year-round and you have some great ideas for it!


14 JeanneNo Gravatar { 12.21.10 at 3:19 am }


No need to apologize! I don’t want you to stress. In fact, that’s the whole point of this post… to NOT stress or feel guilty for setting needed limits and priorities. 😉

I know you love the holidays but please be careful. Celebrations are fine but I would hate to see you get sicker from pushing yourself too hard. I’m glad you’ve taken measures this year to guard against doing too much. Enjoy your time with your in-laws.

Don’t forget your self-care. Take it easy!


15 A Holiday Time Re-Post — { 11.27.12 at 12:17 pm }

[…] Jeanne noted in her wonderful last post, this is a stressful time of year. We’re told (and, for some reason, we believe) that […]

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