Between the cold weather, the short days, and stress of holiday plans and obligations, this time of year can be stressful and difficult even for the healthiest of people.
But when you're managing the symptoms of arthritis on top of all this, you may feel tempted to just stay in bed for a few weeks.
With a few simple measures, you can help bring holiday stress and sadness under control. These 7 tips can help you have a healthier, happier holiday season.
1. Seek support from others.
The best people to understand the challenges you face are others with arthritis. They can commiserate with your difficulties, share encouragement, and give you tips that come from their own experiences. Sometimes, just sharing that you've had a hard day and having someone respond, "I understand completely" can help you feel better.
As for friends and family, be honest with them—let them know how you may need extra help during the holidays. Tell your kids you need them to play quietly while you nap, or tell your spouse that he or she is in charge of dinner. Remember that your loved ones want to support you, they just may not know how.
If you are struggling with negative feelings and loss of motivation for weeks at a time, you may be experiencing depression. See your doctor or a mental health professional, who can help you put together a treatment plan. Depression is treatable, so seek help if you need it!
2. Make time for sleep.
As busy as your days may be, make sure you stick to a sleep schedule that allows you to sleep 6 to 8 hours a night. Lack of sleep can make depression worse.
3. Treat yourself.
Sometimes when you're feeling down or stressed out, a small gesture of self-indulgence is just the thing you need to feel better and find the strength to reengage.
Consider these options for treating yourself:
- Buy some new music or a new book and spend some time relaxing with it.
- Plan a trip to a museum or concert, either by yourself or with a good friend.
- Watch a movie on Netflix.
- Schedule a massage.
- Order your favorite take-out food for dinner.
- Get a new cozy comforter or sheet set.
4. Set boundaries.
In light of all the obligations at this time of year—buying and wrapping gifts, going to parties, preparing food—it's easy to feel completely overloaded. That's why it's so important to set limitations and realistic goals for what you can accomplish during the holidays.
Give some thought to what you can realistically do and still feel healthy. Focus on activities that make you happy. Then share those expectations with friends and family, so they understand what you can manage and what you may need to forgo or get help with.
This may mean that the outside light display doesn't get put up this year, or that your spouse takes charge of the holiday cards. That's OK. The point is to enjoy the holiday and stay in a good place physically and emotionally, not feel exhausted and burdened with obligations.
5. Keep moving and eat right.
When it's cold and dark outside, it can be all too tempting to stay inside, curled up on the couch and snacking on holiday treats. But inactivity will only make chronic pain and depression worse.
Simple stretching exercises are easy to do at home, and a 30-minute walk on most days can keep you agile and energized. You can even break up the time by taking a 10-minute walk at lunchtime and a 20-minute walk after dinner. Or stay warm while you work out by going to the community pool for water aerobics.
As for eating habits, it can be challenging to eat well this time of year. You can indulge in a few holiday treats if you're at a party or gathering. But on the non-party days, maintain good eating habits by getting lots of fruits and vegetables, plus lean protein, whole grains, and low-fat dairy.
6. Fight seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
One of the main reasons this time of year can cause depression and anxiety is because of the short winter days and lack of sunlight. Every year, these conditions trigger seasonal affective disorder (SAD) for many people.
Researchers still don't know exactly what causes SAD, but most think that the lack of sunlight affects our biological clocks and hormone levels. If you feel you are suffering from SAD, talk with your doctor.
These lifestyle changes can also help with symptoms:
- Take a 10-15 minute walk in the morning.
- Sit near a bright window with the blinds or shades open during the day.
- Purchase a light therapy box.
7. Drink alcohol in moderation.
Alcohol and the buzz it provides may seem like it should alleviate stress and sadness, but it's actually a depressant. In fact, alcohol use can worsen depression and cause sleeping problems as well.
It's nice to have a glass a wine or "special" eggnog at a holiday party, just do so in moderation. Don’t be embarrassed about switching to something non-alcoholic, like juice or sparkling water with a lime.