This stressful time of year affects even the healthiest of people between cold weather, short days, and the stress of holiday plans and obligations. If you encounter a painful rheumatoid arthritis flare-up during the holidays, it’s no wonder you may feel tempted to stay in bed all season long. A flare-up is categorized by pain, inflammation, stiffness, fatigue, and impaired physical function that can limit your ability to perform basic, everyday tasks. If not properly managed, rheumatoid arthritis flare-ups can really put a damper on your daily life along with your holiday season. This is why it is absolutely critical that you not only take effective measures to manage rheumatoid arthritis for the holidays but for everyday as well so that you are not limited by your condition.
A few simple measures can help bring holiday stress and sadness under control. These 6 tips can help you have a healthier happier holiday season:
1. Seek Support for Depression and Pain
Some studies have shown that depression leads to a heightened experience of pain, and increased pain leads to depression and thus causing this vicious cycle of pain and sadness. The best people to understand the challenges you face are others with arthritis. They can empathize 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.
And even though your friends and family may not understand what you’re going through as well, they love and care for you, so let them know how they can support you. Be honest; 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 really struggling or down for more than 2 weeks, you may be struggling with depression and should 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. Treat Yourself
Sometimes a small gesture of self-indulgence can make a huge difference when you need to feel better and reinvigorate yourself. A few considerations will help alleviate the holiday blues:
- 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.
3. Make Time for Sleep and Rest
The holidays are BUSY and routines become more hectic. Know that lack of sleep can make depression worse. Make sure you stick to a regular sleep schedule that allows you to sleep 6 to 8 hours a night.
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—and 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.
Budget your energy with holiday parties, simple get-togethers, and other events with your work schedule. Save energy for the things you want to do and also for the things you have to do.
5. Overcome 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, contact 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.
6. Eat Right, Exercise, or Just Keep Moving
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. In addition, poor food choices may increase the risk for long-term health issues like osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease. Make sure to stick to a diet that includes Vitamin D, calcium, and Omega-3 fatty acids (fish, walnuts, soy).
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.
These tips can not only help you better manage rheumatoid arthritis during the holidays but every day which follows as well. Some of these tips can help treat rheumatoid arthritis and others work as preventative methods to future flare-ups. If you notice any changes in your condition always speak with your rheumatologist right away.