Angie Ebba with her feet up watching holiday movies
Credit: Angie Ebba

With the holiday season in full swing, my social media is inundated with pictures of families baking and decorating cookies together, couples going on walks through the snow, ice skating, and other festive activities. While the holiday season can be hard for many people for a variety of reasons, for those of us living with chronic illness or disability they can be extra hard.  

Whether you’re temporarily bed bound due to a flare-up of symptoms, still staying home due to continued concerns about COVID, or have been unable to participate in a lot of activities due to disability, witnessing the fun times our families, friends, and acquaintances are having around the holidays can feel isolating and upsetting. 

Now for the good news: While we can’t always celebrate the same ways more able-bodied individuals can, that doesn’t mean we need to be left out of all the fun festivities. Here are seven ways to celebrate the holidays from the comfort of your own home or bed. 

Decorate Your Space

Maybe you don’t have the energy to decorate your entire apartment or put up lights on your house, but that doesn’t mean the area you’re in the most can’t be festive. Decorate just the spaces you’ll be in the most — be that your living room or your bedroom or even a hospital room. If the actual act of decorating is too difficult, invite over a friend to help. You can tell the stories of your decorations while pointing out where to place things.  

If that feels like too much, or if you don’t have someone to help you decorate, even putting a seasonal throw blanket or pillow on the couch or having a pine-scented candle burning in your room can make a difference. 

Do Your Favorites — with a Twist

Did you used to love baking but now it’s too hard to be on your feet for that long? Did you used to hand-write holiday cards for dozens of people, but now the arthritis in your hands makes it too painful? You don’t have to give up your traditions — many of these favorite activities can still be accessed, just with accommodations to make them easier for you.  

Instead of baking cookies from scratch, buy pre-made dough from the store (or from a local baker) and skip several of the time and energy-consuming steps. Or, make it even easier, and purchase assorted pre-made goodies that you can assemble into tins for friends while sitting on the couch, or cookies you can decorate from in bed. 

If writing cards is no longer feasible, consider typing up a holiday letter or using voice-to-text to narrate personalized notes for people. You can also email out video greetings to people instead of sending cards, which is equally as fun to receive. Learn about GHLF’s free digital holiday postcard 

Did you used to have a tradition of a family snow-ball fight? Order a package of giant cotton balls and when your children walk in, start throwing. Follow it up with mugs of hot cocoa just like you would have if you’d been out in the snow. 

Disability can really bring out our creativity, and  the holidays provide the opportunity to figure out new ways we can do some of our favorite things. While these adaptations may not be quite the same as your original favorite activities, you’re creating new traditions that can be equally as enjoyable. 

Find Low-Energy Activities

There are lots of different fun holiday things you can do, alone or with others, that don’t require a lot of energy.  

  • Check out some favorite holiday books from the library. 
  • Invite loved ones to crawl into bed with you to watch your favorite holiday movies. 
  • Make a playlist of your favorite seasonal songs and share it with your friends. 
  • Play a fireplace YouTube video while sipping cider and doing sudoku on the couch. 
  • Cozy up with a blanket and your pet and pull out some art supplies. 

Utilize Technology

Technology is a great tool to use to stay connected. Even if you or your loved ones are unable to leave the house or travel, you can still stay in touch and see each other.   

  • Have a gift-wrapping session from bed with a family member via Zoom.  
  • Use a “watch party” option on one of the streaming services to giggle over a holiday rom-com with your best friend.  
  • Have your loved one FaceTime you from the ski slope so you can see them in the snow before they head down a run.  
  • Connect with an online community through social media. You can follow CreakyJoints on social media — FacebookInstagramTwitterTik TokYouTube — to connect with other people with chronic illness. 

Build Community

The holidays can feel especially lonely when you’re living with chronic illness or disability, which is why it’s more important than ever to build a supportive community. In addition to using technology to connect, you may want to reach out to friends, family, and loved ones in other ways.  

This may simply mean asking those close to you to come over and visit. Have a friend over to play games, ask your mom to bring over that favorite holiday meal from childhood, or ask some friends to do a recipe exchange at your place. 

Make Time to Volunteer 

Volunteering can also help you feel more connected to others. One of my favorite holiday activities is writing cards to incarcerated individuals. I know that the cards really cheer them up while they are having to spend the holidays in prison, and it also makes me feel more connected. There are many opportunities to do volunteer work from home that will help you feel less lonely this holiday season.  

Give Yourself Grace

Most of all, as you navigate the holiday season with chronic illness or disability, allow yourself the space to feel anything that may arise for you. It’s  normal to grieve the things you can no longer do or to have some resentment toward friends who are out enjoying the season while you’re grappling with pain in bed.  

Allow yourself to feel those feelings  — but once you’ve come out of that space a bit, plan how to make the holidays as special as possible for you. That may mean doing a bunch of the things listed above, or it may mean doing nothing at all and pretending there are no holidays happening this year. However you choose to navigate this season is ultimately up to you.  

Want to Get More Involved with Patient Advocacy? 

The 50-State Network is the grassroots advocacy arm of CreakyJoints and the Global Healthy Living Foundation, comprised of patients with chronic illness who are trained as health care activists to proactively connect with local, state, and federal health policy stakeholders to share their perspective and influence change. If you want to effect change and make health care more affordable and accessible to patients with chronic illness, learn more here.