Rheumatoid Arthritis and Holiday Boundaries
Credit: Tatiana Ayazo

Boundaries are not negative or selfish. Keeping yourself at optimal health allows you to spread more joy and enjoy yourself in the process. When you’re at your best, you can care for others better, too. Just like on an airplane, you put on your mask first, then help others. This is the only way. 

Here are my best tips for maintaining healthy boundaries with rheumatoid arthritis this holiday season — try a few and see what works for you. 

Don’t “Should” Yourself

Whatever social norms, societal pressures, or expectations you may be feeling, remember it’s still your holiday. It’s likely that it’s you (and only you) saying the “shoulds”  

  • I should have invited the neighbors over. 
  • I should have baked 12 dozen cookies. 
  • I should lose weight. 
  • I should have decorated my home in a different way.  

Reframe Your Thoughts

Try to reframe your thoughts to show kindness and love to yourself and others. In other words, leave out the “shoulds.”  

  • I am doing the best I can. 
  • We are going to make special memories no matter how we celebrate. 
  • I’m looking forward to less cooking, cleaning, entertaining, etc. 
  • I need rest to optimize X event next week. 
  • It’s my holiday, too. I am entitled to my definition of fun and rest. 

Plan for Flares

You know the stress, added responsibilities, and extra social commitments are going to push your body to the limits, so prepare for flares this holiday season instead of simply reacting to them. A little prep will help protect your invaluable rest time so you can better budget those spoons. 

Your flare kit might include:  

Set Realistic Goals

Balancing relationships, household responsibilities, jobs and/or school while managing a chronic illness is remarkable in itself. I don’t see any reason to make magic happen around the holidays just because songs from 50 years ago say you should. Instead, this year, make your goals sound less whimsical and more like everyday tasks.  

Keep Things Simple

It’s no secret that women feel more stress around the holidays when compared to their male counterparts. Having RA can further complicate assumed gender roles, too. Remember that it’s your holiday and you can make your own traditions. You can enjoy the holidays in your own way and also feel accomplished after checking off your boxes. 

Set a Budget — and Stick to It

Boundaries around the holidays don’t only apply to emotions. Overspending on the holidays will only leave you with guilt, shame, and debt in the new year. Inflation causes enough stress, don’t further compound it by overspending. There are many ways to show love this holiday season. Value is not always defined by monetary worth. Money-saving tip: Use your electronic cart to your advantage. Add things to your cart on the store’s website, and leave it there for 24 hours. When you come back, you can re-evaluate if you want or need the items. Also, some stores will send you a discount code when they see something sitting in your cart for a while. 

Enlist Helpers

Holiday responsibilities can be shared among all adults and children. Try having a potluck, enlisting helpers to peel potatoes, or even going out to eat. If it’s in your budget, there is no shame in hiring professional cleaning services to help with the before and after, too. 

Take Control of Your Emotions

The holidays can be full of a variety of emotions. You may feel overwhelming joy or grief over a loved one, or even your former self causing you to feel more anxiety than usual. Regardless of what you’re feeling, take a deep breath and visualize your feelings as vibrations in your body. They are scientifically this — simply a communication via our complex nervous system, which overly simplified, is a vibration.  

Do not give the vibrations your power, and do not let them control you. Also, remember that you are not solely responsible for anyone else’s happiness, only your own. Don’t take on that impossible responsibility.

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.