chronicchristmas-coverThe holiday season is full of joy. Singing along with the carols playing everywhere, giggling to yourself as you wrap the perfect present for that special someone, and eating all the cookies that somehow broke in the transition from oven to cookie tin.

But let’s face it — the season is also very stressful. And when you live with chronic illness, reducing stress can be an important aspect of managing the symptoms and pain associated with your condition. So how do you balance celebrating the holidays and being kind to yourself?

New book helps with self-care

We hear a lot about self-care, but don’t always have time or energy to think about how to practice it so we can live better with a chronic illness. And during special times, such as the holidays, we often put ourselves last, one of the reasons why we may dread going into December (the colder weather doesn’t help, either).

My new book, “Chronic Christmas: Surviving the Holidays with a Chronic Illness,” is full of tips to help you get through the holidays and enjoy them, too. It’s an Advent calendar of sorts, with each chapter covering a particular tip for each day leading up to Christmas. I also share suggestions for what your friends and family can do to help, as well as tucking in a surprise or three. Because the holidays are all about surprises (good ones, that is).

I’d like to share some ideas inspired by “Chronic Christmas” for how you can celebrate the holidays, while taking care of your chronic illness.

Pace yourself

Whether it’s decorating the house, gift shopping, or indulging in seasonal treats, pacing is key to not overwhelming yourself and your body. Think of this season as a marathon, not a sprint, and use your energy wisely — you need to have some left over for when the Big Day arrives.

Making a pact with yourself before you get started on a particular task or event can help you be more mindful. When you hear your body asking you to stop, listen to it. And then enjoy what you’ve already accomplished.

Social event triage

December is littered with social events. Getting dressed up and going out over and over again can be a real drain on your energy levels. So do a bit of triage on your invitations. Divide them into three piles: Command Performance, Skippable, and No Way. Be ruthless in your approach and keep in mind that very little in this world is essential, including festive events. Ultimately, your job is to be healthy enough to celebrate with the people you love, not attending yet another cocktail party hosted by people you barely know.

Help others understand what you need

We all need help, but when you have a chronic illness it can be really difficult to ask. You struggle against what you feel you ought to be able to do and, if your illness is invisible, perhaps there is also a lack of understanding from others that you do need help. It can be frustrating to yet again explain to others how your illness impacts your life. But do it anyway — it’s a gift you give yourself. Having the patience to help others understand your needs will in the long run enable them to help you. And that can give you a better quality of life with more support from your loved ones.

Share how you reduce stress this season using the hashtag #ChronicChristmas on social media.

Lene’s new book is Chronic Christmas: Surviving the Holidays with a Chronic Illness.” She also writes the award-winning blog The Seated View and her other books are “Your Life with Rheumatoid Arthritis: Tools for Managing Treatment, Side Effects and Pain and “7 Facets: A Meditation on Pain.”