Self-Care During the Holiday Season and Beyond
On the Monday after the Thanksgiving holiday, many of my patients reported severe flares of their arthritis and back pain from ankylosing spondylitis (AS). One woman who was recently diagnosed with AS hosted 30 people at her house, and she did most of the cooking and cleaning for her entire family! The next day, she could barely walk due to severe back pain, and her fingers were painful and swollen. She experienced severe exhaustion and debilitating fatigue, and was down for the rest of the weekend. She could hardly make it in for her doctor’s appointment and was planning to go to bed early that night.
A question I often hear from my patients is, “How do I stay active with arthritis without pushing my body past a healthy limit? How do I know how much to do or how many social events to attend without hurting myself?”
While I don’t have a clear answer that fits everyone or all situations, I do encourage patients to listen to their bodies and make plenty of time for self-care during the holiday season and year-round.
Fall and winter are especially tough seasons for patients with AS and arthritis. As the days get colder and darker, it seems that joint pain, chronic fatigue, and the winter blues also set in. Without being able to go outside to walk for exercise, patients feel that their lower back and other joints often feel stiffer. It’s more important now than ever to create a self-care routine that can last year-round.1,2
Mark a spot on your schedule for self-care
We put plenty of things on our schedules – meetings, errands, social gatherings, and appointments, to name a few. When was the last time we prioritized self-care on our own schedule? Or is your schedule so full that it leaves no margins for you to rest and recharge? It can be really helpful to put a protected amount of time on a Sunday afternoon to leave an hour or two for yourself. Any day of the week could work, as long as it’s feasible to have an uninterrupted period of time when another family member could help out with balancing responsibilities.
Here are a few ideas for activities during your self-care time:3,4
- Schedule a massage
- Do some journaling or reading at a bookstore
- Attend a yoga class or participate in an online class at home
- Take a hot bath, stretch, and meditate
- Go for a walk in the park or at an indoor track
Setting healthy expectations
Giving your family and friends a heads-up about what you are and are not able to do can be helpful. Letting them know ahead of time about how your arthritis and autoimmune disease affect you sets healthy expectations and boundaries with them. Instead of cooking the main meal from scratch for everyone, you could offer to bring a side dish instead. A lot of grocery stores are also offering holiday catering. It’s okay to pre-order food from a grocery store and bring it to a gathering if you know that a lot of cooking will result in a flare of pain and fatigue. Use pre-cut vegetables at the grocery store if your joints hurt after cutting and chopping a lot of vegetables.
Sticking to the anti-inflammatory diet is also a challenge during the holiday season, with plenty of desserts and baked goods floating around. If staying on track with the anti-inflammatory diet is important to you during the holiday season, you could volunteer to be the one to make the dessert. Substituting certain ingredients such as wheat flour and refined sugar for ingredients such as almond flour and coconut sugar can help with the reduction of inflammation. Other family members could start to appreciate your effort to use healthier ingredients as well!6,7
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