Many of us, for various reasons, find the Christmas period to be an anxiety-inducing time which can cause our fibro symptoms to worsen. Often there’s a long list of activities vying for our attention – shopping, cooking, cleaning, decorating the house and visiting relatives to name but a few. Added to that, there may also be financial stress, feelings of overwhelm or even loneliness, constant bombardment on TV and social media of other people’s (seemingly) perfect festive seasons as well as the belief that we should conform to the expectations of others during the holiday season.
Given that anxiety is one of the symptoms of fibromyalgia, it’s important that we look after ourselves during this potentially hectic period of the year, taking care not to allow the stress and worry of Christmas get on top of us, as far as we possibly can.
So here are some tips that might help stave off festive anxiety and help us to make the best of the holiday season, whatever that may look like for us.
Many of us spoonies are expert planners year round. We know that participating in a given activity, whether exercise, putting up the Christmas decorations or going out for a meal, could lead to a full on fibro flare afterwards, so we need to consider what any activity could potentially take out of us, how much time it might take to replenish our energy stocks or how much rest we might need to allow any pain to settle.
When I look back at my old diaries from my healthy years, I’m always amazed by the amount of things I could do or places I could go, all in the same day. Sadly this is no longer an option and I have to limit myself, usually to no more than any one thing on a given day and make sure that I plan to have downtime beforehand and/or afterwards, be it a few hours or a few days.
Everyone’s ability to undertake a given amount of activity will vary, so planning is always going to be an individual task. But when you’re looking at the entire festive period, try to make sure that you don’t plan to do too many things too close together for you and that you book in adequate rest time to try and avoid a flare.
More than at any other time of year, the festive season is filled with things that we believe we have to do, such as going to see relatives, attending parties or hosting visitors. All of this can be stressful and again, can easily worsen our health.
When planning festive activities, it’s important to have boundaries and know what represents too much for you. You shouldn’t feel pressured into going along to an activity, visiting someone or inviting people over. You have the right to say no if you wish to. Some people may have an issue with this but anyone who truly comprehends the challenges of living with a condition like fibro will understand that we have limits. And if people don’t get it, then that really isn’t your problem!
It’s also vital to plan some time doing things that we enjoy and/or benefit our health over the holidays. So if yoga, a hydrotherapy session, reading a book, snuggling on the sofa watching a film makes you feel good, then these things should remain as a priority when planning out your Christmas.
Mindfulness can help us to savour the best of Christmas, as well as keep us calm by putting a distance between ourselves and our thoughts. This can be helpful if, like me, you have a tendency to believe everything you think, easily losing yourself in a negative spiral of thoughts. Being swept along by thoughts means that we aren’t fully present wherever we are at that moment.
Instead, focusing on what we are doing such as writing out Christmas cards or decorating our home, by using as many of our senses as possible, can slow us down and allow us to experience Christmas more fully as well as giving a busy, monkey mind something else to think about.
Alternatively, if things are becoming too much, then sitting still for 10 minutes focusing on our breath or following a guided meditation can ground us and allow us to take stock, relax and get some peace and quiet, away from the festive whirlwind.
Mindfulness can also be applied to eating and drinking by focusing on what we are consuming using all of our senses, not being distracted as far as possible whilst we are eating and eating only until we feel full. This is something that I am definitely going to try this year to try and avoid self induced “food comas” that have often been a feature of my festive season. I often mindlessly eat too much high sugar, high fat food and end up feeling bloated and even more fatigued than usual afterwards – here’s hoping this new approach will make a difference!
If you are able to exercise and find that it helps you manage your fibro symptoms then trying to stick with your usual routine can be helpful. If this isn’t feasible, then simply going for a slow walk outside if you are able, can bring many benefits, as well as being a pleasant change from time spent indoors.
The results of a 2018 Harvard Health1 study showed that individuals who had walked for 90 minutes in a green environment demonstrated lower activity in the prefrontal cortex. This is significant because it is a part of the brain which can malfunction in depressed people, playing non-stop negative thoughts on repeat, so any reduction in activity here can only be a good thing for those of us who struggle with depression and anxiety that can often be prevalent in us fibro folks.
The most important thing for the festive season, though, is to be kind to yourself. Merry Christmas everyone!