With the holidays fast approaching, I’m reminded constantly that this should be a time for joy. However, as Christmas lights begin to twinkle, I am also reminded of how hard this time of year can be for those living with a chronic disease or complex medical conditions.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Whether this is your first Thanksgiving and Christmas coping with terminal illness, or just one of many, there are ways to relieve pain during the holiday season. I turned to our Alike members to find the top difficulties they face during the festive season, providing chronic illness support and advice on how to reclaim the holidays and alleviate stress.
Three Difficulties Facing Those With Chronic Illness During the Holidays & How to Cope With Them
Seasonal Affective Disorder
Does cold weather make you depressed? Seasonal Affective Disorder is a type of depression that usually occurs during the darker winter months of the year. This low mood can last for days or months, causing a lack of energy, difficulty concentrating, feelings of sadness, tearfulness, and more.
According to the Cleveland Clinic, one-third of people living with a chronic disease or complex medical conditions experience symptoms of depression, with the highest rates occurring for those who have experienced a heart attack or live with Parkinson’s disease or Multiple Sclerosis.
"Last winter, my seasonal depression was pretty mild. This year, it has been brutal. The holidays are always overwhelming and stressful. I'm always glad when they are over.”
How to Prepare for Seasonal Depression
There are several treatments for SAD during the holiday season, including light therapy, psychotherapy (or talking therapy), and medication. It can be helpful to talk to your friends and family about how your mood changes during the winter so they can better understand and support you more effectively.
Home Remedy Treatments for SAD:
- Get as much natural sunlight as possible
- Sit near windows when you're indoors
- Exercise regularly
- Eat a healthy, balanced diet
- Try light therapy using a light box
Thanksgiving & Christmas Anxiety
The holidays throw many stress tests — decorating the Christmas tree, getting gifts for the family, and facing the pressure of social occasions. The landmines are endless and can trigger increased stress and anxiety.
Do I Have Social Anxiety or Am I Just Shy?
Social anxiety isn’t just nervousness or shyness — It’s an overwhelming fear of social situations. It can trigger physical symptoms including sweating, trembling, or feeling sick. According to Mental Health America, Fifteen million, or seven percent, of American adults have Social Anxiety Disorder.
"Family gatherings have always been really stressful. I get overwhelmed and overstimulated.”
"I worry about having flare-ups and having to leave events early because of the pain.”
Anxiety From Not Meeting Expectations
Another form of anxiety many of our Alike members reported experiencing was the anxiety of not meeting expectations.
"Getting gifts for everyone, cooking, cleaning up afterwards. It's all so stressful at a time that is supposed to be fun.”
"Doing all the shopping for the holidays with my back pain just makes it worse.”
Tips for Dealing With Holiday Anxiety While Coping With Terminal Illness:
- Set boundaries and know that it is okay to say NO to gatherings you don’t want to attend
- Create fun traditions that are meaningful for you and your family — and most importantly, that respect your health needs
- Simplify things as much as possible, for example, by shopping online rather than tackling a packed shopping center
- Plan recovery and rest time
"I switched to online shopping during the 2020 holiday season and found it to be a great decision. I still shop online for holiday shopping and found Amazon has almost everything you could want or need.”
Another symptom reported by the Alike community was a heightened sense of loneliness during the holiday period. Many people are unable to be with loved ones, have few people around them, or feel detached from the people already there.
"The hardest part about the holidays for me is the constant loneliness I feel from around Thanksgiving all the way to New Year. It's hard seeing brand-new little families celebrating their first Christmas. It's hard seeing people and their partners wear matching pajamas. It's hard watching people kiss their partners at the strike of Midnight on New Year's Day.”
How to Deal With Loneliness During the Holidays:
- If spending time with your family or alone at home fills you with dread, consider taking a trip and exploring somewhere new, or traveling to see friends and family in another part of the country.
- Volunteer for a charity or organization. Supporting others can be a very rewarding experience and a way to meet like-minded people in the community.
- Connect with the Alike community to connect with others in a similar position to you, who can offer support, advice, and companionship.
Join Alike to Get Support for Your Chronic Disease
The holiday period is inevitably one of the hardest times to live with chronic illness. Alike is a health community app that enables life-changing connections between people who share the same medical journey. Explore in-person or online communities like Alike Health designed for people living with a chronic disease to share their stories and gain advice from others.
No two people are the same — but many are Alike. Don’t suffer alone this holiday season.