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Ho Ho Hold On: Tips for Surviving the Holidays with Arthritis

The holiday season can be an overwhelming time of year. Managing a chronic illness during a global pandemic adds an extra layer of stress to the equation.

People dealing with different types of arthritis are also at an increased risk for mental health issues. For this reason, it’s very important to take steps to minimize stress during busy times.

Members of Arthritis Research Canada’s Patient Advisory Board have put together some tips and tricks that they use to enjoy the holidays and avoid flares in disease activity at the same time.

We hope you find them useful!

Food

  •  Test out recipes in advance that avoid sugar, dairy, gluten and oil. One member’s family makes treats and meals that everyone can enjoy, but that won’t trigger inflammation. This helps avoid feelings of exclusion and increased pain.
  • Doing a cookie exchange with friends? Choose a simple bar recipe and leave the hand-intensive cookies to people who don’t have arthritis.
  • Be prepared. Keep ingredients on-hand that allow you to make easy meals or consider ordering meal kits from restaurants or meal delivery services. This is especially important in the event of a flare.
  • Order groceries online to avoid crowded stores and long lineups.
  • Plan large meals ahead of time and break up the cooking over several days. Many desserts, for example, can be prepared in advance.
  • Consider doing a potluck meal to spread out the cooking responsibilities.
  • Plan activities that don’t revolve around food. Meet for coffee or go for walks to enjoy holiday lights in your neighbourhood.

Gifts

  • Worried about wrapping? Avoid it altogether by using gift bags.
  • Don’t walk through busy shopping malls. Opt for online shopping with delivery options or e-gift cards or donate to charities in honour of friends and family.
  • Explain to loved ones that you would prefer spending time with them over the pressure to purchase gifts.

Activities

• Be open about the activities that you can and can’t do because of your arthritis. “My friends know I can’t skate or do winter sports without experiencing pain, so we don’t do that together,” said one member. “Instead, we go downtown and walk around. That way, we can still enjoy the holiday vibes without exerting my feet.”
• The holidays are a time to relax and reduce stress (time off school and work). Encourage friends and family to help create a stress-free environment. Sleep, relax, repeat, no judgement!
• If you must host an event, hire someone to deal with the cleaning (before and after).
• If you are attending a standing event, wear comfortable shoes or scope out comfortable chairs.
• Manage your pain in advance (pain meds, NSAIDS).
• Explain to friends and family that your disease causes you to be immunocompromised. If you don’t feel comfortable attending an event, it’s okay to opt out.
• If they make you feel unsafe, avoid large, indoor gatherings where people aren’t wearing masks or might not be COVID-19 vaccinated.

Other Tips for Healthy Holidays

• Keep up with your daily exercise. Not only will it reduce arthritis pain, but it will also improve your mental health.
• Don’t overschedule! Make time for yourself to manage pain and stress.
• It’s okay to say no – to the food you don’t want to eat, activities you cannot commit to, etc.
• Focus on self-care and don’t feel guilty about it.

Finally, remember to check in with yourself throughout the holidays. Nothing is worth sacrificing your health over. How are you feeling physically and mentally? The Canadian Mental Health association has put together a Mental Health Meter that you might find useful. Click here to access it. 

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