Surviving the Holiday Season with Arthritis


The holidays are a busy, and often overwhelming, time of year. Visiting relatives, attending parties, shopping, wrapping gifts, baking and other tasks can lead to packed social calendars and endless to-do lists. Add pain, fatigue, depression and other symptoms to the mix and people with arthritis can face hurricane-level flare ups.

Thankfully, Arthritis Research Canada’s Patient Advisory Board (APAB) has some tips to help those with arthritis enjoy the holiday season.

1. Make a list

We often fail to add up our holiday obligations until our bodies collapse from fatigue. Take time to write a to‐do list. Include all events you are scheduled to attend and any obligations related to attending those events – from shopping to cleaning, to decorating, baking, and entertaining.

Once your list is complete, plan your activities ahead of time and omit or simplify lower priority tasks depending on your own personal health challenges. Accept your limitations and exercise your ability to delegate tasks to others. People are often delighted to help if you ask.

2. Send your regrets!

Are you worried that you have too many holiday events in your calendar? Are you concerned that these holiday commitments may bring on an arthritis flare? If so, learn to say no.

Keep the amount of entertaining you do over the holiday season to a minimum. One of our APAB members decided not to attend a friend’s holiday party and, instead, scheduled a get-together in January. “I sent my regrets with an invitation for a dinner in January … my girlfriend understood and we had a great visit in January discussing our holiday adventures.”

3. KISS – Keep it simple silly!

It can be difficult to decide to make things simple – especially if you are someone who enjoys doing things yourself. Here’s how you can simplify holiday responsibilities:


  • Formal dinner parties can be a lot of work. Instead, invite guests for a dessert/appetizer evening. If your arthritis has you exhausted by evening, host a lunch or brunch or go to a restaurant.
  • A house filled with decorations can be festive, but so can a simply decorated room. What makes a room special are not holiday trappings and tinsel, but the people who gather there.
  • Host a (low‐key) tree‐decorating get‐together. Serve store‐bought cookies with eggnog and invite family and friends over to help you decorate!
  • Inexpensive gift bags purchased from the dollar store are an easy alternative to wrapping gifts.
  • Take the hard work out of cleaning by hiring a cleaning company. Remember to reserve as soon as possible; there is much demand for this service over the holidays.
  • Ask high school or university students to help you clean the house. They will appreciate the extra money.

4. Break with family traditions

You don’t have to do it all! If you usually host the big holiday dinner or bake most of the family’s goodies, it might be time for a change. Talk to your family and tell them you are breaking with tradition, and explain why. Here are a few changes APAB members have made that you may find helpful:


  • Write a list of cooking tasks and delegate those tasks.
  • Host a buffet‐style dinner where everyone contributes.
  • Simplify the menu. Do you really need all those appetizers?
  • Cook dishes that can be frozen ahead to save time.
  • Ask someone else to host the family event this year.
  • Consider a cookie exchange with family members and friends.
  • Buy baked goods from local bakeries or grocery stores.
  • Instead of a baking marathon, spread it out over time and enjoy each moment of preparation by inviting a friend or family member to help.

5. Take the “pain” out of holiday shopping!

It’s hugely satisfying to give someone you care about the perfect gift. But planning is key to a low-stress shopping experience.


  • Shop online – it’s easy and many stores and websites give you the option of wrapping and shipping your gift directly to recipients. Just make sure to check delivery dates to ensure your gift will arrive on time.
  • Give gift certificates from the recipient’s favourite store. Not only are they easy to wrap, recipients will have fun after the holidays picking out exactly what they want.
  • When possible, don’t venture out into the cold before you have called the stores you plan to visit to check on the availability of items.
  • If you have a large circle of friends or family to buy for, have adults draw a name and buy a present only for the person whose name they’ve drawn.

And remember, taking care of your health through good nutrition, restorative rest and exercise will ensure you get the most out of this joyous time of year!

For more advice on how to cope with the everyday challenges of life with arthritis, read through Arthritis Research Canada’s Arthritis Lifestyle Management Guide.

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