Healthy Holidays - 3 Lists for RA and Chronic Illness
Staying healthy through the holiday season can be a challenge for anyone! The busy-ness…the people… the eating… so many things compete for our attention AND our energy! For those with chronic illness, we have to especially be on guard for things that will bring us down and make us sick during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday time. Here’s the first of 3 lists that will help CDPs (chronic disease peeps) BE healthy, EAT healthy and KEEP relationships healthy during the holidays.
Be healthy is our first emphasis. Staying well isn’t just something for us, though it certainly is for our own good. Being well helps those around us. I’m a better “me” when I’m on the "well" side of chronic – a better wife, mom, friend, etc. One of the ways I can serve my husband and kids best is to do all I can to stay as healthy as I can. When we're well, we generally have fewer schedule "gotcha!'s" because we can set our schedule and not have to change it at the last minute for a cold or cough. We are nicer. We’re more in the holiday spirit. More productive. Being well is just a good idea, all the way around.
We can't always control when we do or don't pick up a bug somewhere, but there are some things we can do to stay in front of trouble. Here are a few tips to consider, and maybe some you’ve not thought of before, to try and stay healthy for the holiday season. Or any season, really.
Obvious and simple, but such a foundational part of good hygiene. Just wash your hands, folks. The CDC in Atlanta recommends scrubbing for 20 seconds or more. That’s about one verse and chorus of Jingle Bells, so sing it while you’re washing your hands. It will help you scrub long enough and will amuse those around you!
If there's obvious dirt, use soap and water. Sanitizer is more for on the go, and for really dirty hands, it likely just moves the dirt around. Good ole' soap and water is tops.
The problem with washing hands isn’t so much that people don’t know to do this, but more that they don’t realize all the times they need to. Things like touching a grocery cart, shaking hands with someone who just scratched a nose-itch, cleaning up Grandma's tissue from the sofa table – many things should prompt us to wash our hands, and we just don’t think about it. The little “oopsies” that contaminate our hands really should have us washing and using hand sanitizer a bit more.
Avoid Sick People (nicely, though...)
Stomach bug going around school? Might want to skip the Christmas PTA luncheon. Pneumonia at church? Maybe asking to pull your turn in the nursery after the holidays or worshipping on line for a week is a good idea. Consider not shaking hands or hugging necks with coworkers at the Thanksgiving lunch. You can smile warmly and converse kindly, and chances are, it will be just fine. Perhaps your coworkers are trying not to get sick too, so they might even appreciate your efforts. If someone around you is hacking up a lung, don't hesitate to move to another seat, stand in the back, or just slip out to the restroom or hallway. It doesn't have to be a big deal, it can be done inconspicuously, but don't ever feel like you have to sit there and let someone behind you cough all over the back of your head and neck. It's a fact that sick people sometimes choose to bring their germs to other people under the disguise of being "loyal to their commitments" or as a nod to their amazing grit powers to push through feeling terrible. We all know this scenario. We've probably done it ourselves a time or two, I know I have. This is unfortunate, but always give yourself permission to step away from the coughing guest or the friend who's really proud that they could make it to church even though they've been throwing up all morning. No... no, thank you.
Confession time....I'm terrible at this. Totally terrible. There's a real need to work smart here. This isn’t the time to let one-spoon details use up 3 and 4 spoons of energy. Remember – 20% of our energy is already spoken for to fight illness and inflammation. So, we're already starting at 80% capacity, at best. Get in front of things and start a few weeks ahead with cleaning, cooking and freezing, grocery buying/freezing, or other things that you can do ahead of time. Delegate to others, both ahead of your events and the day of. Utilize the kids or grandkids. Some of my fondest family memories took place in the kitchen. And think about it…. Your sweet 10-year-old will be a wife and mom one day, or a husband and dad. Do we really want them getting married with no idea of how to melt butter or make deviled eggs - ?? Such a travesty! Teach ‘em. They’ll have fun in the moment, appreciate it later, their spouses will thank you, and you need the help. So, win-win for everyone.
Don’t touch your face
You’d be surprised at how many times every day we touch our face! That nose itch, those itchy, watery eyes, that chin scratch – our hands are up and down from our face all day long. And we do this after just getting our grocery cart while we're shopping, or after we shake hands with someone who just scratched their nose and happily outstretched the nose-scratch hand to say “hi” or “Merry Christmas.” Gross! So watch for this and really try to minimize touching your face and cross-contaminating from hand to eye, nose to hand, someone else's hand to ours, etc.
Make sure you have enough meds
There’s nothing worse than getting Thanksgiving dinner almost ready and we realize we forgot the rolls. Or the cranberry sauce. So we have to make an emergency trip way across town to the open grocery store to get it. Same thing with our meds. If it's 10 pm and we realize we don't have a certain med, that's a terrible time to go to the pharmacy! It takes time, adds another activity to an already busy day, and takes yet more spoons of energy that we just might not have. If company is coming for Thanksgiving or Christmas, or if you’re traveling out of town, fill your meds early or as soon as you can so you don’t run out and have to make an urgent trip to the store on the very day of the big meal. Sometimes we get so busy with family and friends that we forget about self. (Nah… we never do that, right?) People at the pharmacy are often sick, and they use the same credit card pad that we do. Have you ever noticed that that thing isn't cleaned in between customers - ??? Do everyone a favor - just make sure you don't run out. Done.
Remember to rest
We get busy. We're in "others" mindset. The turkey is almost done. The cobbler is sizzling. Before we realize, four hours have gone by and we haven't sat down for even a minute. Our body cries out at our betrayal. We don't intentionally overlook rest. We know we should stop throughout the day. It just doesn't happen. So, how can we do better? It's different for everyone, but a few things just come together for a teamwork approach to keeping rest on the radar. Ask your spouse or parent to help you keep track of time. Set reminders in your phone. Take a break as you complete a task (i.e., green beans are done.... cornbread is done.... etc) Whatever it takes to keep rest on the radar. Just 10 minutes a few times throughout the day can help. The green beans can wait. Family members will understand. And if the kitchen is under control, it’s probably okay to let it go to someone else’s watch for a few minutes while you re-charge. In my 50 years of Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons, I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone say, “You know, it ruined things for me when you put your feet up for 20 minutes while the turkey finished cooking.” Surprisingly, no one has ever said this.
Yes, an overdone, dry turkey or burned dressing can be a bit stressful. Company who arrives late, or kids who make you late, can turn up the volume on the stress station in your head. Anticipate it. Save a spoon or two for it. Increased stress levels further compromise our immune systems, and this makes us more likely to pick up a bug somewhere. Besides, stress makes us crabby. So work to stay focused on the bigger issues. Like family time. The season of the year and all that it means. Seeing extended family whom you don’t normally get to see. Welcoming new members to the family as kids grow up and start families of their own. Baking cookies for an elderly friend. Those are the things that matter, my friend. The uh-oh in the kitchen, while stressful, will likely make for some laughs one day down the road. The time I substituted mayonnaise in the mashed potatoes because we were out of sour cream remains one of the most hilarious kitchen stories we have, and it comes up every year at the holidays. Yes, I really did that. Yes, it was terrible. Yes, no one ate the mashed potatoes and we threw them away. But we’ve laughed about that for over 15 years now. It wasn’t the end of the world. And I know what to tell my daughter not to do!
The holidays are my favorite time of year! I LOVE spending time with family and friends and reflecting over the year that’s passed and looking to the new year ahead. Now that AI (auto-immune) has made itself a part of our family, staying healthy is really important for our family time and holiday season. From washing hands to managing stress, these tips can help us stay on the healthier side of chronic. This means more family time and making more memories together, which is really what’s important after all.
Happy Thanksgiving and Merry Christmas!
Be healthy, y'all !