Surviving the Holidays with Fibromyalgia & Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

By , Guide

Step #1 - Planning

Surviving the holidays can be tough for even the most energetic people to get through. For those of us with fibromyalgia (FMS) and chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS or ME/CFS) … let’s just say, if you don’t go into it with the right mindset and a good game plan, you’re going to crash around the time your Thanksgiving turkey goes in the oven.

Pacing is never more important than it is during busy times. I learned this the hard way my first Christmas with FMS, and in subsequent years I’ve learned some tricks that really helped things go better. But when one women shared her survival plan in’s Fibromyalgia & Chronic Fatigue Syndrome forum, I knew I’d found something amazing that could help all of us get through the season in better shape.

So now — with her permission (thanks, Denyse!) and some of my own input — I bring you the Holiday Season Survival Plan!

The plan comes down to 3 P’s – Planning, Prioritizing, and Pacing.

First, the planning.

Make a list of everything you want to accomplish. Be extremely detailed — include shopping, decorating, baking, wrapping presents, assembling toys and stuffing stockings (if you have young children), attending parties and family functions, etc. Thing about everything you’ve done over the past few holiday seasons and put it on the list. (Denyse recommends doing this right after the holidays, while your memories are fresh and you’re more likely to be realistic.)

Step #2 - Prioritize

Now, take your list and prioritize it. What things are most important to you? What absolutely has to happen for your holidays to be happy?

A temptation here is to think about what everyone wants. For those of us with young children, the biggest priority is making things perfect for them, but if you find yourself prioritizing based on your mother-in-law’s, brother’s, and great-aunt’s needs, STOP! While you may want to take care of everyone, you need to be realistic and take care of YOU first! If Aunt Betty wants a pecan pie, she can bake one herself.

As you prioritize, think not only about what’s important, but what you truly love to do. If wrapping presents with lots of elaborate ribbon and bows makes you happy, don’t short change your own enjoyment by going with gift bags or delegating it to someone else. This season is about joy, so don’t give that up!

Step #3 – Pacing: Cut It Down!

Pacing yourself is the key to surviving every day with FMS and ME/CFS, so don’t forget it during the busy times! Now is when you need it most.

Several steps go into pacing, and the first is cutting down your list. Count up your items, and cut out the half that are lowest priorities. Don’t worry about those things anymore — you’ve already determined that they’re non-essential and don’t bring you joy. You don’t need them, and they’ll only bring you down.

Step #4 – Pacing: Simplify

Do you have some items on your list that you could do in a simpler way than you have in the past? I’ve always loved shopping — I’d go out for a whole day just to look everywhere and collect gift ideas for everyone, then I’d go back out several times to make purchases. Now, I don’t have the energy for all of that, but I really love being out in the stores and soaking in the very “Christmas-ness” of it! So what I do now is a shortened pre-shopping trip to the stores followed up by a lot of online purchasing, which is really easy now that I know what I want and where to get it.

If I can’t buy what I want online, or I can get a better price locally, I only go to one store a day. If I need to do more or I’m getting multiple things, I bring my husband along and try to get a wheelchair so I don’t exhaust myself completely. (Yes, at first it feels strange to be in the wheelchair, but I’ve learned to put that aside in order to conserve what little energy I have.)

Also, have simplified back-up plans for whatever you can. For example, I like to make pie crust from scratch. If it comes time to bake, however, and I just don’t have the energy, I send my husband to the store to buy crusts for me so that I’ll have both pies and my sanity.

Step #5 – Pacing: Delegate

Now look at your list again and see what someone else can do. If you’ve traditionally done a big dinner, turn it into a potluck. Who can come over to help you decorate or set the table? Who can help you clean up? You might be surprised at how much people are willing to do to help you.

If no one’s willing to help, then what? If it’s a family dinner or gathering, perhaps their unwillingness to help shows that it’s not a priority for them, which means it doesn’t need to be a priority for you.

Keep in mind that making some holiday tasks a group affair can make it a lot of fun! Get family or friends involved in decorating while you serve hot chocolate, and while everyone’s over, have some strong, healthy person shovel the walk for you and hang your outside lights.

Step #6 – Pacing: Cut Again!

Now that you’ve seen what can be simplified and what can be delegated, take another look at your list. Consider the amount of hours it will take you to accomplish everything on it.

One of three things is likely happening as you do this:

  1. You’ve done such a great job that you’re thinking, “Wow, this is totally do-able!”
  2. You’re thinking, “It’s a lot, but I’m determined to do it all and make the holidays perfect!”
  3. You’re starting to get that panicky feeling and thinking, “I can’t do it!”

For you number ones, as long as you’re being honest with yourself you can now move on to Step #7.

If you’re a number two, STOP! Be honest, and think back to the last time you forced yourself to work that hard. Realistically, if you go into it with that mindset, you’re likely to wear yourself out, stress about what you’re not getting done, and send yourself into a flare-up.

If you’re a three, take a deep breath. You don’t have to do all of that!

Twos and threes — start cutting again, and whittle that list down to about half of what it is now. I know it’s scary, but if you get everything done and have the time and energy, you can always revive some of the things falling by the wayside now.

This might feel selfish, but if you had a broken leg or a brain tumor, you’d forgive yourself, wouldn’t you? Just because other people can’t see or possibly don’t understand your illness doesn’t make it less of a real impact on you and your life.

Step #7 – Back to Planning: Fill in the Blanks

Now’s the time to figure out when you can get things done. What can you be working on in, say, September? Make notes on your list of when you want to start things. Get out a calendar with any parties or events written on it so you can plan to have down time before and after. (Don’t plan to shop or hang lights the day after a party — it won’t happen!)

As you start to identify busy days, think about how long you can typically be functional at a time and schedule rest periods. If you can usually handle 4 hours of activity, cut it down to 3 hours of activity with an hour to rest. Then you’ll be able to handle more periods of activity.

Step #8 – More Pacing: Listen to Yourself

If you get half way through the season and your body is sending warning signs, listen! You may need to revise your list as you go in order to keep yourself functional.

Step #9 – Recovery Time

After a busy period, we need some recovery time. On top of scheduling downtime throughout the season, make sure you give yourself a few days to recover afterward.

Happy Holidays!

About Michelle Arbore

I am 36 years old, married for 8 years and have an almost 3 year old, Michael Richard. We also have two cats (Anibel & Mama). I own my own social media management and coaching business that allows me to work from home. I like to read, listen to music, take photos, learn new things, shop, watch TV and spend time with family and friends. I also suffer from Fibromyalgia. I have suffered from this disease for over 15 years now. I started my blog so I could have a place to vent about what I am feeling. It has turned into a place where I post information about this disease, talk about books that I am reading about Fibro, and getting to meet other people who suffer from this.
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