Wellbeing & Fitness

Tips for coping with Christmas if you have a chronic illness

Blogger Janie Smith, who has Spina Bifida, shares her blog posts on how to deal with the Christmas holidays if you’re chronically ill. It includes tips on how to help you pace yourself and what your friends and family need to know.

Key Takeaways Table

Key Point Description
Plan Ahead Delegate tasks and set boundaries to manage your energy levels.
Self-Care Maintain regular routines, including sleep and medication schedules.
Emotional Well-being Focus on gratitude, maintain a positive mindset, and practice forgiveness.
Safety First Adhere to health precautions, especially in public spaces.
Accessibility Use assistive technologies and services to facilitate holiday activities.

Living with a chronic illness, no matter what the diagnosis, can be especially complicated during the holidays. Exposure to germs, weird foods, lack of rest, and lots of social pressure can really take its toll.

I’ve lived my entire life with a disability, so my family is used to me having ‘special needs.’ I also had gastric bypass 10 years ago, so they are used to me having what others might consider odd eating habits. I get questioned in some social situations, but fortunately for me, family gatherings are usually not as worrisome when it comes to dealing with chronic illness.

But, I have come to realise that for others, it’s not that simple. And to be honest, I feel like this year is different, even for me.

I’m on medications that purposefully suppress my immune system, so exposure to even the littlest cold can be a problem for me. I also deal with sensory overload, which some people call sensory processing disorder. The treatment also makes me need naps and rest time more than ever before.

Although I’ve shared most of this with family already, it’s up to me to know my limits and take the time I need. I may look fine, but I have to remember that I’m still dealing with illness.

Through my discussions with friends who also live with various forms of chronic illness, I’ve realised that a lot of family and friends who we aren’t around on a regular basis may not really get the idea of a chronic illness. This is especially true if the condition has changed/worsened since the previous holidays.

I asked friends to share what they wish family members and friends understood about chronic illness, especially around the holidays. The responses were amazing and had plenty of common themes. So, today I’m sharing those responses.

Jamie in a blue top

Tips for friends and family of those chronically ill

One of the biggest themes was food. Sometimes a chronic illness is directly affected by the food we eat, such as those with diabetes or celiac disease. Other illnesses, especially those that are auto-immune, are usually aggravated by the wrong foods.

Here were some things friends said they wished family/friends understood about food and chronic illness:

  • “I’m not just being ‘picky’ about the food I eat or don’t eat. It affects my health in a very big way.”
  • “It’s not an insult to the cook (or the cook’s fault) if I don’t eat the food, even if they really wanted to offer something nice. It’s not about your cooking; it’s about how my body reacts to the food.”
  • “Please don’t ask me what happens when I eat food that makes me sick. It’s digestion, that usually means it’s coming out one end or the other. Either way, it’s gross and uncomfortable.”
  • “When I refuse to eat your cooking, it is for your own good. You do not want me to use an entire roll of your toilet paper, and you really, really do not want to smell the bathroom after my body reacts to your food. Absolutely do not argue with me about [the food].”

Another common theme was around rest, activity and perception of illness.

  • “When I say I’m doing fine, let that be. Don’t start with the, ‘Are you really?’ Don’t look at me like you’re sure I’m lying.”
  • “I don’t ‘look’ sick but that doesn’t mean I’m not. I’m not being boring (or ignoring things) because I want to stay home or just rest. [I’m doing it] because I need to.”
  • “Do not tell me I could be cured if I would just follow the advice of your cousin, favourite magazine or celebrity.”
  • “I have doctors who understand my illness and know all my symptoms, many which I don’t make public. Please don’t try to sell me on some diet, oil or some other cure you’ve heard about.”
  • “If I say I’m tired I mean it or am saving energy for the next thing. If I don’t help with something I’m not being lazy and I feel bad I can’t help.”
  • “If I say I’m in pain, it’s not a normal pain like a minor headache. It means that I am in agony.”

Tips for living with chronic illness during the holidays

While it’s important for family and friends to understand, those of us who live with chronic illness must take responsibility for ourselves as much as humanly possible. When I asked what people wish others understood, another theme arose – the desire for tips to get through the holidays.

My friend Julianne gave me a great list and I wanted to add to that. These are great reminders for those who have lived with a chronic illness for a while, but especially helpful for those who were recently diagnosed.

Plan ahead and don’t procrastinate

This advice is a little late for this year, but plan ahead for all the tasks you need to do for the holiday season. Put each task on a different day on the calendar leading up to the holiday. If you have a spouse, children or family that you can count on to help you out with those tasks, delegate them early on.

Now that we’re a few days from Christmas, decide what you really have to do and what you ‘should’ do. Will the holiday really be ruined if you don’t get it all done?

Don’t get stressed out by trying to do everything on your own and at the last minute. Stress aggravates any illness and can really make the holidays less fun.


Be sure to give yourself time to rest. This includes leading up to the holiday, during the holiday, and after the holiday. You aren’t letting anyone down; you’re taking care of yourself.

If you are travelling and know you need time to rest before going back to your regular life (work, childcare, etc.), plan to go home and rest for at least a day before you need to be at work. It is tempting to stay with your family a little longer, but the rest is extremely important.

I’d love to stay with family an extra day but know both my husband and I need at least a day and a half to recover even from our short trip, so we are coming home late Saturday morning.

Have a plan for where and how you will rest while visiting relatives. Don’t wait until you’re exhausted before you rest. I don’t need to tell you that will just make it harder to recover.

Think ahead about food

The holidays are filled with lots of food that is out of the norm. Rich, delicious food. Know your limits and don’t test them. No food tastes so good that it’s worth throwing up, passing out, or otherwise feeling bad.

If you are on a specialised diet, I have several suggestions. First, let your family know ahead of time. This is especially true if your sensitivities have changed since the last time you were with family. I also suggest bringing your own snacks and goodies so that you won’t be tempted to indulge in holiday treats that will make you sick.

As I mentioned above about what family members should know, if the ill family member doesn’t eat a certain food, it’s not to insult the cook.

Don’t let yourself get guilted into eating something that you know will make you feel bad. Be kind, but firm.


Talk to your family about theirs and your expectations, how you are feeling each day, and how much you appreciate them even when you can’t always participate.

Also, ask for help. If you need to take time away, just express that.

What other tips do you have for the holidays and living with chronic illness? Leave your thoughts in the comments box below.

By Jamie Smith

Visit Jamie’s blog, Sunflowers and Thorns, to read more of her blog posts.



Plan Ahead for a Stress-Free Christmas

Delegating Cooking Tasks.

Involve family and friends in meal preparation to ease the burden. Assign each person a dish to bring, making the process more manageable and enjoyable.

Maintaining Boundaries.

Set specific start and end times for holiday gatherings. Knowing your limits helps in conserving energy and reducing stress.

Self-Care During the Festive Season

Sticking to Routines.
Keep to your regular sleep schedule. Prioritising sleep ensures better health and well-being during the festive rush.

Emotional Well-being: Finding Joy in Simplicity

Gratitude and Mindfulness.
Spend time meditating on what you’re thankful for. This practice can significantly uplift your mood and reduce stress levels.

Forgiveness and Understanding.
The holidays are an ideal time to practice forgiveness and understand that not everyone may be able to meet your expectations.

Ensuring Safety and Comfort

Safety Measures for Public Spaces.
When attending public events, call ahead to check for accessibility and safety measures like seating arrangements and space and easy access.

Leveraging Technology and Services

Assistive Devices for Independence.
Incorporate assistive technologies, such as eating and drinking aids and anti-bacterial wipes, to maintain independence and hygiene during the festivities.

Adapting Holiday Activities to Your Needs

Creating an Accessible Environment.
Turn your bedroom or a quiet room into a safe haven where you can rest and rejuvenate. Equip it with comfortable bedding, a selection of snacks, and entertainment options like books or a tablet.

Using Assistive Tools in the Kitchen.
Invest in kitchen gadgets like an Instant Pot to simplify cooking. These tools can significantly reduce the physical strain of holiday meal preparation.

Managing Energy and Health

Building in Recovery Time.
Plan for rest days, especially if you’re travelling. It’s crucial to incorporate downtime into your holiday schedule to prevent exhaustion and health flare-ups.

Effective Pacing Techniques.
Utilise pacing strategies, such as taking short breaks or power naps, to manage energy levels throughout the day. This approach is vital in maintaining stamina for holiday activities. Need a guide? Buy The Pocket Book of Pacing.

Staying Connected in a Healthy Way

Alternative Celebration Methods.
If attending gatherings is challenging, consider virtual celebrations. This can be a great way to participate in festivities without physical strain.

Utilising Community Resources

Accessing Disability Services.
Explore local disability services that may offer additional support during the holidays, such as meal delivery or shopping assistance.

Fostering Emotional Wellness

Creating New Traditions.
Don’t hesitate to establish new holiday traditions that are more accommodating to your health needs. This can involve low-key celebrations that are just as meaningful.


Issues around Addiction

As the festive season approaches, it’s important to acknowledge that for some, this time of year can bring additional challenges, particularly for those managing addiction or mental health concerns. The joy and celebration often associated with Christmas can also amplify feelings of isolation or trigger unhealthy coping mechanisms. It’s vital to recognise that these struggles are as significant as any physical health condition and deserve equal attention and care.

If you or a loved one are experiencing difficulties with mental health or issues with addiction during the Christmas period, it’s crucial to seek appropriate support. Organisations like Rehab 4 Addiction offer a range of services, including mental health support and drug and alcohol rehabilitation in Leicestershire. They provide a safe, understanding environment where individuals can receive the help they need to navigate through these challenges. Remember, reaching out for help is a sign of strength, not weakness, and taking this step can be pivotal in ensuring a healthier and more enjoyable holiday season.

To continue reading about specific strategies for coping with Christmas while managing chronic illness, including tips on pacing, cooking, and using assistive technologies, visit these insightful resources:



More on Disability Horizons…

What are some tips for managing chronic illness during Christmas?

Key tips include planning ahead, maintaining routines, using assistive tools, and creating an accessible environment for rest and rejuvenation.

How can I ensure a good balance of rest and activity during the holidays?

Incorporate recovery time and pacing techniques, such as power naps and delegating tasks, to manage energy levels effectively.

What are some alternative ways to participate in Christmas celebrations?

Consider virtual celebrations or creating new, low-key traditions that are accommodating to your health needs.

How can music enhance my holiday experience while coping with chronic illness?

Creating a holiday playlist can be therapeutic, helping to reduce pain and anxiety, and uplift spirits during the festive season.

What are some practical gift wrapping solutions for someone with chronic illness?

Opting for gift bags or using adaptive tools, like the Nimble, can make gift wrapping easier and less physically demanding.

One Comment

  1. Janie, thanks so much for this, it’s brilliant & spot on. Although I’ve had chronic illness & disability for 10-15 years, it’s got worse, I’m a people pleaser & find it hard to put across/explain my needs at Christmas & day to day. Also some things have got worse, as I’m now 60 & food/IBS is more problematic than it was 5 years ago.

    I think I might print this out & or get it laminated!

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