The holiday season, fondly sung as “the most wonderful time of year…” often shakes out to be the most stressful time of year. As I hum that winter song, I find myself juggling end-of-year work priorities, holiday parties, teacher gifts, family events and little ones who are sometimes on sugar overload. No matter how you celebrate the holidays, the pressure to decorate, cook, buy and wrap gifts and attend extra social events can be stressful. For RA patients, it’s even more profound. With this in mind, I reached out to a few of our Crescendo/Vectra Ambassadors to get their insights on how they not only cope, but thrive, during the season.
Linda: Prioritizing for Peace of Mind
When Linda was diagnosed with RA, she got a tattoo of a bucket with wings on her ankle to remind herself not to give up on her life goals and dreams. One of those dreams was to get a pilot’s license, which she did. She’s also checked skydiving, getting a master’s degree and becoming a grandparent off her bucket list. She taught preschool for more than 30 years and currently works with teachers who specialize in early childhood development.
Hailing from the Plains state of Indiana, one of the biggest challenges of the holiday season for Linda is the cold and damp weather. “You never know what front will come through,” she said. Her aches and pains increase during winter months. For Linda, the stress of family adds to the challenges of the season.
To best manage stress, Linda advises: “Let go. Let some decorations go. Let some cooking go. Set realistic expectations for the holidays.” For instance, she chose not to put out some of the usual decorations last year. She was surprised to find that no one even noticed they were gone. After the holidays were over, she donated them to Goodwill and never thought about them again!
She also advised, “Take time for yourself to work out, read or whatever makes you happy. Sit and enjoy the lights on the tree, and don’t be afraid to ask for help from others.” Linda does what she can for her relatives but draws a line to help keep her mind and body in check.
Maria: Love and Laughter with Hurting Feet
Like many with RA who don’t live in large cities, Maria was not able to find local people to talk to about living with arthritis. It didn’t stop her from hopping on the computer for health advice and hope. She is currently a member of 12 online communities, often leading chats on them. Maria is a retail manager. She works hard and plays hard, staying active socially and traveling the world. She has made more trips since her diagnosis than ever before.
“Working in retail during the holidays is hard whether you have RA or not!” began Maria. “As an RA patient, the holiday season is the time of year I feel the worst fatigue. Despite the many parties and social events I want to attend, I have a hard time motivating myself after spending the day with clients. I feel non-stop pain in my feet. On my off-days, even though I’d love to rest, there are presents to buy and desserts to cook. It’s a go-go-go time of year!”
How does she manage? Rest, rest, and rest – as often as you can. “Do your shopping online, even groceries if you can! I try to drink lots of water and eat a healthy diet. I also try to stay aware of my Vitamin D levels.”
She also gave some uplifting advice about holiday parties: “Don’t become a hermit in your house. Get someone to drive you to a party even if only for an hour. Laughing with friends always makes you feel better. It staves off depression and feelings of being left out. If your kids are old enough, let them host dinner. Pass that tradition on to them!”
LaRita: Finding Rest in the Busyness
LaRita was diagnosed with RA as a young mother and has worked to raise awareness and help patients ever since. She was a college professor until her health required a change. She now works as a freelance journalist focusing on medical issues. Her adult daughter was recently diagnosed with RA. “It’s now a family affair,” she says. LaRita is also a dynamic public speaker. She often presents to medical and patient groups. She has received many awards for her advocacy efforts.
For LaRita, one of the biggest challenges is the lack of downtime and rest. “Office parties and shopping for gifts can take a toll,” she said. “While this can lead to flare-ups, I also feel sad when I can’t enjoy events and time with family and friends in the way that I’ve planned.”
LaRita noted that she works hard to pace herself. Like others, she spoke about making choices on how she spends her energy. “Your health and enjoyment of the season are more important than your decor or baking. You don’t have to give up everything, but consider scaling down when needed.”
She also shared a secret tip: “When there are lots of families together chatting, I sneak in a little rest in a quiet room by myself. Everyone assumes I’m chatting elsewhere. Even a 15-minute break can recharge me for more family time!”
I’m so grateful to these Crescendo Ambassadors who were willing to share their holiday stories and tips. I’m also honored to be part of a company that is making a difference in the lives of RA patients by offering the Vectra test for rheumatoid arthritis. Check back next week for the second part of this post, where our Ambassadors share their thoughts on the year ahead.