The Ultimate Holiday Resource for Fibromyalgia & Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Put the Happy Back in the Holidays

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The holiday season is supposed to be a happy time, but it comes with a lot of stress and expectations. It can be a trying time even for healthy people, and for those of us with fibromyalgia (FMS) and chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS), it can turn into the worst time of the year.

It doesn't take long for most of us to learn that negative events (i.e., stressful incidents, confrontations) make you feel a lot worse.

But have you also connected happy events to a downturn in your health?

A 2008 study shows that positive events as well as negative ones can rev up FMS symptoms for a couple of days. I believe it – one year, after a really low-stress Thanksgiving that I thoroughly enjoyed, I crashed hard for the next couple of days. I certainly wasn't out shopping the sales, and I'm pretty sure I didn't even left the house. I don't remember for sure. It's lost in the fog.

This study doesn't go into why these events have this impact on us. (And we're not alone -- people with rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis get it, too.) However, it doesn't seem like a stretch that an emotional, high-energy-output day can take a toll even without the negative effects of stress-system activation and anxiety. Just being social for several hours takes energy to wipe some of us out. Throw in too much sugar and maybe a dash of alcohol, it's a perfect recipe for a good, old-fashioned holiday crash.

The sad thing about this is that we need those good times! Who wants to spend their lives avoiding fun and happiness? Fortunately, while our illness may not be under our control, how we live with it is. I already limit what I do for fun, opting to have friends over (who don't care if my house is clean) or watch a movie at home instead of going out to noisy, crowded places.

I refuse to ban fun and excitement. They're what give me the will to keep going through the really bad times, and if I have to have a couple of not-so-great days because of it, I'm willing to pay that price.

Also, it can help to think a little more about planning for fun events: the lead up to them, the events themselves, and the aftermath.

The resources here can help you manage all the aspects of the holiday season that make it difficult for us, and there are a lot of them! It can be overwhelming to try figuring it all out at once, so take your time and read the articles you most need first, and save the others for when they're more relevant to you.

The Planning Stage of the Holiday Season

The sheer volume of stuff we have to do to prepare for the holidays can make you want to run away and hide. Fortunately, we can all benefit from the wisdom of one FMS/ME/CFS forum member, which she developed over the course of several years. She gave me her plan, and I adapted it into:

    The best thing to do is to start in September and really spread out the work. If you're getting started later, though, that's perfectly fine. Just know that you may need to manage your expectations a little more.

    Things that can do us in – and not only during the holidays – are having trouble:

    The holiday season emphasizes the need for these skills, so there's no better time to start setting these good habits.

    Here's one final bit of good advice from one of your fellow readers:

    "Stop before you're ready to stop. If you go till you're too tired to do more then you'll crash. When you think 'I'll just do that 1or 2 more things, or visit 1or 2 more shops, or go up 1 or 2 more aisles' -- don't! Thinking this is your cue that you should stop -- works for me. Keep it simple. Decorate -- but not as much, celebrate -- but not as much, cook if you can -- but not as much." -Lucy

    The Season Begins

    Regardless of what retailers want us to think, most people consider Thanksgiving the official start of the holiday season. Preparing for the big turkey dinner can mean:

    Those are all things may people with FMS and ME/CFS struggle with, and the links above can give you a lot of ideas for making them less of a problem. Also, see:

    All of the food-related events can be hard for those of us who have problems with alcohol or certain foods. Get help with those, both for Thanksgiving and the rest of the season:

    Now we come to the day after Thanksgiving – Black Friday. Even the thoughts of someone with these conditions in the middle of Black Friday mayhem makes me shudder. Why? Let me count the ways!

    1. We'll probably be too worn out from Thanksgiving,
    2. We can't afford to lose the sleep,
    3. It's too much exertion,
    4. Waiting outside in the cold is especially rough for those of us with temperature sensitivity,
    5. The chaos of it can lead to over-stimulation, anxiety, panic attacks and flares.

    Yes, the incredible savings are amazing, but these days, a lot of stores have "doorbusters" online as well. This is one time when insomnia may be a bonus, since the sales start at midnight.

    Even shopping during a more "normal" time can be tough on us. For help with that, see:

    When it comes to people shopping for you, do you sometimes get gifts that you can use because of your FMS or ME/CFS symptoms or sensitivities? I know I do. It might help to give your friends and family this article:

    For help traveling during the holidays, see:

    For getting through the final push before Christmas, and recovering afterward, see Part II of The Ultimate Holiday Resource for Fibromyalgia & Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.


    Parrish BP, Zautra AJ, Davis MC. Health psychology. 2008 Nov;27(6):694-702. The role of positive and negative interpersonal events on daily fatigue in women with fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, and osteoarthritis.

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