How I Approach The Holiday Season

The Christmas holidays are approaching!

For me, this means taking time off work, traveling back home to be with family, eating delicious food, and making more time for rest and fun.

Learnings over the years

My mindset around the holidays has changed over the years living with AS.

A few years into my diagnosis, after I discovered how I can best manage my symptoms through diet and lifestyle, I always felt a bit anxious around the holiday season: could I keep up with the family traditions?

For example, I knew that the Christmas season meant more deviations from my usual diet, such as the type and amount of food (and more sweet treats). I wasn’t quite sure how to handle this so I wouldn't change anything.

What followed were painful flares, increased stiffness and fatigue, and just overall not feeling great. That’s when I realized it was time to make changes. I needed to take care of myself and listen to my body’s signals.

Fast-forward to the last couple years, and looking ahead at this year’s holiday season, I now know how I can best approach this time. The goal is to come out of it with confidence, without pain, and feeling energized and rested.

So, what is my approach?

Adapt and communicate

The first step was to learn to communicate my needs with my family and close friends (who are part of the holiday celebrations). They were all aware of my diagnosis of course, but it took all of us some time to understand what that meant regarding my lifestyle habits.

A big change was when I decided to eliminate gluten and dairy from my diet. What would that mean for our traditional dishes? With openness and curiosity, we looked up new recipes and when possible, adapted some items. For example, my family would still make the traditional German potato dumplings (which have wheat in them), but for me, we made a different version that was gluten-free.

No one felt like they were missing out. It was just about adapting by making additional sides dishes that I could enjoy. If I was ready and mentally prepared that I would eat differently, I wasn’t tempted by the other options (which usually led to increased inflammation).

Take time to slow down

Another big shift was to learn to slow down during the holiday season.

We all know it; things can get very busy. Between preparing meals, getting last-minute presents, and making plans for celebrating, it can feel somewhat rushed and fast-paced.

However, with the extra stress of dealing with an autoimmune condition, I knew that I really wanted to use this time off from work and other commitments to rest, restore and wind down from a busy year.  Here again, key to this was communicating with my family, that I wouldn’t partake in all the different plans. I just wanted enough time to relax on the couch with our cats, read a book, watch Christmas movies, drink lots of tea, and move my body in a gentle way.

This approach has proven to benefit both my mental and physical health in the long run while I also enjoy all that the holidays season brings!

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