My holiday self-care toolkit keeps me happy and healthy

With cystic fibrosis, it's important to avoid stress amid the season's pressures

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by Jennifer Bleecher |

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So many things need to be done during the hustle and bustle of the holiday season. Gift lists need to be made, cookies need to be baked, decorations must be hung, and meals need to be planned, to name a few things. All of this can create added pressure, worry, anxiety, and distress.

Plus, not everyone is joyful during the holidays. The loss of loved ones may be on someone’s mind, while others might not have the financial means to accomplish their wishes for their family. Those of us living with cystic fibrosis (CF) have memories of holidays spent in the hospital, which can be triggering.

Although I’ve survived a double-lung transplant and am doing well at the moment, I still have an underlying insecurity about my long-term health. It’s like a low-sounding hum in my subconscious mind that I can’t silence. Just knowing that COVID-19, the flu, respiratory syncytial virus, or even a common cold could change my life and my family’s holiday season weighs on me considerably.

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CF has been unpredictable many times in my life. Gastrointestinal blockages are my personal nemesis. They happen without warning, despite my aggressive regimen of medications, and result in long hospitalizations.

The last blockage landed me in the intensive care unit for a month and required surgery. Because of it, I missed my daughter’s college graduation. The uncertainty of this disease has forced my family to change plans at the last minute more times than I care to remember.

That’s why, no matter what your CF situation might be, I want to share my holiday self-care toolkit. I hope it’ll be helpful during this joyous, and often stressful, time.

1. Prioritize your health. Regardless of lengthy to-do lists, nothing is more important than the medications and other treatments that maintain your health. If you end up sick or hospitalized, you won’t be able to accomplish anything on your to-do list. Doing a few things is better than doing none of them. Staying healthy is your gift to everyone.

2. Choose what’s most important and spend your energy ensuring it gets completed. Don’t get caught up in the hype and pressures of the holidays. Think of one or two things that will make the holiday special for you and let that be enough.

3. Pace yourself. Whether it’s shopping, wrapping presents, cleaning the house, or any other task, start early. This strategy decreases your stress level and is easier on your body. Care for yourself by allowing more time to accomplish tasks.

4. Accept help. Forget the “warrior” label that’s often used to describe those of us with CF. We don’t have to do everything. Accept offers of help from others. When you do that, it can be a gift to them, too, because loved ones often feel helpless on our CF journey. It’s also a gift to ourselves when we avoid pushing ourselves too hard to keep up with healthy peers. In my experience, that extra push will lead to an exacerbation later. Give yourself permission to accept others’ help.

5. Be grateful. Living each day with gratitude isn’t always easy, but I find that expressing gratitude for even the tiniest thing can lighten my CF load. Try to center your attention on what you can do instead of dwelling on your limitations. I’ve found that it’s worth the effort.

6. Carve out quiet time for yourself. Stress negatively affects our minds and bodies. Ensure that you take time during the holiday season to keep yourself balanced, whatever that might look like for you. I enjoy quiet morning time with coffee to welcome the day and time alone outdoors to ground myself.

7. Focus on the reason for the season. No matter what faith or holiday you celebrate, remind yourself of the true reason you observe it. For me, this instantly removes the stress caused by the commercialization of holidays. When I focus on the reason for the season, I realize what is truly important. In turn, my to-do list quickly disappears.

Be gentle on yourself, stay well, and enjoy every moment of this holiday season.

Note: Cystic Fibrosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Cystic Fibrosis News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to cystic fibrosis.


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