Trying to Make the Holidays Less Overwhelming

Having just made it through Thanksgiving, I am reminded of how overwhelming the holidays can be. For those of us living with MS, just attending a holiday event can be tiring. Fatigue or cognitive issues can make it difficult to be in a crowd and participate in conversations for extended periods of time. Beyond that, we are often given or volunteer for food or decoration duties, adding another layer of challenges.

In my case, I am a fairly decent cook, so I am often given the job of cooking for family gatherings, especially since pretty much everyone else loathes the task. This year, people asked for favorites that I had made in years past, and also threw a couple of new requests on the pile. As a result, I found myself making the bulk of the food to bring to our Thanksgiving gathering for 14 people.
Honestly, I didn't feel like doing it. I was tired and didn't want to cook for the masses. Besides that, I didn't feel like going at all – it was going to be loud (with a football game constantly playing on the giant television that can be seen and heard from the kitchen and dining room) and chaotic, with four dogs and seven kids. Don't get me wrong, I did really want to see my family, but I knew that this setting would not be ideal for me to enjoy them.
However, I did it. I cooked and packed up all the food. I cooked some more after I arrived. I served. I smiled. I endured the noise of the football game. I helped clean and I went home with my family. I collapsed.
Now, I know what advice I would give to myself: Delegate the cooking to others. Be honest with people about how tired you get. Ask that the football game be turned down. Limit your time at the gathering. Look out for yourself.
I give this kind of advice all the time (see my blogs Holiday Hazards to Avoid for People with Multiple Sclerosis and Surviving Holiday Gatherings with Multiple Sclerosis). However, when it comes to myself, I seem to forget my own ideas about self-preservation.
In gearing up for a similar scene at Christmas, this time I really am going to try to look out for myself a little better. I am going to find the right balance of making sure that my family is having fun and not wearing myself out in the pursuit of “perfect” holiday moments.
With these goals in mind, I am going to commit to doing three things for myself:
  1. Make sure that I have a quiet place to retreat to during the event and that I spend some time in it, by myself or in quiet conversation with one person with whom I would like to catch up. 
  2. Agree to make one menu item only (and offer to scope out a place where the rest can be purchased, if necessary). 
  3. Be honest when people ask how I'm doing. Maybe not lay out the full picture, but let people know that, for me, taking big get-togethers in small chunks is the best way to have a nice holiday.
What about you? Are holidays difficult for you? Do you tend to exhaust yourself trying to meet the expectations of others (and yourself)? Do you have any tips on how to avoid holiday burn-out for the rest of us? I would love to hear your stories and comments.
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Julie Stachowiak, PhD

Julie is the author of the Multiple Sclerosis Manifesto, the winner of the 2009 ForeWord Book of the Year Award in the Health Category. She is an epidemiologist who is also a person living with MS, Julie has an in-depth understanding about current research and scientific developments around MS. She also has first-hand knowledge of the frustrations and anxiety surrounding the disease, as she had MS for at least 15 years before receiving a diagnosis in 2003 and has had several relapses since her diagnosis.