Lupus and the Holiday Season: How to Cope with Stress

A summary of a presentation given to the SLE Workshop at HSS


Caroline Norris
M.S.W. Intern, Department of Social Work Programs
Hospital for Special Surgery

Stress is a normal part of life. Too much of it, however, can be taxing to the body. The holiday season is a time of additional stress for many people, and it can be even more challenging for people with lupus.

In this presentation to the SLE Workshop, Caroline Norris, M.S.W. Intern and SLE Workshop Coordinator, shared different ways to prevent stress during the holidays, as well as a series of relaxation techniques to alleviate and minimize the impact of stress.

Family relationships, finances, and the physical demands of the holiday season are all common triggers of stress. Holiday festivities mean spending additional time with family, which can heighten relationship issues for some people.

Another common holiday stress trigger is the additional expenses the season brings. There are more pressures to spend money during the holiday season. It can be very difficult to manage the costs of presents, food, and decorations, especially for people on a fixed income.

Ms. Norris also reminded the group of the significant physical demands the holiday season brings. Shopping, decorating, cooking, gift-wrapping, and going to parties can be exhausting.

Planning Ahead

A good way of preventing holiday stress is by planning ahead and prioritizing. This can include creating a schedule of all the different activities and tasks. Careful planning can eliminate the rush of last minute forgotten things to do, which can sap your energy.

Ns. Norris suggested that for people who struggle with fatigue it might be useful to include rest and relaxation in the holiday schedule. Conserving energy and making time for recovery will likely make participation in holiday activities much more enjoyable. This recovery time is also important in terms of pacing yourself and preventing yourself from “crashing”

Another good planning technique is creating a budget. There is so much pressure on people to spend, spend, spend. Planning ahead and creating a budget will eliminate overspending. It is also quite easy to forget that the holiday season is about “presence,” not presents.

Some money-saving tips that Ms. Norris suggested included setting a spending limit when exchanging gifts with loved ones. Another way to save money is to “gift” your talents. For example, if you happen to be low on funds, but you are a good cook, offer to prepare a meal for a busy family member or loved one. This is a great way to save money and simultaneously spend time with those you care about. Ms. Norris also reminded the group not to forget how much thoughtful cards and homemade gifts are always appreciated.

Another important part of planning ahead for the holiday season is to set realistic expectations. Trying to achieve perfection usually leaves little room for enjoyment. Unfortunately, many people have an expectation of the perfect holiday, which is usually something out a movie or television show. In real life, last minute things come up, people arrive late, decorations aren’t perfect, and dinner sometimes gets burned.

The best way for dealing with these unplanned events is to try and find the humor in them. The holiday party where the dog ate the dinner will more likely be remembered and laughed about later than the party where everything was perfect.

Communicating

Ms. Norris shared with the group just how important communication is to surviving the holiday season when living with lupus. An important communication during the holiday season is “saying no.” It can be very difficult to turn down people’s invitations or requests, but sometimes saying yes isn’t the best thing to do.

When you have limited time and energy, participating in certain events or doing certain tasks can prevent you from doing what you really care about. The best way to say no is to do it respectfully and, if comfortable, to practice full disclosure.

Many people with lupus struggle with the unpredictable nature of the illness, they may be concerned about making plans or commitments and then having to back out. Ask the host of a party ahead of time if it will be problem if you have to back out at the last minute or if it would be all right if you left early.

Practicing the 4 A’s

In dealing with stress, Ms. Norris suggests practicing what is commonly known as the 4 A’s: Avoid, Alter, Accept and Adapt.

Avoid: Avoid the people and things that upset you or cause too much stress. One way of practicing avoidance is by saying no.

Alter: If you find that the normal holiday season routine is too fatiguing, alter your expectations. If loved ones aren’t respecting your needs, respectfully ask them to alter their behavior.

Accept: Acceptance is an important part of managing stress. During the holiday season, you may have to accept that you won’t be able to participate in all the activities you would like.

Adapt: One way of avoiding stress is to adapt. Living with lupus often means having to adapt one’s lifestyle or plans; this is true during the holiday season as well.

While the 4 A’s are excellent for managing the holiday season, they are also useful in managing the everyday struggles of a chronic condition like lupus.

Relaxation Techniques

Even with all the planning ahead, a certain amount of stress is unavoidable. Relaxation techniques are a good way of managing periods of increased stress. Regular use of such techniques may even lead to better health.

Breathing exercises are a good way of managing stress and, in general, they are a very useful method of symptom control or release. Ms. Norris led the SLE Workshop members in the “Letting Go of Tension Exercise” from the Relaxation and Stress Reduction Workbook by Martha Davis, Elizabeth Robbins Eshelman, and Matthew McKay.

Participants were asked to sit comfortably in their chair with their feet on the floor, and to close their eyes if they felt comfortable doing so. Then members were directed to breathe deeply into their abdomen, hold the breath in for a second and then to let it out. With each breath in, members said to themselves, “I am breathing in relaxation,” and as they exhaled, “I am breathing out tension.”

Another excellent relaxation technique that Ms. Norris discussed with the group was meditation. The practice of Mindfulness meditation has been very effective in the reduction of stress for people with arthritis and fibromyalgia.

The group also discussed visualization as a relaxation technique. Visualization is a way to use one’s imagination to relax by creating a safe and relaxing place in your mind. Lastly, Ms. Norris reminded the group of the benefits of listening to music and humor as ways of reducing holiday stress. The workshop concluded with many members sharing which music they listened to and how they used humor as a way to relax.

 

Learn more about the SLE Workshop, a free support and education group held monthly as HSS.

Summary by Caroline Norris, MSW Intern

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