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Christmas can be a particularly hard time of year for people living with chronic ill-health. It can be a mental and physical strain, filled with potential pitfalls. I have to admit I’ve never been a Christmassy person. We (my family) didn’t celebrate Christmas when I was growing up and for the first few years of my adult life I worked the festive season, but that doesn’t make it any less challenging.

You see people being happy, buying presents, socialising, being ‘normal’. Facebook is full of Christmas cheer and smiles, images of the perfect Christmas and the perfect family. A whole world where you often feel excluded or inadequate.

It’s common to feel overwhelmed and it’s easy to feel lonely, even when you are surrounded by family and friends. But don’t feel pressured to do more than you are able, it’s ok to say no or sorry I’m not well enough. Focus on what Christmas means to you, what are you favourite bits? Spending time with your family and friends? You don’t have to spend loads and get yourself into debt. You don’t have to go to every party you are invited to. You are in control.

I’m probably the least qualified person to give advice on how to survive the Christmas period but here are my tips anyway:

1. Keep your expectations modest. Don’t get hung up on what the Christmas is supposed to be like and how you’re supposed to feel. Make the most of the parts you enjoy.

2. Lean on your support system. We all need a network of close friends and family to turn to when things get tough. And the Christmas period is no different. Take time to get together with your support network if possible, or keep in touch by phone or online.

3. Don’t assume the worst. Don’t start the Christmas season anticipating disaster. If you try to take the festivities as they come and limit your expectations, both good and bad, you may enjoy them more.

4. Forget the unimportant stuff. Don’t run yourself ragged just to live up to Christmas tradition. Give yourself a break. Worrying about such trivial stuff will not add to your festive spirit.

5. Focus on helping others. Do you have an elderly neighbour who is lonely? I find focussing on others helps distract me from my own problems.

6. Avoid problems. Think about what people or situations trigger your stress or pain and figure out ways to avoid them. You really have more control than you think.

7. Ask for help. People may be more willing to help out than you expect; they just need some guidance from you on what to do.

8. Don’t worry about things beyond your control.  Remember your limits: you can’t control them, but you can control your own reaction to the situation.

9. Find positive ways to remember loved ones. Christmas may remind you of the loved ones who aren’t around anymore. Instead of just feeling glum, do something active to celebrate their memory.

10. Learn to say No. The festive season can last for weeks and weeks. People really need to pace themselves or they’ll get overwhelmed. Don’t say yes to every invitation. Think about which parties you can fit in and which ones you really want to attend.

11. Christmas Shopping. Shop online, stick to a budget and forget about finding the ‘perfect’ gift. Personal gifts can mean so much more than expensive ones.

12. Plan ahead. Do as much as you can in advance and don’t be afraid to cheat. If you are cooking the Christmas meal, buy prepared veg, gravy granules or anything pre-made that will make your life easier.

13. Rest and pace yourself. Be sure to get plenty of sleep and rest during Christmas. Feeling tired can lead to us feeling less able to cope. Grab yourself an early night or nice lie in.

14. Practice Mindfulness. 10 minutes of Mindfulness practice each day could help to keep you grounded, calm and relaxed. Also don’t forget about the other coping strategies you have, find time to look after yourself.

15. Give yourself a break. Christmas and the New Year period can be a time to dwell on imperfections, mistakes and things you’re not proud of. Be gentle with yourself.

But if all you feel like doing is changing into your PJs and woolly socks, and curling up in front of the fire with a hot cuppa, then that’s ok too.

Do you dread this time of year? What tips do you have to coping with the festive season?

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