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How to Celebrate the Holidays When Your Body Is Killing You

By Martha Michael

Health for the Holidays

For most Americans the holidays are a mixed bag of merriment with the added stress of obligations and overspending. When you add the hardship of managing a health issue to the hustle and bustle of the holidays, the last two months of the year can go from a season of anticipation to one of exasperation.

Temporary Conditions

It’s never a good time for a broken bone or a bad cold, but most would agree the holiday season is one of the worst times for the advent of physical challenges. When you have a house full of guests, but your arm is in a cast or you’re limping from an ankle sprain, sharing the workload is in order.

If you decide to play holiday host regardless of an injury that you’re suffering, consider:

  • Changing the menu
  • Making it a potluck
  • Hiring extra help
  • Calling a decorating service
  • Lowering your expectations

It may be obvious if you contract COVID-19 or the flu, but if you have anything contagious it’s best to cancel your party or dinner plans. Most people want to stay healthy between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day regardless of the quality of the hors d’oeuvres.

Chronic Illnesses

If you were recently diagnosed with a serious condition, you’re facing the holidays with added emotional challenges. Those battling a significant illness such as stage 4 cancer or kidney disease may want to consult a mental health professional to aid in sharing it with family and friends. In addition to coping with a chronic illness, you have practical decisions to make as you adjust to lifestyle changes.

Even though many Americans successfully manage symptoms of ongoing health issues such as high blood pressure or arthritis, they require extra effort during the holidays, according to an article by the Better Health Channel. If it’s your first holiday season with a chronic illness, you may be struggling to participate in your favorite traditions while making necessary changes to manage the physical effects of the disease; however, it may help to:

  • Learn about your illness, treatments, and therapies
  • Develop clear communication with doctors
  • Find ways to control symptoms
  • Develop strong social support
  • Avoid isolation
  • Set short-term goals

Handling Health Issues While Traveling

You can still go over the river and through the woods with the onset of certain health conditions, but there are other aspects to consider.

Traveling to Higher Altitudes

Approximately 30 million Americans are living with health issues made worse by higher altitudes, according to an article by the Mayo Clinic. If you have serious conditions such as coronary artery disease or pulmonary disease, get information about the proper rate of ascent and a reduced level of physical activity at higher elevations.

Individuals with pulmonary issues can travel to areas with moderate altitudes of approximately 9,500 feet. To maximize your safety, if you’re battling a lung disease and your destination is a significantly higher elevation than where you live, bring supplemental oxygen. Patients with acute pulmonary hypertension or COPD should avoid traveling to higher elevations altogether.

Coronary artery disease and high blood pressure can get more severe in higher altitudes. If your condition is stable you can go to moderate altitudes of approximately 9,500 feet, but you need to limit your exertion for the first few days.

Don’t be afraid to consult your doctor beforehand.

Traveling With a Disability

A site called Free Wheelin’ Travel offers advice for traveling while wheelchair-bound. Detailed planning in advance is key and the holiday crowds -- combined with winter weather -- compound the potential for challenges this time of year.

The site offers the following tips for ensuring a smoother travel schedule:

  • Organize your suitcase to ensure you include necessary medications and wheelchair batteries
  • Bring all the mobility equipment you need even if you’re flying
  • Purchase high-quality clothing that meets your body’s diverse needs
  • Buy a portable ramp to improve access when you visit family or attend parties
  • Make your reservations early and choose easy access rooms
  • Bring fewer gifts for easier traveling

Holiday Health Hazards

Although most people hope for happy holidays, there are circumstances that trigger physical problems that rob you of your holiday cheer. An article in Best Life has a list of reasons for holiday health risks:

Middle of flu season - For the Northern Hemisphere the holiday season is in winter when there’s a rise in the incidence of viral infections.

High cholesterol foods - Nothing says “Happy Holidays” like frosted cookies, pumpkin pie and other culprits that raise your cholesterol.

Traditions involving drinking - Holiday party hosts push eggnog and signature New Year’s Eve beverages that often include cocktails and champagne, which can get out of control.

Climate for mental health crises - There are few stressors more universal than the ones people experience when families gather at the holidays.

Don’t let the busy season cause you to neglect your health checkups such as routine chiropractic care, and if symptoms arise, seek medical help as soon as possible. There’s no way to know whether Santa’s bag will satisfy all your wishes this year or if there will be disappointments such as the onset of health problems. But if celebrating with others is in the plans, start early to mitigate the effects of your illness so you can eat, drink ,and be merry and restore the season to the most wonderful time of the year.

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