Planning ahead for holiday celebrations can help you reduce stress and enjoy the season.
Many people have a love-hate relationship with the holiday season. While fun and nostalgic, the holidays can be a lot of work. Decorating, cooking, shopping, wrapping, hosting, and other prep can be difficult for anyone to handle. It can be even harder for people with psoriatic arthritis (PsA) to balance all these responsibilities with the added burden of pain and fatigue.
Over the years, I’ve learned many ways to cope with PsA during the holidays. Admittedly, there were still some quieter Christmases when my health was very bad. But usually, planning well ahead of the holidays and looking toward the bigger picture helps me feel less stressed and keeps me from sending myself into a post-Christmas flare.
My home office has some new, temporary inhabitants: a Peppa Pig doll with accessories and a Blaze monster truck. Of course, they’re not mine — they’re Christmas gifts for my niece and nephew and were on clearance for over half their regular price.
I love getting a head start on holiday shopping! I start early in August, especially for toys, stocking stuffers, and containers for gifting baked goods. Not only are so many of these items on clearance as stores prep for the Christmas frenzy, but it’s also a much more relaxed shopping atmosphere. While you probably can’t get everything on your list too early, you can usually get a decent head start. (My mum was almost always done Christmas shopping by Black Friday).
I do not trust myself to wrap ahead of time — kudos to anyone who feels brave enough! But I am quick to assemble gift bags without any tissues or ribbon and just add a temporary label until I’m ready to commit to the gift.
I love decorations: I have at least two boxes full of Christmas decorations to put out, and we do a tree inside and out on the porch. But it’s a lot.
Last year, I had COVID-19 in early December, and while almost all my decorations eventually got up, it was a huge effort and was only something I did because it made me happy. I wouldn’t have done it if it didn’t bring me so much joy.
You have my permission to skimp on the holiday decor. While beautiful, it’s a considerable effort. If you want to decorate, go about it slowly. Put out just a few things a day and prioritize the things you love. Tinsel and lights are great, but if a beloved figurine or other decoration is what brings you the most joy, prioritize that.
Downsizing is also a great option. My mother reduced her large Christmas tree to a smaller tree many years ago, but it really helped the year she had a frozen shoulder. That year, she decided just to do lights, a few ornaments, and a pretty tree topper and skirt. It looked fabulous! Sometimes, less is more.
Homemade foods are a staple of any family gathering. Most everyone can be brought back to childhood by the smell of homemade stuffing, roasting meats, and other goodies.
That said, cooking can be very physically demanding: chopping, mixing, folding, lifting, etc. It can be a lot! And while pre-chopped veggies or trimmed meats help cut down on the prep, the time and energy to prepare and clean can still wear anyone down.
Only in the past few years have I learned that you can make and freeze a good amount of food ahead of your event. That took a lot of pressure off me regarding bringing food for Thanksgiving or hosting a Christmas gathering.
Sauces, casseroles, and soups hold up well in the freezer and can be reheated quickly in the oven or crockpot. Aluminum pans are also great for freezing, reheating, and speedy cleanup since they can be recycled.
You can even get a head start on desserts and treats. Many baked goods keep well in the freezer, so long as they’re adequately wrapped.
If you are like me and love freshly baked cookies, many cookie doughs hold up well in the freezer. Some of my favorites are lemon blueberry and icebox cookies. I prefer pre-parsing the dough into balls or shapes and placing them on parchment paper to freeze flat in a freezer bag — it makes it even easier to take out and start baking.
The most important thing I recommend is to make your holiday plans early and get a good idea of who is taking care of what. It’s not that you need to know everything down to the last detail, but it’s good to get an idea of what to expect, plan ahead, and delegate tasks to others. That way, you can skip hosting, cooking all the food, and planning all the activities solo!
Some of us can be tempted to handle things all on our own. Sometimes, it feels easier that way and less stressful. If you find yourself flying solo, find help in other ways where possible.
For the last couple of parties I hosted, I leaned heavily on catering from the local grocery store and premade food (frozen meatballs in the crockpot are always a big hit). I also used Instacart and Doordash, which saved me a ton of time and energy instead of running to the grocery store.
All these tips are great, but I will be the first to admit they’re not a cure for everything. Having food ready is great, but it can still be a huge effort to put things in the oven, serve, and clean up after. And sometimes, you can’t avoid the mad dash to the mall in search of the must-have gift. But hopefully, my tips for planning and simplifying can make it a little easier.
All this activity spent preparing for the holidays might lead to a post-holiday flare, but the joyful memories are worth it. Living with arthritis often means finding balance. Yes, it’s a stressful time but also a joyful one.
Medically reviewed on October 27, 2023
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