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  • Writer's pictureMotto Health

Surviving the Holidays: The Top 6 Autoimmune Pitfalls and How to Avoid Them

Come winter holiday time, we on the Motto clinical team start to hear a similar kind of story from our patients with chronic inflammatory conditions. It usually starts with: “I love the holidays, but...,” and what follows is a long list of how the added stress, family obligations and work during holiday time can lead to an increase in pain, fatigue and worst of all, flares.

This is very real. Sure, many people can get tired and irritable around holidays, but for them it’s a passing thing. For those with autoimmune conditions, added stress on the body and mind can have much more serious consequences, like an increase in inflammation.

The great news is it does NOT need to be like this! This year, your Motto team wants to help you plan well so you can experience the joy and cheer of holiday time, minus the suffering.

Here’s our list of the Top 6 Holiday Pitfalls and how to avoid them by making wise(r) choices.

Pitfall #1: Decorating

Everyone thinks they’re a superwoman when it comes to decorating. You drag boxes of decorations from the basement, climb on ladders to string lights. We can’t blame you! It’s joyful to cheer up the winter nights with beautiful family heirlooms. But then in come the throbbing hands, shoulders and knees.

Survival Tips:

  • Pace yourself! Instead of doing everything in one day, spread it out over a week or more. Do only a little bit at a time and rest BEFORE you’re exhausted. This avoids strain and allows you to check in with your body each day to see what if anything might be hurting.

  • Ask for help! Many hands make light work.

Pitfall #2: Cooking

Holidays wouldn’t be holidays without the special foods. It’s how you honor your family’s traditions, whether it’s your Aunt’s latke recipe or Grandma’s Christmas cookies.

Still, cooking is heavy work–especially when you’re hosting! Lifting pots can bring sore wrists and fingers, and standing for long periods impacts knees and hips.

Survival Tips:

  • Make it a potluck! Next time people ask “What can I bring?”, take them seriously and request more than just a bottle of wine. Or better yet: Don’t wait for them to ask! Just call everyone now and assign the tasks.

  • As with decorating, pacing is important. Don’t do all the cooking in one or two days. What can you freeze ahead of time? Sauces, casseroles and soups are great choices.

Pitfall #3: Exercise

We are so busy doing extra things during holiday times that our normal healthy habits get booted to the corner.

You think: If I’m cooking and decorating, do I really need to exercise on top of that? Well…kinda. Your exercise routine is designed to keep your joints feeling limber and healthy and it’s one of the best ways to cope with added stress. So plan wisely.

Survival Tips:

  • Strike a compromise! If you’re tired from extra work, don’t push yourself beyond your limits with more cardiovascular activities or strength training. Try instead light stretching and walking to keep your joints fluid. And if you do have more energy, go for that workout!

  • If you go on a road trip, factor in time to stop about once an hour and stretch for at least 5 minutes each time. Same goes for long flights. Long periods of sitting can stiffen joints and bring on flares.

Pitfall #4: Forgetting your Meds!

Eeek! You just got on the plane and realized you forgot one of your important medications! Or you’re home and your meds are right in front of you but in all the fun, you forgot them. It’s ok–it’s not just you. It happens to a lot of people. But your meds are super important and one of the single best ways to avoid flares is to stick to your routine.

Survival Tips:

  • Set alarms so you take your medications at the right time. Even if you usually don’t need these, it’s ok to leave the remembering to the phone for a couple of weeks.

  • If you’re going on a trip, set aside time at least a week before to review your medications. Do you have all your refills? Make a list or put them all in one spot so when the time comes and you’re packing in a hurry, nothing gets left behind.

Pitfall #5: Stressful People

Nothing pushes buttons like loved ones who just don’t get it. They may not understand your diagnosis, your physical limitations, or your need to set boundaries and stick with them. Do we have a magic wand that will make all of your family and friends more understanding and empathetic?

Unfortunately, no. But we can give you a few tips on how to cope so you don’t internalize that stress.

Survival Tip:

  • One of our favorite stress reduction techniques is Deep Belly Breathing. Perhaps this seems overly simplistic. But here us out…

What’s actually going on when you experience stress? Stress is not just an emotional state. It’s also a physiological state in which we experience a rise in “fight or flight” hormones in our bodies. These hormones put the whole body on alert, as if to say, “Uh-oh, something’s wrong. We better prepare!” In response, the body increases its inflammatory response. And increased inflammation can then lead to increased pain and fatigue.

Deep breathing into your belly helps you flip the switch from a fight/flight response to a “rest and digest” response. This also turns down inflammation.

Hint: If someone’s really stressing you out, tune them out and breathe into your belly right then and there. Nobody has to notice but you!

Pitfall #6: Food

OK, we already mentioned cooking, but what about the eating? Holidays usually mean indulging–and then feeling not so great afterwards. When it comes to autoimmune conditions, there’s a clear rule of thumb to follow: Anti-inflammatory foods reduce inflammation whereas processed and sugary foods increase it.

Does that mean no treats at all? No! That’s not fun. Try these tips instead:

Survival Tips:

  • Moderation is key. A little bit of “sometimes foods” like cookies and cake are ok, but a lot can push inflammation over the edge.

  • Make wise choices: When you’re looking at that dessert tray, go for the ones that really matter to you. Leave the rest.

  • Use the principles of “food choice architecture” by putting the extra cookies out of sight in the cupboard instead of on the counter where you’re tempted by them every time you pass by.

  • Don’t neglect your foundation: One of the problems is that rich and junky foods crowd out the normally healthy dinners. So, plan ahead. Freeze one or two of your favorite healthy meals ahead of time so you have them in a pinch.

Well, that about wraps it up! From all of us here at Motto, we wish you and your families the very best of the holidays.

Stay safe, stay healthy, and live your best life!

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