Thursday, November 29, 2012

Trying to Make the Holidays Less Overwhelming

Julie Stachowiak, PhD

Having just made it through Thanksgiving, I am reminded of how overwhelming the holidays can be. For those of us living with MS, just attending a holiday event can be tiring. Fatigue or cognitive issues can make it difficult to be in a crowd and participate in conversations for extended periods of time. Beyond that, we are often given or volunteer for food or decoration duties, adding another layer of challenges.

In my case, I am a fairly decent cook, so I am often given the job of cooking for family gatherings, especially since pretty much everyone else loathes the task. This year, people asked for favorites that I had made in years past, and also threw a couple of new requests on the pile. As a result, I found myself making the bulk of the food to bring to our Thanksgiving gathering for 14 people.

Honestly, I didn't feel like doing it. I was tired and didn't want to cook for the masses. Besides that, I didn't feel like going at all – it was going to be loud (with a football game constantly playing on the giant television that can be seen and heard from the kitchen and dining room) and chaotic, with four dogs and seven kids. Don't get me wrong, I did really want to see my family, but I knew that this setting would not be ideal for me to enjoy them.

However, I did it. I cooked and packed up all the food. I cooked some more after I arrived. I served. I smiled. I endured the noise of the football game. I helped clean and I went home with my family. I collapsed.

Now, I know what advice I would give to myself: Delegate the cooking to others. Be honest with people about how tired you get. Ask that the football game be turned down. Limit your time at the gathering. Look out for yourself.

I give this kind of advice all the time (see my blogs Holiday Hazards to Avoid for People with Multiple Sclerosis and Surviving Holiday Gatherings with Multiple Sclerosis). However, when it comes to myself, I seem to forget my own ideas about self-preservation.

In gearing up for a similar scene at Christmas, this time I really am going to try to look out for myself a little better. I am going to find the right balance of making sure that my family is having fun and not wearing myself out in the pursuit of “perfect” holiday moments.

With these goals in mind, I am going to commit to doing three things for myself:
  1. Make sure that I have a quiet place to retreat to during the event and that I spend some time in it, by myself or in quiet conversation with one person with whom I would like to catch up. 
  2. Agree to make one menu item only (and offer to scope out a place where the rest can be purchased, if necessary). 
  3. Be honest when people ask how I'm doing. Maybe not lay out the full picture, but let people know that, for me, taking big get-togethers in small chunks is the best way to have a nice holiday.
What about you? Are holidays difficult for you? Do you tend to exhaust yourself trying to meet the expectations of others (and yourself)? Do you have any tips on how to avoid holiday burn-out for the rest of us? I would love to hear your stories and comments.


  1. I insisted on having the dinner in our home w/8 adults, my new granddaughter and my cousin's 5 month old instead of going to inlaws where there would be at least 18 people. It worked because we have wonderful cooks and amazing helpers amongst our own children (29&31) So, this is our new tradition!

  2. As my Mother aged, the bulk of holiday cooking fell to me and for many years I could handle it. But as my MS progressed I had to learn to say NO, but not just no; I found that a "No," with a follow-up of "But I will help you make it," turned out to be a win-win. The younger ones were learning how to do what they had all taken for granted for so many years, and it was fun to have their input and camaraderie in the kitchen. Plus, I didn't feel the guilt of not participating. As I said - a win-win.

  3. Thank you for the advice. I spent years in denial. After I had my third child I was hit hard by a relapse. Now my balance is more off. It does not help that I am unemployed with three kids and a husband who is also unemployed. I decided that it was time to stop stressing. I decided to recuperate and see what hppens.