The hustle and bustle of the holiday season can be stressful for anyone. When living with pulmonary hypertension (PH) or another chronic illness, the holidays can be overwhelming and exhausting. This year was the first time I did not cook a Thanksgiving meal. We went out to eat and then later to a magical event that a friend participates in each year. But even with no cooking or cleaning, I was couch-bound for several days afterward because I needed to recharge.
As I’m dealing with fatigue, pain, and breathing difficulties, I’m often limited in my holiday festivities. Through the years, I have slowly learned to pick and choose. This means that I limit my celebrations and say no to protect my health. Family and friends often have a tough time understanding my need to conserve energy, and I am left to deal with the guilt.
Anxiety levels can easily creep up with this added stress. I already deal with anxiety and take medication to help, but I try not to depend on it. I have tried deep breathing, meditation, and music. These tools can be effective, but sometimes I need to take my anti-anxiety medication. I remind myself that’s perfectly OK. Spending a few minutes in a quiet corner can be helpful, too.
Last December, we lost my husband’s parents within a few weeks of each other. The loss influenced our overall Christmas mood. This year, we feel gut-wrenching heartache at the mere thought of their not being around. I know that my husband is having a tough time mentally and emotionally, and this can add to the anxieties and stress during the holidays. As much as my heart aches with him and for him, I cannot even begin to imagine his loss.
The holiday season is typically a time of joy and peace. But often others who have lost a loved one feel that emptiness in a chair at the table and within their hearts. No parent or loved one to call, send a card to, or to simply say, “I love you.” I realize that many of you have suffered losses this year. I hope that despite the sadness and emptiness, you can enjoy spending time with family and friends, and show them affection with warm embraces. It’s possible to feel sadness alongside the peace and joy of Christmas.
Since my PH diagnosis, I have learned to prioritize. I may want to bake cookies and make candy for neighbors and others — one of my favorite traditions to do with my daughter. Though she is married, we continue to plan time to bake goodies to share. During the giving season, I enjoy sending handwritten cards, baking goodies, and choosing small but meaningful gifts for my loved ones. I do most of my shopping online and usually limit my store trips to two — one day with my husband and another outing with my daughter. By applying these limits, I avoid overexerting myself.
I also plan to attend candlelight service on Christmas Eve with my little family. We usually celebrate Christmas Eve afternoon with my parents, my sisters, and their families. I spend Christmas morning at home with my little family. We start by opening up our stockings and enjoying cinnamon rolls with hot cocoa or coffee — a tradition we started when my daughter was young. We unwrap our gifts and watch Christmas movies as we make lunch. Sometimes when our bellies are full, we take a walk if the weather permits.
It is all about figuring out your priorities, then doing those things first. Don’t forget to rest and enjoy the little moments while appreciating the true meaning of Christmas. For me, the little things are the big things. Let’s try to find some peace on earth this holiday season.
Note: Pulmonary Hypertension News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Pulmonary Hypertension News or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to pulmonary hypertension.