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5 Tips for Managing Holiday Stress with MS

By Matt Cavallo
The holiday season is upon us. Front yards are adorned with festive lights and decorations. Every commercial contains advertisements for another holiday sale. Checkout lines are traffic jams. For those of us living with multiple sclerosis, this time of year can present challenges outside our normal routine.

Keeping up with the pace of the holidays can cause physical, emotional and financial stressors. Stress is the enemy for those of us living with MS. Too much stress can lead to new or worsening symptoms. Managing stress before and during the holidays is critical to feeling good in the New Year.

Here are five tips for managing holiday stress with multiple sclerosis:

1. Make a list and check it twice – The holidays are a great time for gathering with family and friends, however, most of the holiday activities are outside of our daily routine. When planning for these extra activities it is important to factor your MS into the equation so you do not become overburdened, overscheduled, and burnt out.  Make a list of all appointments, parties, shopping trips, travel and other commitments. Then, set your dates far enough apart to ensure you can make it to each obligation safely. Once you have made the list, double check it so that you make sure you haven’t left anything off and that you feel comfortable with all activities listed. Knowing that you have prepared a plan ahead of time will help reduce the stress of accomplishing tasks outside your routine.

2. Set a budget – Holiday marketing is really effective at convincing you to buy stuff you don’t need. Prior to setting off on a shopping spree, set a budget and stick to it. Overextending yourself financially during the holiday season can lead to increased stress and worry about how to pay off those holiday bills.

3. Make smart travel arrangements – Life has a natural rush hour. Roads are always more crowded from 7 to 10 a.m. then they are from 5 to 7 a.m. If you have to travel this holiday season, make travel arrangements that are outside of the typical travel hours. If you have issues with mobility or vision, this is especially important. The stress of traffic and sitting can lead to numbness and tingling, which can lead to an increased fall risk. During high traffic time, the dark of winter combined with the car lights can lead to increased visual stress.

4. Resist overeating – The holidays bring a surplus of delicious meals and delectable deserts which often leads to overindulgence. Food around the holidays contains a lot of extra sodium and sugar which can negatively affect your immune system, digestion and energy levels. However, the worst thing that can happen this time of year is not drinking enough water. Drinking more water will actually decrease your appetite and help you resist overeating and eating related stressors.

5. Just say no – During the holidays, all we want is to be accommodating of our friends and loved ones. Because of our need to give, we put ourselves and our multiple sclerosis at risk. One of the hardest skills to master is the ability to just say no.

Let’s review our tips for reducing holiday stress with this principal:
  • If something isn’t on your list and you don’t think you can make it just say no.
  • If something is outside your budget even though you think it would be a perfect gift, just say no.
  • If traveling for a holiday obligation leads to unwanted stress, just say no.
  • The extra piece of pie? Just say no.

As a person living with MS, it is important to understand that the stressors of the season can lead to new or worsening symptoms. Making a list, setting a budget, smart travel planning, resisting overeating and learning how to just say no will help you reduce stress and enjoy the holidays. Remember, stress can lead to new or worsening symptoms. Reducing stress can help you manage your MS symptoms is especially important during the stressful holiday season.