Life with MS

Finding Your Holiday Cheer When You’re on Your Own

By Emily Cade, M.S., CCM, CRC, CLCP

When we think about the holidays, visions of grand meals with friends and family gathered around the table and bustling activities are usually the first visions to come to mind. While this vision is reality for many, there are others who experience less activity around the holidays. For people with chronic conditions, spending the holidays alone can be a struggle, but there are ways that you can make these times more enjoyable.

Acknowledge how you feel: It is important to acknowledge how you are feeling related to the holidays. Feelings of isolation can be difficult to handle. Acknowledging those feelings and telling yourself that it is okay to feel sad, it is okay to feel disappointed, will help you to move through those feelings rather than pushing them to the back burner and trying to ignoring them. It is okay to feel that way. And once you accept that what you are feeling is normal and absolutely acceptable, you can begin to move forward in finding ways to change your perception of the holidays.

Take people up on their offers: If you are someone who lives alone or in an assistive living facility, you may experience some feelings of isolation during theholiday season. Please know that there are people out there who want to spend time with you. I know that sometimes I don’t take people at their word when they ask me if I would like to join in on an activity. I may feel like I would be a burden or like it is more ‘work’ to have others involved. But we have to learn to trust that they mean what they say. If someone asks you to join in on a holiday dinner, believe that they want you there!

You are worthy of love and attention, and your friends and acquaintances who reach out want to spend time with you. Even if it isn’t someone you know as well, it is worth taking that chance, stepping out of your comfort zone, and making a new friend. I have learned that opportunities come full circle. While they may be ‘helping you’ by reaching out at this time, I can assure you there will be an opportunity for you to do the same in the future.

Make time to volunteer: If you are physically able, consider volunteering. There are few things in life that will make you appreciate all you do have like volunteering will. Reach out to your local shelter. Could they use help serving meals during the holidays? What about your local nursing homes or veteran hospitals?

You can be sure that not everyone in those places will have a picture-perfect holiday with their family and friends, and would welcome a visit from you. Again, it can be scary to step outside of your comfort zone. But by volunteering, you will be spending time with others who really appreciate your dedication and time. You won’t be able to stifle the holiday spirit when you see the smiles you put on other people’s faces. You might be surprised at the smile you find on your own face as well.

Start your own traditions: If you live in assistive living, you may have access to many activities that the facility hosts during the holiday but if not, consider starting your own traditions. Reach out to friends in the facility to see what activities folks may be interested in: Maybe a wreath-making club? A menorah lighting ceremony? Think outside of the box on what you would find exciting and new.

If you live at home alone, reach out to neighbors to inquire about activities in which they might like to participate. Would you be interested in hosting a Christmas ornament exchange at your home for neighbors?

Be mindful of your limits: Sometimes creating new and exciting traditions can take on a life of their own, so be sure to set limits for yourself. Maybe you want to reach out and invite friends over for Thanksgiving, but do not feel like you would be up for the whole ‘turkey dinner’ soiree. Instead, invite neighbors to bring a sweet treat and have a small dessert party. If you are considering volunteering, make sure to choose activities that will be in line with your physical abilities. While you want to be able to give back and help others, make sure to keep your health at the top of the priority list as well.

While spending the holidays alone can feel isolating, it is important to remember that you have the power to make the holidays a special time for yourself and others. Step out of your comfort zone and accept help from others, and come up with new traditions that you can call your own. Whether volunteering at the local soup kitchen or setting up a holiday card-making social at an assistive living facility, or visiting veterans at the hospital, you can make a the holidays merry and bright.
Emily Cade, M.S., CCM, CRC, CLCP is the Director of Outpatient Services at Shepherd Center in Atlanta, Georgia. Prior to this position, Emily served as the Program Manager and previous Case Manager for the MS Institute at Shepherd Center. Emily received her master’s degree in rehabilitation counseling from Mississippi State University and has spent her career working with individuals with chronic conditions such as multiple sclerosis.