Living with a chronic illness like multiple sclerosis (MS) comes with its own set of challenges any time of year, and especially during the holidays. After all, most people with MS have to manage pretty heavy fatigue—it’s one of the most common symptoms of the neurological disease. Plus plenty of people with MS are more likely to experience worsening symptoms (a.k.a. flares) when they get super stressed. That can make this should-be-cheerful time of year exhausting and kinda tricky to navigate.
Though hiding away until the holidays are over is a tempting option, most people understandably don’t want to go that route—and, honestly, you shouldn’t have to miss out on the festivities. To help you come up with a game plan for enjoying the season while prioritizing your physical and emotional needs, we spoke with six women with MS about the challenges they usually face over the holidays and what they do to get through these months with their well-being intact.
“I try to keep celebrations small.”
Briana Landis, 25, tells SELF that she usually tries to keep the holidays simple to avoid wearing herself out, which can exacerbate her MS symptoms. “Excessive stress can contribute [to a flare],” she says. As a result, Landis will “mainly do a lot of things with just family. If I do hang out with friends, it’s usually just one-on-one.”
Landis also experiences bad migraine attacks and lots of fatigue during a flare. “Sometimes my legs will get really tired too,” she says. So she does her best not to overschedule herself, even though things tend to get hectic this time of year. “I try to take a lot of time off work around the holidays so I’m not trying to balance the world and work,” Landis says. “My body definitely can’t handle that.”
“I balance my diet based on how I’m feeling.”
Cory Martin, 42, tells SELF that her holidays usually follow a certain trajectory: “I typically start off feeling really good and excited, and by New Year’s I’m worn down and exhausted.” Martin says “doing too much” and eating a diet that isn’t up to her usual standard can set off her flares, making this time of year especially tough.
To avoid exacerbating symptoms, she does her best to build a balanced plate most days and avoids drinking too much alcohol. “I know that if I go overboard on the cocktails or have too many overindulgent meals in a row I will start to experience more fatigue and pain—the kind of fatigue that makes showering impossible.”
Hannah Perryman, 37, tells SELF that she’s had “more brain fog than usual,” which can manifest as her trying to remember certain words and forgetting her thoughts midsentence. Unsurprisingly, booze makes this worse. “With the upcoming holiday season, I’m mentally preparing myself to try and limit how much alcohol I have at a party based on how foggy I’ve felt that day,” she says. “It’s all a day by day check-in.”
“I don’t try to do everything myself.”
Holidays often mean hosting—or at least bringing a dish to share—to a get-together. But Martin has learned that cooking can be an overwhelming, stressful task when you’re not feeling well. “If you’re hosting dinner maybe you don’t try to make everything,” she suggests. “Sometimes paying extra money to get items from a restaurant or paying for prechopped veggies might be worth it in the long run.”
“I find the seats.”
Perryman says “not sleeping well or enough” and “feeling really stressed” contribute to her MS flares, but she’s still a big fan of the seasonal cheer. “I can easily get very caught up in the holiday spirit,” Perryman says. “I like to think I can do all the things, but I know I have limits.”