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Happy (Enough) Holidays

By Elissa Dickey
December 7, 2020

This year has been one of uncertainty. COVID-19 has caused much anxiety and stress, and leaving families no easy decisions. Now with the holidays approaching, we’re facing another difficult decision. Many families, including my own, will not be traveling to visit relatives because of the virus.

When this happens, our first instinct as parents might be to try to make the holidays extra special for our kids – to give them an unforgettable Christmas so they don’t think about what they’re missing out on.

But before you start making elaborate plans, let me gently caution: Don’t add more stress for yourself. This year has been stressful enough; we know that stress is not good for MS and can even cause worsening of symptoms.

Maybe this holiday, we can just do enough.

We can do enough to make merry, lasting memories with our children, without putting extra pressure on ourselves. Here are a few ideas:

Rethink Traditions: I’m looking at you, Christmas cards. If it brings you joy, go for it. But if it’s overwhelming to order cards, address them, and get them in the mail, then skip it this year. Post a family picture on social media with a heartfelt holiday greeting instead. The same can be said for meals. Does your family have to have a huge turkey dinner? What if you tried something new this year and ask every family member to pick one dish? You might end up with a main course of pizza and a side of French fries, but involving everyone, especially kids, makes it fun, special and easier.

Downsize Decorations: This is a hard one for me. I would love to have a dazzling, Griswold-like display of Christmas lights… but maybe this isn’t the year for that. Instead, I plan to focus on smaller things that will have a big impact, like letting my kids each pick a new ornament for the tree, or letting them each get a mini tree for their own room. That way it’s personal and special to them, rather than something splashy that will require extra planning, set-up and takedown. 

Say No Without Guilt: This is so hard, but so important. Living with MS, during a pandemic year, with the holidays coming up can be a recipe for fatigue and burnout. That’s why it’s important to protect your precious time and energy. So if you get asked to take something on (organize a Zoom holiday meet-up; bake three dozen cookies for a drive-through Christmas party, etc.), it’s OK to say no. If you’re trying to decide, ask yourself:

  • Do I have time for this?
  • Even if I do, do I also have the physical and emotional energy and stamina for this?
  • Will doing this deplete my energy, thus taking away quality time with my family?

Let your answers dictate whether or not you commit to something.

Plan Low-Key Fun: My husband and I usually try to plan fun excursions over Christmas break, from sledding to bowling to going to the movies. With COVID-19 limiting options anyway, this is a great year to opt for quieter fun at home. Try a Christmas movie marathon, or a family board game tournament.

Remember: You don’t need to have grand plans this holiday season; it’s OK to just do enough. Your kids will remember the time you spent together and the fun you had.

This Christmas, let’s give ourselves the gift of grace, use this holiday season to relax and recharge, then go into 2021 with all the joy and hope we can.

Editor’s Note: Learn more about mindfulness and energy conservation strategies to successfully manage holiday stress in this edition of Ask an MS Expert.

Elissa Dickey

Elissa Dickey lives in Aberdeen, South Dakota with her husband and children. A former journalist, she is now an author who also works in communications at a university. Her debut novel, The Speed of Light, published March 1, 2021, with Lake Union Publishing..

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