Green, red, blue, yellow, and white lights with ornaments glisten around a tree, illuminating a family’s living room. The fresh and all-consuming smell of sugar cookies baking in the oven eagerly awaiting to be iced. The taste of Grandma’s pies and cinnamon rolls as each bite is savored among friends. The sound of children laughing and playing together joyously with Christmas carolers spreading the true meaning of the season. The smooth paper wrapped with beautiful bows tossed in every direction as presents are revealed.
This time of the year is typically packed full of friends, family, gifts, food, and parties. And even though it is a bit different this year with COVID, uncontrollable anxiety and depths of depression will still come as unexpected presents in greater magnitude than most realize.
Rather than waiting for these “presents” to show up or dreading their arrival, I have found solace in my well-being physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually, and even socially by being intentional and setting up safeguards. Here are four tips that can be remembered in the acronym H. O. P. E.!
- H- HELP– Instead of being consumed with “me” and what will make you happy or sitting in isolation, be intentional in giving of your time, money, and energy to help others! Find ways to plug into various community and church organizations in person or from afar, whether delivering meals to the homeless, buying Christmas gifts for children in need, or making a phone call to the elderly. It is also crucial to ask for help if you are struggling. You are not alone and there are so many medical professionals, family and friends who would love to come around and support you.
- O- Developing healthy OUTLETS for negative feelings/thoughts, anxiety, and stress is essential. In our world today, all triggers cannot be removed, nor situations resolved no matter how hard we may try. Yet our responses to each can be controlled. Further emphasizing the need for creating healthy pathways to positive behaviors, rather than defaulting to negative or destructive methods. Positive outlets can include but are not limited to finding someone safe to talk with regularly as mentioned above; sleeping; coloring; dancing; going for a walk/run; taking a hot shower/bath; listening to music; reading a book; journaling. Though it may take some trial and error as each person is unique, discovering your coping mechanisms brings great benefit for right away as well as for the future.
- P- Be PROACTIVE by planning! It can be exhausting adding the chaos of Christmas on top of our lives, especially those of us with chronic illness. Although hunger and dealing with symptoms of poor eating/nutrition habits are detrimental in the short term and can even lead to long term ramifications. I have found no matter my schedule, even in the non-holiday season, consistency is key. So, having a game plan of what you plan to eat (solid or formula through a tube/line) and when helps lessen anxiety and aids in you make healthy decisions, so you do not go hours without anything or once food is presented, eating far greater than proper portions. This is especially key for people like me who are on a feeding tube or home parental nutrition (TPN) through an IV and making sure I have my supplies ready when and where I need them.
- E- Eating is the centerpiece for so many celebrations this time of year. Although for people who are not able to eat for whatever reason, it can cause awkwardness, anxiety, embarrassment, and fear. Nonetheless, I would like to emphasize the importance of planning EXPERIENCES where all can make memories such as going to look at Christmas lights, decorating the tree, painting ornaments, having Christmas movie marathons. This is not to say you cannot have eating as part of the day or talk about food at all, although be mindful of those you love who may have a different way of life than yours. Don’t be afraid to have a conversation about how you can best love and support them or let them give ideas of activities they think would be fun.
No matter if positive or negative emotions are evoked with the thought of Christmas this year, putting H. O. P. E. into practice will help you to not only “survive”, but truly thrive. Still far greater than any “present” or situation we may find ourselves “unwrapping” this holiday season under our trees, we have been given an eternal HOPE that will never fail nor fade like our bodies and material possessions of this earth will.
When we put our trust in Jesus, our focus is turned to where He intended it to be: Loving Him and others in need. Truly the best gift one will ever receive.