The holidays are already a stressful time for many people – so much to do, so little time – but when you have rheumatoid arthritis, the tasks can seem even more daunting. And the more stress you carry, the worse your RA may get. It becomes a vicious cycle.
The short solution is that you don’t have to do all of the holiday shopping, planning, baking, decorating, wrapping and more! Your health is more important than having a “perfect” holiday house. But if there are a couple of traditions you’d really rather keep, here are a few tips to get you through your favorites:
- Wrapping gifts – This can be one of the most frustrating tasks for those who suffer from wrist and joint pain. To save your wrist and hand joints, look for gift-wrapping services wherever they’re offered at book stores or malls, and use gift bags as often as possible. But if you’re still faced with a pile of gifts at your home that you would love to see wrapped, consider hiring a couple of pre-teens or teenagers in your neighborhood to come over and wrap everything for a few dollars. Teens can always use the extra money, and if you provide some good cookies and music, the work can be downright fun for them. Another option is to have a gift-wrapping party with a few girlfriends, where everyone brings their own supplies: You provide the space, snacks and music, and the camaraderie makes the task much simpler. If you mention your RA, your friends will undoubtedly help with some of the harder wrapping tasks.
- Trimming the tree – If stiff finger joints have resulted in too many ornaments cascading to the floor, you will definitely want help decorating the tree. Even if you’ve always decorated “for” the family, you can recalibrate the tradition into something new, where everyone helps to do the “pinching” and hanging, and you provide the stories behind the ornaments (and maybe a little eggnog). Also, consider throwing a tree-trimming party with friends or neighbors, where everyone comes to help. It’s an old tradition you can make new again.
- Standing in shopping lines – Standing in long lines, especially while holding heavy packages, can leave knee, hip, and other joints screaming. Thank goodness for online shopping, which can relieve you from having to stand in line at all. But if a trip to a store or two is necessary, and you see long lines in your future, try stretching beforehand, suggests Kelli Calabrese, CSCS. She recommends yoga and/or calf and shoulder muscles to avoid undue stress on the spine that can lead to leg, hip and back pain. Also, consider planning shopping trips so that you’re carrying the fewest packages possible – either by splitting it up over a few days or by carrying packages to your car as you go.
- Traveling – Whether you’re lugging luggage through a terminal or dealing with an uncomfortable bucket seat for an 8-hour car ride, travel during the holidays is always exhausting – even if your joints are healthy. When joints get painful and stiff, however, travel can become downright excruciating. To minimize pain, be smart with luggage – select suitcases that have high-quality wheels and large grip handles. If you’re using a carry-on, select a piece that distributes weight evenly across your chest or back, such as a backpack with two padded straps or an over-the-shoulder messenger bag with padded strap. Also, look for Velcro closures instead of zippers on wallets, passport holders, and the like so you can get in and out of stop points quickly. If you’re stuck in a bucket seat for great lengths, be sure to get up and stretch your legs every hour or two – either walking the aisles of a plane or train, or pulling over at a resting stop if you’re on the road.
- Cooking and baking – It’s really the repetitive motion of cooking and baking that can wreak havoc on joints, say experts. And when you’re cooking for large groups during the holidays, repetitive motion is a given. One solution is to break up your cooking into several days if possible, preparing holiday meals such as stews, soups or casseroles that can be prepared in advance, with a little chopping each day. Another solution is to ask a friend or family member over to help you out. If you’re baking, you can invite several friends and family members and make it into a cookie-making party. Ask for help with some of the tasks you find most difficult while offering your assistance where you can. This is a great opportunity to spend time with children and grandchildren as well, passing along your recipes while healthier hands can help with some of the repetitive tasks. Group cooking or baking can become a brand new tradition in your home.
Laurie Sanchez is a writer and editor at Lifescript.com, a website devoted to women’s health, where she disperses daily health tips. Read rheumatoid arthritis tips year-round at Lifescript’s new Rheumatoid Arthritis Health Center.