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Having happy holidays

It is important for those of us with multiple sclerosis to realize that we are not alone in finding holidays challenging.

One wonders what our Santa is doing. Seriously, though, while we all want to have fun on holidays, Christmas, Hanukkah and other annual religious holidays can be daunting times for those with MS – especially for those who are newly diagnosed.

Since emotions often run strong during holiday seasons, the additional emotional upheaval associated with an MS diagnosis can make matters challenging at best. One can feel like our Santa climbing a drain pipe – definitely not on solid ground.

Fortunately, a little scientific thinking can help provide tried and true methods for overcoming holiday challenges. It is important for people with MS to realize that they are not alone in finding holidays challenging.

For example, one study from Australia found that the number seeking help from a hospital emergency department for alcohol intoxication is always highest the day before a major holiday (see Alcohol intoxication in the context of major public holidays, sporting and social events: A time-series analysis in Melbourne, Australia, 2000-2009.

Elsewhere, in Japan, strokes are most likely to occur on major holidays  (see Relationship between the occurrence of spontaneous intracerebral hemorrhage and holidays and traditionally unlucky days in Fukuyama City, Hiroshima Prefecture, Japan).

Researchers think that overdoing things during holidays leads to strokes. Around the world, there is no doubt about it – holidays can be very bad for one’s health. When it comes to holidays, we need some all-peril insurance.

For those of us with MS, the perils of holidays usually involve the basics. While those with MS need to follow an ultra healthy eating plan of the type recommended on the Overcoming Multiple Sclerosis web site, to sleep enough, to avoid stress, to exercise regularly and and to drink moderately, the holidays seem designed to ensure even the most dedicated life style improvement aficionado falls off the wagon.

Diet challenges

The largest challenge seems to involve sticking with an ultra healthy diet plan given holiday parties and even family gatherings.

Hosts often do not ensure that acceptable food will be available. The easiest way around this often is simply to bring your own food to such events.

For example, to a family meal, you might want to bring a main dish that is ultra healthy and adds an international flair to a family meal. 

This accomplishes two things: 1) it ensures you will have something to eat and 2) it helps educate others as to what types of foods are actually healthy.

Avoiding stress can be difficult also. The holidays seem to be a favorite time for family bruhahas and wars to break out. Children (of all ages) demand expensive presents, overspending takes hold and transforms many into candidates for a membership in Overspenders Anonymous, conflicts about where to go arise, you name it.

Often the conflicts involve money. Probably the best way to avoid this type of stress is to keep the big picture in mind and to keep in mind the harmful effects of over-consumption on the environment and on our societies as a whole.

Realistically, when one says “no” to the stress of spending too much or trying to be too much, one is really helping the whole world. At the same time, your own best methods for relieving stress can be employed – whether they involve meditation or enjoying a walk or time at the gym.

Sleep and positivity

It is also important to keep in mind the big picture when one thinks about taking the time to get enough sleep during the holidays.

The research shows that about seven hours or sleep each night is ideal for preventing inflammation.  For an interesting article on what lost sleep can do, see Sleep Restriction Increases the Risk of Developing Cardiovascular Diseases by Augmenting Proinflammatory Responses through IL-17 and CRP.

Insufficient sleep can make MS worse and is not good for anyone. All in all, our prime directives for the holidays need to be eat ultra healthy, to say “no” to stress, to sleep enough and, last but not least, to have fun.

Remember that the research shows that moderate alcohol consumption may even improve outcomes in MS. This means having one drink if you are female or two drinks if male, may improve your health as well as your mood.

It’s important to limit alcohol consumption to these moderate amounts, however. Other fun activities include collecting and telling jokes, watching comedies, or whatever.

Why is fun so important? Obviously, fun makes life enjoyable – always a good thing. Second, fun even has health benefits. If you doubt this, read Humor Therapy: Relieving Chronic Pain and Enhancing Happiness for Older Adults. So have happy holidays! Truly happy holidays! Be wise! Have fun! Wherever you are, we love you.

Rebecca Hoover

Advice holidays
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