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The season of grace

By Shambrekiá Wise

The holiday season is a time of joy, celebration, and togetherness for many. However, for individuals living with multiple sclerosis, it can also be a time of added stress and challenges. Multiple factors come into play during this time of year that can negatively affect MS patients: such as the lack of sunlight and the associated decrease in vitamin D production, the increased risk of infections, and the onset of seasonal depression. Let us explore these challenges and discuss strategies for those of us living with MS to give ourselves grace and enjoy the holiday season.

Vitamin D needs to be A+

One of the key challenges for MS patients during the holiday season is the reduced exposure to sunlight. The winter months typically bring shorter days and less time spent outdoors, which can lead to a drop in vitamin D levels. Vitamin D plays a crucial role in maintaining a healthy immune system, and its deficiency has been linked to increased MS symptoms and relapses. To address this, MS patients should consider discussing vitamin D supplementation with their healthcare providers, especially during the darker months. Ensuring an adequate intake of this essential nutrient can help boost the immune system and reduce the risk of exacerbating MS symptoms.

Incoming: Flu, common cold, or COVID-19?

The holiday season also coincides with an increased risk of infections, including the flu, the common cold, and COVID-19. MS patients may be more vulnerable to these illnesses because of their compromised immune systems. For added protection, MS patients should prioritize physician-advised vaccinations, practice good hand hygiene, and maintain social distancing guidelines when necessary. It's essential for MS patients to be proactive in preventing these infections, as they can lead to worsened MS symptoms and prolonged recovery periods. Another consideration for MS patients is for those who take disease-modifying therapies, added supplements may be essential for overall good health. Make sure to have these conversations with your physician early on in the season so you can be prepared.

Managing seasonal depression

Seasonal depression, also known as seasonal affective disorder, is another concern for MS patients during the holiday season. The reduced exposure to natural light can contribute to feelings of sadness and fatigue. MS patients should consider using light therapy lamps that mimic natural sunlight to help regulate their mood and energy levels. Additionally, engaging in regular exercise, maintaining a balanced diet, and seeking support from friends and family can all help combat the effects of seasonal depression. Therapeutic interventions, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, can be effective in managing these mood disorders, and MS patients should not hesitate to seek professional help when needed.

Uplifting activities and positive circles

As amazing as the holidays can be for some of us, it can be just as emotionally taxing, and MS patients should focus on self-care and maintaining a positive outlook. Engaging in uplifting activities, such as hobbies, music, or art can provide a much-needed emotional boost. Surrounding oneself with a positive support system is also crucial. Hard truth: your biggest support system may not be your family. That’s okay. Create your family and nurture your happiness with those who make you feel good. Spending time with loved ones who understand and offer unwavering support can help MS patients manage the challenges they face during the holidays. Joining local or online MS support groups can be an excellent way to connect with others who share similar experiences.

Professional therapy and counseling

I touched on this earlier, but therapy is a valuable resource for MS patients during the holiday season, especially when dealing with the emotional toll of their condition. Individual or group therapy sessions can provide a safe space to express feelings, address anxiety, and develop coping strategies. Cognitive-behavioral therapy is particularly effective in helping individuals manage the stress and emotional challenges that come with chronic illnesses such as MS. Don’t hesitate to have these conversations with your doctor if you think an extra set of informed ears would help you.

Holiday-specific tips for MS patients

To enjoy the holiday season while managing MS and other situational stressors, consider the following tips:
  • Plan ahead: Make a detailed plan for the holiday season, including travel arrangements, accommodations, and social activities to reduce stress. Make sure you include dedicated you time. It’s easy to say yes to everything and everyone but remember to reserve time for just you.
  • Prioritize rest: Ensure you get enough rest to combat fatigue, which is a common symptom of MS. I’ve incorporated tea time in my daily activities. At the end of each day, I make tea, I sit with myself, and decompress before going to bed.
  • Delegate tasks: Don't be afraid to ask for help and delegate tasks. Family and friends are often willing to assist with cooking, decorating, and other holiday preparations so lean on your support system.
  • Mindful eating: Enjoy the holiday feasts but be mindful of your diet to maintain overall health and energy levels.
  • Stay hydrated: Drink plenty of water to help with fatigue and overall well-being. I prefer coconut water. If you’re not allergic and can fair the taste, you should give it a try. The natural electrolytes do wonders for hydration.

You got this. I have no idea that you’ll rock out this holiday season. Just know that you’re not alone. Personally speaking, I have endured great loss through many holiday seasons, but I am figuring out how to turn that pain into absolute joy while still taking care of my holistic health. I know you have it in you to do the same. You’re still here, so that means your work is not done and the world needs your light. So shine bright.

Till Next Time.