The holidays can be a busy time. For those with multiple sclerosis (MS), the physical, emotional and financial worries that come along with the holidays may lead to new or worsening symptoms.[1]

Luckily, it doesn’t have to be so stressful.

We sat down with Suesanne, a former PoNS™ patient with MS, to understand how she manages the holidays and takes time to see the joy and beauty in this special time of year.

Here are her six tips to help you have a happy and healthy holiday season: 

1. Keep your traditions and values simple

Suesanne stresses the importance of sticking to traditions every year, but not overloading yourself with unnecessary set-up and maintenance. To keep things simple, Suesanne stores her Christmas tree wrapped in a plastic bag year round, already decorated. Fixed to a board with wheels, Suesanne rolls it out into the living room once December begins.

Keeping up with a sentimental tradition for her and her mother, Suesanne also sets up a small glass Christmas tree. Focusing on these easy and low maintenance traditions ensures everyone in her household can enjoy the season, without compromising comfort.

2. Don’t forget about community

Living in a small community of 500 people, Suesanne and her neighbours are very close and look out for each other throughout the year.

Especially during the holiday season, Suesanne finds helping others is vital to ensuring she has a joyful holiday season. Twice every week, she travels to the nearest Costco and shops for herself and her neighbours. Suesanne views this weekly tradition as the perfect opportunity to complete her to-do list, while keeping her mind and body busy.

This practice is important to Suesanne, as she is able to give back to her community, while focusing on her own health. Especially during the holidays, this routine ensures she doesn’t forget about her own wellbeing and can partake in the generosity of the season.

“I wake up every morning and I am so grateful. Every time I do something now, especially during the holiday season, I think, ‘Thank you for letting me be here for this.’”

3. Keep a positive mindset

When asked how she manages stress during the holiday season, Suesanne had a quick and easy response—“Don’t look at it as stress!”

While it may be easy to say “Woe is me!”, Suesanne recommends pausing and asking yourself three simple questions:

  • What am I getting out of this?
  • What am I learning from this?
  • How can I learn to take my life one day at a time?

Especially during the holidays, everyday life can get overwhelming. While it may be hard to see this hectic time of year in a positive light, Suesanne notes a positive mindset only takes practice and patience. With time, you too can face any stress with resilience and hope.

 4. Always count your blessings

As a caregiver to both her mother and husband, Suesanne wakes up every morning and starts her day with a moment of gratitude. Especially during the holidays, she makes an effort to find joy in every unique aspect of the season and goes out of her way to pause and reflect on how thankful she is for the snowy days, the ability to partake in holiday activities and the opportunity to wake up every day and enjoy this time of year.

Suesanne also writes out a daily list of 10 things she is grateful for. After writing this list, she reads it over, and reflects on all of the good things in her life.

This practice becomes even more important during the holidays, when life tends to become more commercialized. Instead of fixating on the things we want or don’t have, Suesanne chooses to focus on her favourite older possessions. If she doesn’t need something, she won’t buy or ask for it. By holding on to her old possessions, Suesanne can appreciate how far she has come mentally and physically. These simple acts of gratitude allow her to stay positive during the holiday season and beyond.

5. Make a list and check it twice

Juggling everything we need to get done over the holidays can be extremely stressful. However, Suesanne recommends using a detailed and dynamic list system.

Every night before bed, Suesanne stays up and writes down a list of things that need to be done the following day. In the morning, she uses it to guide her day.

These lists allow her to stay on top of what she needs to complete, but also allows her to manage her time when her routine is abruptly interrupted. If something unexpected comes up, Suesanne can reference her list and reorganize her day to ensure everything with a deadline is completed. If other things are not on a tight schedule, she will simply push them to the next day.

This holiday season, try out this ongoing list system. You never know — this could be exactly what you need to avoid unnecessary stress.

6. Take time for yourself

Every now and then, we all need a little alone time to recover and recharge. Through a simple daily routine, Suesanne is able to keep calm and stay positive.

Every morning at 6:00 am, Suesanne brings her tea and gratitude list into her office and locks the door. With no one around to distract her, Suesanne will take these few quiet hours to enjoy her company and write out positive thoughts. With time allotted for this ritual every day, Suesanne’s family has learned to leave her alone when she is in her office, where she will reflect and read until she is ready to start her day. Through this habit, Suesanne has found more peace.

Along with her morning routine, Suesanne actively practices meditation in periods of high stress, or will sit alone when she is feeling particularly sad or angry to process her emotions. Both of these practices are a great mechanism to help you register your feelings and alleviate any pent up negativity, ensuring you can face your day with positivity.

While all these tips can be applied throughout the year, utilizing these tactics during the hectic holiday season can provide you with the tools to navigate negative emotions and stay focused on your blessings.

For those with MS, the holidays can pose a variety of challenges, but with simple, everyday changes, the holidays can remain a joyous time of year. If you’re looking for support near you, check out our Community Support Page for MS.

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[1] Cavallo, Matt. “5 Tips for Managing Holiday Stress with MS.” MS Focus Magazine. November 2016. https://msfocus.org/Magazine/Magazine-Items/Posted/5-Tips-for-Managing-Holiday-Stress-with-MS#:~:text=Keeping%20up%20with%20the%20pace,good%20in%20the%20New%20Year.