Anticipation alone of activity-related events during the holidays can create stress that leads to the holiday blues, says Mayo Clinic rheumatologist, John Davis, MD. “Just the idea of making meals, shopping, wrapping gifts, entertaining – and the pain and joint stiffness that these activities are likely to exacerbate – can be overwhelming. What should be a happy, enjoyable time becomes the opposite,” says Dr. Davis.

But, by incorporating a few forward-thinking measures now can mean creating one of your most enjoyable holidays ever.

Check In

See your rheumatologist before the holidays begin – when appointments may be scarce – and review your current treatment strategies to see if anything can be added or subtracted to help with the extra tasks and stress that typically comes with the holiday season. “You should be empowered; not have to suffer through,” says Dr. Davis, who advises:          

1. You may be a candidate for additional treatments like steroid injections, anti inflammatories or pain relievers. You may also benefit from adaptive devices like braces and splints.

2. Is your arthritis under adequate control? Can you benefit from new or additional medications? “A surprising number of arthritis patients do not have their condition adequately controlled and can have an improved quality of life with optimization of their medication management,” says Dr. Davis.

3. If you have depression don't be afraid to talk with your physician and have those symptoms treated separately. Significant sadness, stress and anxiety heighten during the holidays and should be treated seriously.

Mindfully Manage Your Health

The emotional backlash of holiday stress may be especially detrimental to those with a chronic illness, says Mayo Clinic psychiatrist, Jeffrey P. Staab, MD. “But, it is vital to differentiate between the illness of depression and holiday blues, which is the larger group that can be triggered by increased demands and unrealistic expectations,” he cautions.

In fact, says Staab, psychiatric admission are lowest during the holidays. “The two are very different and require a different approach.”

To avoid the most common stress-induced slump or crash Staab advises:

1. “Manage expectations, be realistic and don't forget to take care of yourself should be your principle strategy,” says Dr. Stabb.

2. “Stick with the things that usually work for you: talking to your spouse, reading a book. Don't forget or abandon what you already know,” he adds.

3. Keep exercising. Dr. Staab stresses the psychological benefits of exercise on one's emotional health. “Not only does exercise boosts serotonin levels, but it breaks a disabled mindset, which can sometimes settle in, especially if it's a new diagnosis or if symptoms have gotten worse,” says Dr. Staab. “Giving up on exercise and all of one's normal stress relievers is the worst thing to do, especially when demands go up.”