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a woman uses gift wrap to create a healthy boundary around herself.

Holiday Survival Guide

Hi, fellow heart failure patients! As the holiday season is upon us, I wanted to address the issue of stress.

In my opinion, during this stressful time, it can be a balancing act carving out time for joy (so important), as well as stress during this season of buying things, demands of socialization, grief of the lives other people have and we do not, etc. I wanted to share a few basic tools that I have found help me cope and take of my mental health.

Tips for managing the holiday season and heart failure

Boundaries: It is OK to say no.

I have found that establishing boundaries is important. However, in order to do this without adding stress, you have to deal with any guilt or fear you have around saying no. For instance, at the beginning of my heart failure journey I felt guilty saying no because I was letting people down, fear of missing out, fear of losing relationships, not wanting to deal with people's follow up questions, etc. This is probably a good topic for an article in itself!

However, a few things that come to mind to help with this. First, educating others. It does not have to be a book, but a basic understanding of our condition. You can email websites or materials like that to close family and friends so you do not have to explain.

I would also recommend having an elevator speech ready so you are not caught off guard when well meaning friends and family ask a lot of questions or try to guilt you into activities. You can use something light like 'Thank you so much for inviting me. I’m having a rough day, so I need to take care of my health, but I really would like to be able to go next time. Please keep thinking of me.' It's ok to ask for what you want.

Lastly, think about your self talk; you are resting, not quitting. You are doing what you have to do today so you can be the best version of yourself tomorrow.

Utilize a budget: Figure out what you can afford and stick with it

Many of us are on fixed incomes or had to take a step back in our careers. If you find yourself worrying about buying gifts, travel, etc., figure out what you can afford and stick with it. Go back to setting boundaries if traveling to see family, eating out, or participating in holiday present exchanges are not possible for you, financially or sodium wise!

Move your body - Exercise can be a stress reliever

In my opinion, exercise helps me relieve stress in several ways. First of all, I mentally feel better and it helps me concentrate on my movements instead of the daily irritations. It doesn't have to be too intense either. Think about chair yoga, slow walks, etc.

Practice gratitude

Dr. Robert Emmons, PhD and Professor of Psychology, University of California, Davis says that gratitude helps because gratitude and envy are incongruent feelings. In other words, if you are feeling gratitude, it is not possible to also feel envy at the same time. It does not mean that we have to ignore the challenges in our lives, but it does encourage us to also identify areas in which we are blessed as well. 1

Personally, the way I look at is, focusing on what is unfair and sucks in my life is like holding onto a glass of water. It is emotionally AND physically taxing. Practicing gratitude is akin to helping me put the glass of water down, even just temporarily.

Take a break

Even if I don't nap, sometimes I feel better when I just put my feet up in quiet. If you are at friends or family and just need a break, I'm sure the host will understand if you ask if you can go lie in a spare bedroom for a little bit. Assure them that you feel fine, but you need a break. You need to take care of you first.

Get some fresh air (IF YOU CAN)

If you live in an area experiencing winter temperatures and are sensitive to cold, this idea may not be a good fit for you.

I hope these tips help us experience this joyful season in a way that works for us!

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