We all know that arthritis is an invisible illness that can present many challenges including fatigue, pain and emotional distress. But Christmas, for many of us, can mean piling on extra pressures on top of an already too-full plate.  

This is why it’s a crucial point to stop, take stock and make the necessary changes to your daily life to make life (and Christmas) all that more enjoyable. These changes can be hard, if you’re used to doing things a certain way, but they’re worth every bit of effort because we can guarantee you that you’ll reap the benefits not just now, but into the near future.  

  1. Let go of perfection: If you think your perfectionism is doing you no harm (the perfect tree, table setting, present or the perfect day), then think again. Psychologists know that perfectionism can trigger anxiety and even depression because, inevitably, it’s not always possible to meet the high standards we set ourselves or others. This year, consider lowering your standards. This may seem impossible, but it’s worth considering seeing as the strange thing about perfectionism is that it doesn’t matter how hard you try; it’s never good enough (basically because it feeds into the message that YOU are not good enough). Read more about how to break the cycle here.  

  1. Put the emphasis on time together: We know that connecting with the people who make us feel good can go a long way in helping our wellbeing. So, this Christmas, consider investing in ‘experiences’ rather than gifts, so that you get to spend fun, quality time with the people that you hold nearest and dearest. Consider a concert, a show (such as a comedy act or musical) or a meal out in a favourite local restaurant. Turn your phone off, give others your attention and tune into being present by savouring this precious time together.  

  1. Invest in yourself: Give yourself the gift of time this Christmas – time to soak in that bath, read a book (finally you have time!) or to walk in nature or browse the shops. With this new mindset of prioritising yourself and your own needs, we hope that you’ll also sign up for one of our (free) in person or online courses. These courses give you practical, life-changing tips to help manage your condition and to, essentially, ‘live well with arthritis’. Not only that, but you’ll also get to meet others who face the same challenges. Find out more here 

  1. Be conscious of your self-talk: We all say things to ourselves, but sometimes we’re unaware how negative those things can be. It’s important to pay attention to negative thought patterns that creep up on you over Christmas. Catch yourself and then ask yourself these three questions; 1) Is this thought true or factual and, if so, where is the evidence for that? 2) Is there a more compassionate way to see this (either to myself or others) and, if so, what might that be? 3) Is there a more realistic (and helpful) way of viewing things? These questions should ideally all be written down on a piece of paper for better clarity.  

  1. Put Boundaries in Place: Boundaries are a crucial component of self-care. One of the best ways to start setting boundaries is to communicate differently. Changing your style to one that is more direct, open and honest (yet kind) about what you can and cannot do will make a huge difference to conserving your energies and wellbeing this Christmas. The people-pleasers among us will struggle with this one, but guaranteed it’ll make all the difference. If there’s a relative or friend that you find particularly draining, just tell them that this month is too busy, and you’ll catch up properly in January. If someone asks you to host them for dinner or lunch, politely decline and suggest you go out for dinner instead or, if they do visit your home, let them know that you need to finish up after an hour or two to rest. Keep saying ‘no’ and it will start to slide off your tongue. Then, when you say ‘yes’, you will really mean it. Read more about how to start putting down boundaries here.  

  1. Sleep, sleep and more sleep: It’s a known fact that lack of sleep makes us more emotionally reactive, thereby affecting our wellbeing and our relationships. During the dark winter months, a lack of sleep can impact us even more intensely. Studies show that people who are sleep deprived tend to have a more reactive amygdala – this is the part of your brain that is responsible for processing emotions. If the amygdala is fired up constantly, we feel easily overwhelmed. The good news is that a good night’s sleep (involving deep sleep) can help reverse the process, in that it’s the time where difficult emotions we’ve experienced during the day get processed, leaving us noticeably calmer the following day. Sleep scientist Matt Walker refers to this type of sleep as ‘emotional first-aid. Find out more by watching Matt’s TED talk: here.  

  1. Choose the things that reinvigorate you: It’s all too easy to lie on the couch, eating a box of Roses and claiming the weather is too cold to go outside. But, although rest and relaxation are key components to wellbeing, it’s important we balance it with moving our bodies. One of the easiest ways to do this is to commit to a daily walk – whether that’s straight after breakfast or perhaps after lunch. Also, don’t forget to stock your cupboard and fridge full of healthy snacks (see more below). Rediscover the thing that makes you tick. If sea swimming is your thing, do it! If meeting friends for coffee is your thing, do it! If board games take your fancy, allow yourself the space and time to indulge in them. Christmas is the perfect time to try to get back to yourself, and a huge part of that is remembering to prioritise the things that bring you the most joy.  

  1. Celebrate yourself: Try to remember how much you’ve grown and how far you’ve come already, not how far you need to go. Too often, we think of where we want to be, or what we are doing wrong, rather than taking the time to think about and appreciate all the progress that we’ve already made. 

Don't Suffer Alone 

If you are struggling with your arthritis or the challenges of living with a chronic condition, please call our helpline on 0818 252 846 (lines open Monday-Friday 10am-4pm). Our volunteers are trained, and have experience of living with arthritis themselves, so they can offer a sympathetic ear, whilst also helping to empower you to take the steps you need to start to feel better and more connected with others. Find out more about our helpline and support here. 

If you are experiencing feelings of isolation, loneliness or depression that are becoming overwhelming, please don’t hesitate to reach out for psychological help. Contact the Irish Association for Counselling & Psychotherapy for a therapist near you: IACP.