Coping with a serious illness through the holidays

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The holidays are generally considered to be a joyous time; however, for people coping with serious illnesses the holidays can bring unwanted stress.

Michelle Riba, M.D., professor of psychiatry and associate chair for integrated medicine and psychiatric services at the University of Michigan Health System, recommends ways to steer clear of these unnecessary stresses during the winter months.

1. Incorporate a healthy attitude
At this time of year, many families do not follow their normal routines. Parties and social events are excuses for people to eat and drink excessively, which has the potential to bring about stress. While it is not necessary to avoid these parties, Riba suggests watching your diet and continuing to incorporate an exercise routine into your daily life.

With the increasing family functions, the routines of many children are changed as well. Riba explains it is important to keep a child’s routine as natural as possible, with appropriate amounts of sleep, diet, TV and computer use.

2. Don’t forget your medication
The holiday season is one of the busiest travel times of the year. Forgotten medication will only add to the stresses and is something that can be easily avoided. Riba advises all patients to be sure they pack their medications in their carry-on if they are flying. She also suggests travelers contact the airline ahead of time to be sure their medication will pass TSA regulations and can be taken on the plane. There are usually options that make medications easily accessible.

3. Keep medical appointments
Whether it’s a routine check-up or you are seriously ill, Riba stresses the importance of keeping your medical appointments. With busy holiday schedules many people forget to schedule and budget for doctors visits. Many injuries and illnesses can be easily prevented by keeping these appointments. Over the next two months, it is important to remember that your health should come first and that keeping your doctors appointments will help to avoid unwanted stresses. Riba notes that many hospitals have funds for people who are having difficulties affording their medications and hospital/doctor visits. Asking for 90 day amounts to decrease co-pays is sometimes helpful.

4. Set limits
The holidays can get stressful when shopping for gifts while paying medical bills. Increased financial issues lead to increased stress. Riba encourages her patients to look at the issues at hand and take as much control of the situation as possible. It is necessary to set a monetary limit with family and friends to determine an appropriate gift amount and stick to it.

“Although the holidays are commonly viewed as a wonderful time of year, it is also important to recognize the sadness of those suffering from serious medical conditions. It is a time for reflection and a time of understanding,” says Riba.


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