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The holidays are approaching — and on top of thinking about how to celebrate safely during COVID-19 — if you have inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), you might be starting to get anxious about whether you’re going to feel well enough to participate in any events taking place.

If you’re dreading the holidays and panicking about how your body will react to the stress of it, you’re not alone.

Luckily, there are some ways to get through the holidays with minimal pressure on your (chronically ill) body.

Let’s talk about them.

You may want to stock up on gifts for your loved ones (and for yourself) but stick to doing it online — especially in the middle of a pandemic.

IBD may put you at a higher risk for complications of COVID-19, so it’s best to take precautions to stay safe.

It’s not just about avoiding the coronavirus, but for your own stress levels.

The holidays are a super busy time, and stress can be an IBD trigger. If you don’t know where the nearest bathroom is when out shopping, that anxiety can become massively heightened.

Buying your gifts online will be stress-free and quick, and will save you from feeling unwell in a huge crowd of people.

Please, remember to pick up your meds before the holidays.

There’s nothing worse than opening your meds only to realize you don’t have enough, or that you forgot to pick up a new prescription.

It’s completely inconvenient to have to attempt to get what you need when there are limited pharmacies open — and downright scary when you don’t actually have a way to pick it up.

Nobody wants to risk a horrible flare.

If it helps, get a pill organizer. These can be really helpful to keep count of your pills, and to remind you when you need to pick up more.

If you’re heading out to celebrate, make sure you know where the nearest toilets are.

Of course, they’ll be obvious inside — but if you find yourself somewhere you don’t know or struggling during a car journey, it’s best to plan ahead and make note of where the nearest service stations are.

A bathroom locator app, such as SitOrSquat and Flush, can help in this area.

Self-care isn’t always having a bubble bath and a bar of chocolate (especially if chocolate is a trigger food for you). It’s also about physically taking care of your body.

It’s making sure you don’t miss any doses of medication, staying hydrated, and getting as much rest as you possibly can — without feeling guilty about it.

The holidays can be quite chaotic, so it’s important your body is well rested in order to handle it.

The holidays are known as a time for overindulging. While the food is always amazing, try to eat smaller portions so you can avoid abdominal pain, bloating, and digestive issues.

It’s no fun being uncomfortable when everyone around you is having a good time.

It’s also important to avoid your trigger foods.

No matter how many times someone tries to entice you with homemade pudding, if you know it’s going to badly affect you, say no. It might be awkward for a moment, but it’s better than being stuck on the toilet for hours later on.

As well as overindulging in food, the holidays tend to find people also increasing their alcohol consumption.

However, this can be dangerous for people with IBD, as alcohol may be an IBD trigger for some. Limit your alcohol consumption, or consider switching to mocktails for the celebrations.

It’s nice to have an occasion to dress up for (even a virtual one) but try to make it comfy.

Wear stretchy dresses or pants instead of tight and restricting material. If you’re prone to bloating or abdominal pain, wearing something that makes you feel uncomfortable — and actually increases pain — isn’t ideal.

It can be hard to do, especially if you’re an introvert, but say “no” to people when you need to.

If you need to rest, don’t allow someone to make you feel bad for it. If you feel too unwell to go out for that family meal, tell them.

If someone tries to force you into drinking or eating something that could trigger IBD symptoms, stand up for yourself and say no.

You don’t owe anyone anything, and you need to do what’s best for you and your health.

It’s time we stopped putting other people’s needs before our own, especially when it makes us unwell. It’s important that we take care of ourselves — not only because it benefits us both physically and mentally, but because it’s what our bodies deserve.

Most important, remember that you have a chronic illness!

So often, we downplay our symptoms to accommodate other people. But enough of that. Accommodate yourself. Stop feeling guilty for being unwell.

Stop minimizing your symptoms to make other people happy.

Don’t push yourself to do something if it’s going to make you feel poorly, or if it’s going to make you overly anxious. If you need to rest, do so.

Do what you need to do to enjoy the holidays and don’t feel bad about it for a second.


Hattie Gladwell is a mental health journalist, author, and advocate. She writes about mental illness in hopes of diminishing the stigma and to encourage others to speak out.