Putting your needs first and being kind to yourself can help you enjoy this festive season.

Share on Pinterest
Edwin Tan/Getty Images

With the winter holidays just around the corner, many people living with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) have more on their minds than a perfectly cooked turkey or decorating the tree.

While it’s a time to spend with loved ones, those who live with IBD can find the holidays also bring additional worries. Whether it’s being burnt out by a flurry of get-togethers, navigating tricky conversations around their condition, or figuring out what on Earth to eat that won’t make them rush to the nearest bathroom — the holidays can be a stressful time.

Part of preparing for the festive period is thinking about your diet, but it’s not just about what you eat.

Over the years, I’ve learned that self-care around the holidays is extremely important, too. Not only can this support your mental health and overall well-being but, with stress potentially exacerbating symptoms, it may help keep your belly happy as well.

These are my top tips for making self-care a priority over the holidays.

If you take a look at your calendar for the months ahead, you’ve probably already scheduled tons of meet-ups and gatherings. But have you factored in any rest days? I bet not.

Rest days for those living with IBD are really important, whether your disease is active or in remission.

Rest days don’t actually need to look like a whole day in bed (but can if you want!). Instead, factor in much-needed downtime since socializing can be exhausting.

Scheduling in a rest day is also one way to stop yourself from booking back-to-back activities, which are likely to leave you super burnt out and needing more time off down the line.

We often neglect to think about this during the holidays, but we’re not superhuman. If you find yourself feeling well enough on your rest days, you can always make last-minute plans, but this way, you’ve got the option of staying at home and recuperating if you need to.

The holidays are often synonymous with meeting up with relatives and friends we haven’t seen in a while. This can be a lot of fun, but also a source of anxiety for those with IBD since we may be bombarded with questions about our health.

Whether it’s a well-intentioned but infuriating “Are you all better now?” to an inquisitive “I think I have IBD; tell me all your symptoms!” decide in advance which questions you feel comfortable answering.

If you don’t want to talk about IBD at all, that’s completely fine. Don’t make yourself uncomfortable to please somebody else. Simply saying, “I don’t really want to talk about my illness today” should do the trick.

What’s one simple act of self-care that takes just a minute or two of your day? Taking your medication!

Keeping on top of your supplies is one of the best self-care acts you can do for your body. Make sure you have extra supplies over the holidays, should your medical office or pharmacy be closed.

Also be sure to stock up on things you may need in emergencies, whether that’s an extra dose of just-in-case steroids in case of a flare or antacids because turkey makes your reflux worse.

If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that you don’t need to attend a big face-to-face gathering to have fun.

While much of the world returns to a level of pre-pandemic normalcy, many of us with IBD are more cautious, since medications we take can suppress our immune system and make us susceptible to more severe bouts of COVID-19, colds, and the flu.

It’s completely understandable if you don’t feel comfortable attending large gatherings, and you shouldn’t feel pressured to do so. Instead, try suggesting virtual catch-ups or smaller meetings.

It can be a lot more difficult to get outside in the cold winter months, but a few minutes of fresh air is a great way to support your body.

You don’t need to run around the block, but a brisk walk in the cool air can be a great way to clear your head.

A 2021 study in the Journal of Affective Disorders found that each additional hour you spend outside in daylight is associated with increased mood, better sleep, and less fatigue. Spending more time outside during the day was also associated with greater ease getting up in the morning — a bonus during the cold winter months!

What does a beauty routine have to do with IBD?

A 2018 research review found that steroid use, disease activity, and fatigue were all associated with increased body dissatisfaction in people with IBD.

Sadly, a bubble bath won’t make your digestive tract any happier but showing yourself some extra love may help you feel better about your body.

We often focus so much on our physical symptoms that we can neglect self-care that looks after our body as a whole. Of course, a manicure won’t solve all of this, but finding activities that make you feel great about your body over the winter period will support your mental and physical well-being.

One of the biggest fears I have is being sick over the holidays since this happened in 2015 when I had a fistulotomy.

I love everything about the festive season, and missing out on gatherings and not being able to buy presents or even dig into a huge plate of turkey makes me feel really sad.

But it’s really important not to put pressure on it. However you celebrate, take it one day at a time. It feels like a huge deal, but often it is just one week, one month, or one celebration — and there will be plenty of others in the future.

Nobody wants to be sick during the winter holidays, but things can be rearranged. Gifts can be exchanged another time. If you find yourself curled up on your sofa rather than with your loved ones, it won’t feel great (I’ve been there!) but there will be other parties and celebrations. Remembering this can be a form of self-care in itself.

While the holidays should be a time for pure celebration, we can’t simply hide our IBD away until the new year. Having IBD is part of you, and that means it’s part of your holidays, too. But that doesn’t mean you can’t still have fun!

With a little self-care, putting your needs first, and being kind to yourself, it’s still possible to have a great festive season with IBD.


Jenna Farmer is a U.K.-based freelance journalist who specializes in writing about her journey with Crohn’s disease. She’s passionate about raising awareness of living a full life with IBD. Visit her blog, A Balanced Belly, or find her on Instagram.