Christmas is one of those times of year that you either look forward to with great excitement—or simply dread.  More often than not we feel a mixture of both emotions: the excitement of giving and receiving gifts, seeing the joy on children's faces and the general atmosphere of bonhomie.  But then there is the long-distance traveling to see friends and family; those relatives who simply don't understand fibromyalgia; and all the endless shopping. 

Sometimes the preparations can seem overwhelming when you are struggling with constant fatigue, and the last thing you need is to increase your pain levels by traipsing around the shops or sitting in a car for hours. Most of us understand the concepts of pacing and goal setting.  They’re drummed into you at pain management courses and appear so simple—until you find yourself at home surrounded by innumerable tasks and a demanding family.

The basic idea is to timetable your activities. Avoid overdoing it on good days; have regular rest periods; and set sensible goals for your week ahead. The other aspect is problem-solving—looking for ways to undertake activities that could greatly increase your pain levels, or alternatives for what appear to be impossible tasks.  Research has shown that people with fibromyalgia are excellent problem-solvers and can come up with ingenious ways to accomplish their goals.

So, how can we make this Christmas an enjoyable and manageable occasion?


Shopping for presents can be a nightmare: all the crowds jostling your already painful body and standing in lines for ages, waiting to pay. You can avoid even entering the shopping mall by getting access to the Internet and purchasing gifts online. Many prominent stores offer Internet shopping these days, and some will even send items gift wrapped, saving you more time and energy.  The other option is catalogue shopping, which you can do snuggled up on your sofa; I love spending an evening sitting down with a catalogue (especially a clothes one) and flicking through the colorful pages to find the perfect gift.  These two options also offer the excitement of mysterious packages arriving at your door.

If you are the type of person who simply enjoys getting out and exploring the shops for your gifts, then consider the following options.

Do your shopping during the day when there are fewer crowds

Choose a mall that has plenty of seats available or offers wheelchair or scooter hire to allow you to pace yourself

Limit the time spent shopping so as not to exhaust yourself all in one go

If you wish to purchase heavy items, take a friend with you or have them delivered. 

Personally, I do a combination of all these. I like to support certain charities so I shop from various catalogues; I use the Internet to browse for ideas and to purchase some of my items; then I take my electric wheelchair, Millie, into the city to whiz around looking for other items especially at the Christmas markets, which are atmospheric and for me, part of the Christmas experience. (Editor’s Note: Medicare will pay for a wheelchair if it is prescribed for you by an MD.)

Wrapping and Writing

Wrapping presents and writing cards can also pose problems. Lots of repetitive actions are needed to cut, fold and tape presents, and to write a never-ending pile of cards, which can put strain on the muscles and tendons in the wrists and elbows. Completing these tasks successfully can be an excellent goal-setting opportunity. Work out roughly how many presents you need to wrap and allocate times where you wrap up a small number of presents and then take a break and do something else. Writing cards can be done in the same way: go through your address book and count how many you need to write, then get yourself comfortable in front of the TV with a glass of wine and write five or six at a time.  I often print all my envelopes so I don't need to write addresses. If I wish to include more than simply "Happy Christmas" I dictate a letter into the computer to include in my card. Another money-saving alternative is to send cards via e-mail.

Family and Friends

Having relatives or friends to stay or paying them a visit can be as exhausting as it is enjoyable. I must admit I used to dread the annual meetings with old family friends and more obscure relatives that I did not have the opportunity or desire to see on a regular basis.  There would always come the question, "So, Kathryn, what have you been up to this year?" And I would rack my brain for something acceptable to tell them, perhaps about a holiday I had been on or some interesting books I had read. This would be met with polite interest and then inevitably would be followed by the question, "So, you still aren't working? You look so well, I thought you were better." I would then feel the need to justify myself and try to explain what life was like living with fibromyalgia. They would then go on to tell me how brilliantly their children were doing in their jobs or report a new baby in the family.  The whole thing used to make me feel totally inadequate and I couldn't wait to escape back to the people who understood me and my situation. Nowadays I tend to smile sweetly and change the subject and don't really take on board any of their comments, as I know they mean well but don't really have any understanding of fibromyalgia.

Holiday Activities

The same can be true when confronted with activities: having to explain why I can't help with the cooking; or go on a long Boxing Day walk.  I am fortunate that my parents often field for me in these situations, giving me an alternative job to do that is within my present capabilities and arranging a wheelchair-accessible walk for our guests so that I can always join in.  I am very lucky in that respect and try to ensure that I get enough rest so I can join in with as many of the activities as possible. If you come across any awkward relatives this year, try to be politely assertive in stating what you wish or do not wish to do, and what help you can offer.  If you are asked to help with dinner, perhaps offer to lay the table instead; or if you don't want to go out in the cold for a walk, state that you would be more comfortable by the fire with your new book or that you are happy to stay behind and keep an eye on the dinner.  There is often a way to appear useful while sticking to exactly what you want to do, and remember that you don't have to justify your actions if you don't want to.  Pace yourself carefully and simply join in with the activities that give you the most pleasure.

What I enjoy most about Christmas is spending time with my immediate family, being spoilt with my mother's cooking and giving out all the presents.  This can be a time of great contentment and fun when you can enjoy all the social interaction and good food.  My parents live in a farmhouse in the Welsh countryside, so friends and relatives often visit us so I can deal with them on my own territory and have my own family around me.  If you are in charge of the household yourself, it can be more effort having people coming to you. You may prefer to pay short visits to close relatives so you can leave when you have had enough. Whatever you decide to do this Christmas, I hope you manage to pace your way through it and enjoy as much of it as possible; but if you simply can't face all the fuss and festivities, book a holiday and escape somewhere warm!