Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Top 15 Holiday Tips for Thyroid Patients (and the Chronically Ill)

The holidays are a time of excitement, anticipation, and... stress, even when you're healthy! When we have a thyroid disorder, the holidays can pose a significant challenge for us, but some careful planning and preparation can result in a more pleasant time despite our disease.

In fact, this list could be used by almost anyone with a chronic illness!

When people think about thyroid disease, they most often think "weight gain". Thyroid disease is much, much more than a battle with weight gain. In fact, depending which type of thyroid disease you have, you may have trouble keeping your weight on instead of off.

Many tips may help us to be more comfortable and enjoy our holidays, but first it's wise to talk about some of the symptoms of thyroid disease that we need to keep in mind while thinking about optimizing our Holiday experience...

Some common symptoms of thyroid dysfunction include:

HypOthyroid (low thyroid levels)
* dry hair, skin, brittle nails, acne
* hair loss
* heart palpitations
* low blood pressure, fainting
* fatigue
* lowered body temperature, cold extremeties
* constipation
* blood sugar regulation difficulties
* Migraine, headaches - may become chronic and daily
* body aches and aching joints
* muscle spasms
* cognition difficulties
* memory difficulties
* weight gain
* menstrual irregularities
* depression (may be severe and long-lasting)
* goiter
* anemia
* increased inflammation
* medications are not cleared as quickly from the body

HypERthyroid (elevated thyroid levels)
* oily hair, thin skin and nails, acne
* hair loss
* rashes
* heart palpitations and feelings of anxiety or adrenaline/caffeine rush
* high or fluctuating blood pressure
* sleeplessness
* fatigue
* sweating, flushing, raised body temperature
* diarrhea
* reflux, heartburn, gastritis, malabsorption, vitamin deficiencies
* dehydration
* shaking, muscle twitches
* Migraine, headache - especially tension headache
* aching joints, bone pain
* frequent emotional highs and lows, lability - an emotional 'hair trigger'
* eyesight changes, bulging eyes
* goiter
* anemia
* medications may not work as well as before

Some general tips include:

1. See your doctor about 6-8 weeks prior to the beginning of your holiday celebrations. Blood will usually be drawn at that time, and if any problems in the labs shows up, this gives you time to correct the issues before you need to feel your very best. Don't forget to call your doctor's office one week to 10 days after the draw to get paper copies of your results for your records.

2. Plan ahead and have everything purchased in advance, so shopping trips may be kept to a minimum during the holiday rush. If you've made changes to your meds, remember this and plan accordingly.

3. Hair is often an issue for thyroid patients. If you want to get your hair done (permed, cut, colored etc) for the holidays, do so at least 2 weeks before your event. Remember that the more products used to alter your hair, the more potential there is for damage, so sometimes the best thing to do is nothing at all.

4. Plan to spend a week or two to decorate your home. Don't try to get it all done in a weekend. Ask for help. Even small children love to help decorate for such an exciting time. Concentrate on a single area if you're not feeling up to doing the whole house.

5. Address cards (or do your data entry of addresses) during the summer. Don't seal them, and you can enclose a short note in each card just before they're sent.

6. If you're having a rough season, don't feel bad about reusing last year's decorations the same way you did before. Don't get creative - it's okay. Your family will appreciate having your smiling presence so much that decorations and present purchases will not be missed.

7. Shop big. Don't buy 100 small gifts you will have to wrap and tag. Buy one special gift for each person instead. This will cut down on your work load and your loved ones won't have so much to deal with once they get home. Think of the gifts you enjoy the most when you get home - are they the little things, or the well thought-out special things?

8. Don't shop at all. Spend the entire year making gifts for loved ones. It lessens the burden in the fall/winter, and gives you something creative to do throughout the entire year. Gifts that are made this way are what create special memories, and they are cheaper on the pocketbook. Make your list a day or two after Christmas this year, then get started when you shop the after-Christmas sales for supplies. Make it special by creating your own tags that tell the recipient you thought of them every moment you worked on their gift.

9. Don't cook. Most large grocery stores will prepare your holiday meal for you - and even deliver it fresh. The cost is not usually as high as you might think, and it allows you time to focus on other things that might otherwise be skipped. Decorate and set the table, and that's it! If there are special items you want, ask if they will prepare them to your specifications or recipe. Most will happily do this. If not, consider paying a friend to do it for you. With so many families out of work, this may be a godsend to someone who doesn't know where they will be able to find the money to buy gifts for their family... or offer to purchase twice the food if they will fix it for you, then give them half for their dinner. Another option is plan a family potluck. You can even have a pre-planned menu and ask each family member to make something on the list.

10. Stay healthy. Keep the humidifier going, because you know your thyroid condition has altered your immune system and you're more likely to get sick. Wash hands regularly. Get vaccinated for the flu and pneumonia if your doctor suggests it. We frequently use a neti pot to kill any potential bad stuff - it's easy, convenient and dirt cheap (salt and water).

11. Get yourself into a sleep schedule. Wake up in the morning and try not to nap. Exercise a little during the day, and go to bed at a regular time at night. Turn the thermostat down a little each night to save energy, money, and trigger the sleep response in your body.

12. Dress in layers. You can guess the temperature of the places you'll be going, but you'll usually be wrong. Layers allows you to take off whatever is uncomfortable, and put it back on when you need it. Beign too hot or cold can trigger other health issues we don't need to deal with.

13. Check the stockpiles. Be sure you have enough medicines to get you through the holidays. Food, drink, blankets etc in case the power goes off etc.

14. Keep a short journal. If something goes wrong - a nasty Migraine, uncomfortable heart palps, etc... write it down. If something improves, that's just as important too! You'll need the information to tell your doctor after the holidays are over, but you'll not likely remember any details unless you've written them down.

15. Don't try to change it, live with it. Remember and accept that you are chronically ill. You are dealing with something no one else can understand. Don't expect them to. You understand, and that's okay. Others with thyroid disease understand too, and they can be helpful. Don't look for perfection this year, just happiness and joy wherever and however you can make it appear. The best memories frequently come from adversity and difficulties.

For other ideas how you can get through the holidays if you're vacationing away from home - These posts were written with Migraine in mind, but I think you'll find them helpful for nearly every chronic illness! See these helpful links:

Vacationing with Migraine- the down and dirty details

Vacationing with Migraine- printable quick tips

Comment by Janeen on December 14, 2010 at 4:25pm
These are wonderful tips Ellen!!  And you're right, I think many of them are good for other chronic illnesses and for those who are caregivers of those with chronic illnesses too.  I'm going to tweet and Facebook them.
Comment by Ellen S on December 14, 2010 at 6:03pm
Thank you so much Janeen!!  Did you see that Amy had some awesome holiday tips too?  'Tis the season for making tips lists!

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