For my first couple of years dealing with IC as an adult, I noticed that each year I had a bladder flare the day after Thanksgiving and often the day after Christmas. Of course my doctor was not in the office. I thought it was crazy I’d end up with a UTI after the holidays multiple times. Then I discovered an additional trigger food — vinegar — and that it was the culprit of my post-holiday IC flares. Once I knew better, I did better. Through the years, other patients and I have learned ways to avoid an IC flare during the holidays.

While we can’t always predict what our bladders will do and how our bodies will react, we can do a few things to help reduce our risk for a flare. Sometimes just a few strategies can help you have a happier bladder for the holidays, which leads to a happier you. With a bit of planning and intentional living, you can reduce your risk for an IC flare this holiday season by taking care of your body, being aware of what your bladder needs and reducing your stress.

1. Avoid trigger foods and drinks.

One of the easiest ways to help avoid an IC flare during the holidays is by avoiding trigger foods and drinks. There may be times that you want to try something risky in small amounts, but the holiday season is not one of those times. Instead, opt for foods and drinks you know don’t bother your bladder. For example, one of the holiday foods I enjoy is deviled eggs. However, they’re made with mustard and mayonnaise, which both have vinegar. And they bother me. Through trial and error at other times, I’ve learned my bladder does OK if I have one. But I know if I have more, then it’s going to hurt. I also turn down items made with citrus fruit that I know bothers me. Bananas trigger my bladder these days. My mother-in-law makes wonderful banana pudding, but I’d rather pass it up and enjoy my time with my family instead of being in pain. The best lesson I’ve learned when it comes to the IC diet is that I need to stop being angry about what I can’t have and be thankful I know what causes me pain so I can avoid it.

We have lots of resources for you when it comes eating IC friendly food! Here are just a few:

2. Get good rest.

The holiday season is busy, which is why you need to get good sleep. It can be tempting to stay up late trying to get things done, but that’s a bad idea for a variety of reasons including lack of sleep adds to your body’s stress level. A higher stress level in your body increases you risk of an IC flare. The average adult needs at least seven hours of sleep a night.(1) But if you are up throughout the night for the bathroom or sleeping restlessly with pain, then you need to plan even more time for sleeping each night. And don’t be afraid to take a nap if you need to. Use your cell phone and set an alarm for 20 to 30 minutes and have a snooze to give you the energy you need to keep going. Don’t miss our tips for how to get better sleep with IC.

3. Don’t push yourself too hard.

Asking for help is important year-round, but it’s even more important during the holiday season. In addition to your regular responsibilities, you have other tasks that need to be done. Between shopping, baking, kids’ programs and everything else, the holiday season is rife with busyness. If you have children still at home, you want to make the holidays memorable for them. (Trust me, I understand that firsthand!) But, you don’t have to do everything in order to make that happen.

Along with asking for help, figure out how to cut down on your to-do list. Maybe you love decorating cookies with your children each holiday season. Buy premade dough or even premade sugar cookies and then decorate those. Save yourself the time and energy of being on your feet baking the cookies from scratch. You still get to make memories without hurting yourself. Or opt to give your nieces and nephews gift cards rather than spending hours figuring out what to buy for them. Use gift bags instead of wrapping every single item. Find shortcuts so you aren’t pushing yourself too hard and ending up with an IC flare.

4. Take care of your mental health.

Stress isn’t the only thing the holiday season can bring. We often have other difficult feelings during the holiday season that can make everything harder to deal with. If you add in managing also physical pain and its emotional impact, then paying attention to your mental health is crucial. Know yourself. Are you an introvert who regains energy by spending quiet time alone? Or are you an extrovert who regains energy by spending time around other people? Maybe you’re somewhere in the middle. Identify the ways you best refresh and make those a priority daily or at least weekly during the holiday season.

Consider reaching out to family or friends for support when you are having a rough day. Sometimes just having someone listen to us can help us feel better about whatever is bothering us. Loneliness is rampant these days and has health consequences. Finding ways to combat your loneliness is important, especially during the holiday season since it can exacerbate those feelings.

Check out these 18 relaxation tips to calm your stress and anxiety — emotions the holiday season is often rife with!

5. Keep on top of your meds.

Stay on top of regular medications and be sure to take them daily. Set a reminder or alarm on your phone to help make sure you don’t forget to take your regular meds. (I do this all the time, not just during the holiday season!) Along with taking your meds as scheduled, be sure to also stay on top of refills. If you’re traveling, make sure you have enough of your meds for the time you’ll be gone. Remember that doctor’s offices usually have fewer hours during the holiday season.

Keep your flare medicines (both prescription and OTC) and other self-help remedies (like your heating pad, ice packs, etc.) in a set location. Aside from making it easier for you to know where to get these things if you need them, you can also more easily tell someone else where to get them for you in case you do get hit by a flare. Remember that the earlier you start your IC flare care, the better it will be in the end. Pain medications can only do so much once the pain is too severe.

If you find yourself in a flare, give yourself permission to rest and recover rather than push through and make it worse. Check out our full resource for IC Flare Management filled with lots of information, self-care ideas and more.

6. Plan downtime for yourself.

Not taking enough time to rest and give your body a break is a good way to induce an IC flare. The holidays make downtime more difficult to come by, so plan it in. For example, Saturday mornings are my weekly downtime. After breakfast, I grab my book, heating pad and blanket and settle into the couch. My son and dog join me for what we call “Saturday Morning Snuggle Time.” It’s simple but effective!

But you don’t need only regular downtime. You also may need downtime after activities that can induce flares like long car rides or other travel. If possible, plan to arrive a day early so you can have a down day to rest and recover.(2)

7. Don’t over-commit.

Be aware of your time and limitations. Give yourself permission to say no. While you can explain to friends or family that you are being careful for your health, you don’t have to. You can also just decline with something as simple as “I’m sorry, but I won’t be able to attend.” Prioritize the things that matter most to you. Recognize that you don’t need to worry about other people’s expectations. You need to do what is best for your body and yourself, even if others don’t see or understand that.(3)

When you do attend events, consider driving on your own so you can leave early if needed. This can even include driving separately from your spouse to a party. That way your spouse can stay and enjoy the festivities if you need to call it an early night. If you do ride with a friend or family member, come up with a code word so they know when you need to leave the party.(2)

8. Go easy on exercise.

Regular exercise is important. It has a wide array of health benefits and can even help with some IC-related symptoms and conditions such as back pain and fibromyalgia. However, overdoing exercise or doing an intense workout can increase symptoms and even induce a flare. The holiday season is not the time to try new exercises or dramatically increase the amount of exercise you’re doing. Just because your cousin insists that going for a run, playing a family game of football or going on a long hike is something you need to do, you don’t have to. You can offer a lower impact, more IC friendly exercise, or just say no all together.

9. Be careful with intimacy.

You and your significant other don’t need to avoid intimacy throughout the entire holiday season, but do be aware of how your body responds to intimacy. For example, intercourse can flare pelvic floor dysfunction, a condition with which the majority of IC patients suffer. And a PDF flare makes your IC symptoms flare, even temporarily. If you know the following day is going to be a busy one, involve you being on your feet a lot or include a long car ride, choose to wait until another time for intercourse. Or if you are already flaring a bit, choose to not risk making your symptoms worse by having intercourse. Be sure to check out this resource about intimacy and sex for IC patients that includes other intimacy ideas besides intercourse as well.

10. Stay hydrated.

Though it can be tempting to avoid drinking much so you don’t have to use the bathroom even more often, it’s one of the worst things you can do. The less water you drink, the more acidic your urine is. The more acidic your urine is, the more irritating it is. Even while you are busy making food for the holidays or running errands, keep some water handy and sip it as you go. I love stainless steel tumblers that keep my water ice cold for hours. Each morning I fill my cup with ice and water then keep refilling it throughout the day. I don’t leave my house without my cup in hand!

11. Take enough bathroom breaks.

The truth is most of us IC patients have to go to the bathroom more often than the average person. Sometimes way more often! Don’t be afraid to speak up if you’re traveling with others or duck out of social functions as needed to use the restroom. The longer you hold urine in your bladder, the worse your symptoms can get. And then they can end up causing a flare. Go when you need to! Ignore anyone who gives you a difficult time about how often you go.

12. Stay home if you need to.

We want to do everything during the holiday season. We want to participate in all the activities and traditions we love. But sometimes that’s just not what our body is up for. Even if we’ve planned well and pared down our activities to the bare minimum, our bodies don’t always cooperate. Staying home is a hard choice to make, but if you are in the middle of a flare or really struggling, staying home can be the best thing. Consider doing a video call to connect with friends and family instead. ICN Founder and President Jill Osborne had to make the call to stay home one Thanksgiving and, though it was hard, she knew it was the best choice she could make at the time. Read more about her experience.

13. Shop online.

Shopping online is ideal for helping to avoid IC flares. You can shop from a soft seat at home, in comfy clothes and snuggled up with your heating pad. It doesn’t get much better than that for making sure we get the gift list taken care of. Don’t forget, though, that you can also shop for groceries online. Some retailers deliver perishable items; others have them available for pick up. You can also have non-perishable items delivered from big retailers. I often order my toilet paper, paper towels and toiletries with free shipping from Target. And I adore ordering my groceries online and picking them up. Not only is it convenient, it also keeps me off my feet and from pushing a heavy shopping cart through the store. Plus my budget benefits because I stick to my list and don’t usually add additional items to my cart.

14. Keep your budget in check.

One of the biggest things married couples argue about is money. The holiday season is filled with lots of extra expenses from food to gifts to activities. But you don’t have to be married to know money woes are aplenty during the holidays. Planning and budgeting are great ways to keep the added stress of money problems and overspending at bay. Check out these 10 ways to reduce your holiday spending. Save up throughout the year for holiday spending or buy things on sale as you see them. I have Christmas money planned into our regular budget so that we save a little bit throughout the year so holiday spending is spread out and easier.

15. Focus on the good stuff.

Even the most difficult of holiday seasons are filled with things for which to be thankful. Shifting our focus from what we don’t have to what we do have is one of the best ways to improve our attitude and reduce our stress. Enjoy the little moments and joys of the season. Maybe it’s the way the lights twinkle in the early morning hours. Or maybe it’s the extra time with your kids. Pay attention to the little stuff that makes a big difference. Consider keeping a gratitude journal and write down three to five things a day for which you’re thankful. Focus on the stuff that matters like a pain-free evening, time spent with loved ones or a good conversation with a friend.(4)

No matter what, remember that your holiday doesn’t have to be completely ruined if you do end up in a flare and/or are unable to do all that you want to do. The holidays are the perfect time to be thankful for all the blessings we do have!

 

References

  1. National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Division of Population Health. How much sleep do I need?. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. March 2017.
  2. Andersen CH. #HolidaysAreHard with Chronic Illness, So Here Are 31 Stress-Relieving Tips to Get You Through December. Creaky Joints. Nov. 30, 2018.
  3. Schwark M. Holiday Self-Care Tips When You (or Someone You Love) Have a Chronic Illness. She Knows. Dec. 17, 2020.
  4. Johnson EB. How to survive the holidays when you’re chronically ill. Medium. Dec. 11, 2019.