Surviving the Holidays and Living With HIV

My Tips on Surviving the Holidays and Living With HIV

Last updated: December 2022

It doesn't take a lot for me to get excited about the holidays. I always love the feeling in the air with the festive decorations, delicious food, and holiday music. It's retaining the enthusiasm that I find difficult.

I work in food retail; before that, I spent my life in restaurants. Every year I see behind the happy façade of gift-giving as people stress and yell in the store.

Holiday cheer completely dissolves when it comes to finding a parking space. And if they play a particular Christmas song one more time during my shift, I'm going to yank the speaker out of the ceiling.

Navigating the holidays and family visits

I'm also a bit of a loner and not very close with my family. But I'm lucky because my husband has a boundless joy when celebrating that I inevitably tap into to refresh my holiday cheer.

Yet even with all his spirit, I need a few tricks to help me through the season. I want to share with you some things I've done over the years to support myself as I navigate the holidays and family visits.

On the road

It's the busiest travel time of the year with the most potential for delays and bad weather. Be sure to bring with you any medications and prescriptions.

I never travel without an extra week's worth of pills. If your travel time intersects with your scheduled refill, contact your pharmacy. Most insurance companies will cover an early refill because of travel.

It's not just about having your medicine; you must remember to take it. With all the distractions and movement, it can be easy to miss a dose.

Get a pill organizer and fill it up before you get on the plane. This will keep track of your doses. Set the alarm on your phone as a reminder. And remember to take into consideration time zone changes.

Be sure to stay hydrated. The pills we take are hard on our bodies, so drink lots of water. If you're going to be in a car for an extended period, stop and stretch so that neuropathy and body cramps are attended to. And if you're visiting many different spots, be sure to use a small carry-around to keep pills with you at all times.

Destination unknown

Before you arrive, try to understand what you are getting into. Don't be afraid to ask questions about your family get-together. Taking the guesswork out of a visit can lower your stress levels.

Large, small, or supportive

If it's a large gathering, accept the carnival atmosphere ahead of time. A well-timed phone call can provide the perfect cover if you need to slip away from all the energy in the room.

If it's a small gathering, but you wish it were more, set up some calls with friends elsewhere. That will satisfy your desire for connection and spread the holiday cheer.

If your host is a supportive ally, try arranging a convenient space or task for you to step away if the emotions begin running high. Families can be a source of conflict as much as support. If you're expecting a tough time, have someone you can contact for support.

Take care of your mind and body

While it's fun sitting around the table sharing a meal with friends and family, the choices during the holidays aren't always the best for us. People living with HIV can struggle with co-morbidities such as high cholesterol, blood pressure, and diabetes.

Make a plan for what you can indulge in and stick with it. Avoid emotional eating if you can. Try writing down your goals on paper and stick it in your pocket. When you need reminding, slip into the bathroom and read them over.

Being around family can be a time of anxiety for everyone. Talk to your primary care physician to see if there are support options for you. Or you can set a reminder on your phone to walk away and take a few deep breaths throughout the day.

Stay accountable to your limitations

The Wednesday before Thanksgiving is the busiest drinking day of the year. For those dealing with addiction issues, it can sometimes feel like a permission slip to let go and have fun with everyone else.

Keep yourself focused on how good you feel when you don't wake up with a hangover. If there is someone in your gathering you trust, empower them to tap you out if you're going overboard.

Surviving the holidays with your support network

With some planning and tapping into your support network, the holidays can be enjoyable for everyone involved ahead of time. But if you're struggling with depression or overwhelming anxiety, please reach out to a professional or someone you trust. You don't have to bear that burden alone.

I wish all of you a happy and healthy holiday season!

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