Maureen Pratt

It’s coming, one of the busiest times of the year. It starts with back to school, back from vacation, then back-to-back holidays. Activities pile on as the last months of the year fly by.

But if you live with a health challenge or care for someone who does, the events of the coming weeks and months pose a particularly difficult question: Is it OK to say “no” to someone or something needing your help or asking for your participation?

The answer is “yes.”

Learning when and how to pull back on the number of commitments, especially those that accumulate in the fall and winter months, can directly impact how well your health fares.

You don’t want to sit on the sidelines throughout festivities unique to Christmas, and you don’t want to have to neglect crucial responsibilities. But, as hard as it may be, one of the most important things to keep in mind is that the healthier you are, the better off you will be and the more you will enjoy and take part in those things that are dear to you and your loved ones.

One of the first things to do before your schedule becomes hectic is to evaluate your current health. Are you in a flare? Have you recently changed medications or treatments and are unsure how these will impact your energy? Are you up to date on your doctors’ appointments, flu shot and other vaccinations? Are you sleeping well, getting enough exercise, and maintaining a healthful diet? Take care of any pending health issues now so you can weather the coming spate of activity.

Once you’ve evaluated your health, look at the calendar and the commitments scheduled. Which ones are absolutely necessary? Are they spaced out enough so that you will be able to have some recovery time in between? If you plan to travel during holidays, do you have enough time before you leave and when you come back to rest?

If you are a caregiver, do you have backup support in case you become ill, and have you set aside time for yourself so that you avoid burning out when you might be most needed? If the holiday season brings out the worst in a family member or friend’s personality, can you find a way to minimize your exposure to them, or avoid them? One of the keys to keeping your health steady is minimizing stress — doing so at holiday time is no exception.

Saying “no” does not necessarily mean sitting on the sidelines. For example, if you are part of a liturgy committee, you know that the holidays are especially busy. Let others know in advance that you cannot do it all, but ask for one or two activities that you can help with and not undermine your health.

If you feel that cross-country travel to attend a traditional holiday gathering would be too taxing, perhaps “attend” via Internet video streaming services. If you travel, make contingency plans in case you fall ill, including purchasing trip cancellation insurance. If health-related expenses have been high this year, start now to think creatively about low-cost gifts you can give, rather than incurring unnecessary debt.

Learning how and when to say “no” is an important part of living with a chronic illness. Those who truly care will understand that by saying “no” once in a while, you will be more able to say, wholeheartedly, “yes.”