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Surviving Thanksgiving with Multiple Sclerosis

Surviving Thanksgiving with Multiple Sclerosis

The leaves have fallen, the air is cool and crisp, and the clocks have been turned back an hour, signaling the beginning of the holiday season.

Thanksgiving celebrations are supposed to be a time of sharing bounty with family and friends. For people who live with chronic illness like multiple sclerosis, anticipation of Thanksgiving dinner can also be a time of increased emotional stress, exhaustion, and physical strain. We may want to celebrate, but chronic illness never takes a holiday.

Whether you are hosting the festivities for yourself or are simply an invited guest, planning ahead can make all the difference in the world.

The first consideration is whether or not you will host your own gathering. Even if you’ve always done so, if circumstances have changed, you may want to consider relinquishing those duties. Perhaps there are other family members who would be thrilled to take on the responsibility, but you’ll never know unless you ask.

As a guest, you have the option of resting earlier in the day if necessary. You can offer to bring a dish that you prepare the day before, or you can simply bring a bottle of wine, soft drinks, flowers, etc. Best of all, you can freely leave the event whenever the time is right.

If you do decide to host the holiday, a few simple tips will help to see you through.

1) Have reasonable expectations. You needn’t compare yourself to gourmet chefs and happy homemakers. Simplicity is bliss.

2) Try to spread the workload out over several days so that it doesn’t all fall on your shoulders on Thanksgiving morning.

3) Before company arrives, take a break. Put your feet up and close your eyes for 15 minutes so you will feel more refreshed.

4) Everything needn’t be made from scratch. Some prepared dishes can ease the burden considerably. So can asking your guests to contribute.

5) Accept offers of help. Most people are not just spouting empty words when they offer and genuinely want to help. If they don’t offer — ask — especially when it comes to cleaning up. Other people can become distracted by the holiday and may not notice that you’re having a tough time. Getting the whole gang in on the action can even be fun and give you added time to chat with loved ones.

6) Remember that in the long run it’s not about your housekeeping and cooking skills. It’s about being with the people we love. When I look back on holidays past, I haven’t a clue about the small details, but the warm feeling of breaking bread with loved ones shines through. It’s about the smiles and the laughs and the hugs. Even the things that went awry can bring back fond memories and make us laugh all over again.

Living with a chronic illness means planning ahead and taking control. Stress can exacerbate MS symptoms, so not allowing ourselves to get caught up in crazy details is essential. And let’s not forget the many things for which we can be truly thankful.

Wishing you and yours all the best this Thanksgiving.

Please share your Thanksgiving tips in the comment section below.

Writer Ann Pietrangelo embraces the concept of personal responsibility for health and wellness. As a multiple sclerosis patient, she combines a healthy lifestyle and education with modern medicine, and seeks to provide information and support to others. She is a regular contributor to’s Reform Health Policy blog in Causes.

Read more: Blogs, Conditions, Family, Health, Holidays, Life, Living with MS, Multiple Sclerosis, Thanksgiving,

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7:04AM PDT on Oct 28, 2012

A woman I worked with had MS and she finally had to give up her hostess role to her daughter! She said she tried to keep it up, but things got out of hand the year before. Her daughter told her that was her last one, and she'd take over from then on (sweet girl)!!

7:38AM PST on Dec 29, 2009


11:54AM PST on Dec 28, 2009

Good info!

4:19PM PST on Nov 12, 2009

Camomilia B.

Several diet plans, the most famous of which is the Swank Diet, aim to reduce MS relapses or MS-related symptoms. Depending upon who you talk to, and which study you read, you may or may not be encouraged to try one.

The National Multiple Sclerosis Society provides a lot of information on the topic - here's a link:

Avoiding junk foods and artificial ingredients and enjoying plenty of nutrient-rich natural food is a good idea for everyone.

It's definitely an issue we'll want to take up here in the near future. Thank you for the question - I'm sure other readers will be weighing in.

8:22PM PST on Nov 11, 2009

I have heard that certain diets are better for MS. I have MS and am hosting my first Thanksgiving this year. Are there any foods to avoid. Thank you.

8:53AM PST on Nov 10, 2009

These tips apply to any chronic condition, and they are a great reminder to family members also. The family is often so involved in their own events they forget that things have changed. Also, others, who are not there every day, may not realize the reality and the adjustments you've had to make. It's very important to get by the tendancy to act like "everything is the same" and define a new "normal" for ourselves. We don't have to dwell on it, just accept it and focus on what is possible.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
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