11-12-2009 | 12 tips for coping with Christmas

11 December 2009
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Christmas can be a hectic, exciting and stressful time. Every January Brainwave staff receive calls from people who have had seizures (both new and breakthrough) over the Christmas period.

Here we highlight some ways of reducing the risk of breakthrough seizures over Christmas and try to address some common questions.

1. Start early, Plan ahead
Last minute rushing around before Christmas is the norm but can be very stressful for someone with epilepsy. You can reduce stress by being organised and breaking the tasks up into manageable pieces. Keep lists and try to focus on doing a certain amount each week. This should mean you don't overdo it and you have free time to enjoy the holiday atmosphere.

2. Transport and travel
Being unable to drive will affect how and where you shop. Think about whether you can actually do everything yourself or whether you need to seek help from others. Be realistic about what you can undertake and remember to pace yourself. Public transport can be in great demand so try to avoid rush hour. Shopping locally or online can reduce the demands you may feel.

3. Skipping meals
It might be tempting to pass by when you see long queues at restaurants when shopping but don't be tempted to skip meals. During the holidays, our patterns can alter so it's good to ensure you keep a regular eating pattern.

4. Medications
Take your medication as normal. Ensure you have sufficient supplies to last the holidays.

5. Sleep debt
Regular sleep patterns are important for people with epilepsy. Over the holidays these can change. If you are planning a late night try to ensure you are well rested prior to going out and take your medication as normal. If possible have some extra sleep the following day also. This will reduce your sleep debt (the amount of missed sleep you owe yourself).

6. Relaxation
Take a few minutes of quiet time each morning and evening to listen to a guided visualization, soothing music or do meditation - whatever works for you to unwind.

7. Alcohol
Everyone is potentially more exposed to alcohol over Christmas. Your doctor may have advised you on what is a safe limit for you, so stick to this advice, keep your intake moderate (typically 1-2 units) and avoid binge drinking. Don't be afraid to say no to another one and remember you don't have to "keep up" with everyone else. Consider having shandies or non-alcoholic beers and wines instead of alcohol.

8. Other Stimulants and street drugs
Any kind of street drugs and even high-caffeine energy drinks are associated with increasing seizures and must be avoided.

9. Christmas lights
While flashing lights are a trigger for a small number of people with photosensitive epilepsy, the lights sold in stores should meet the required health and safety standards for flicker. However, there have been a few anecdotal reports of people who feel they were affected by faulty lighting. If it is not possible to avoid the lighting, then covering one eye with one hand should help prevent a seizure.

10. Excitement
Anticipation of Christmas can cause huge excitement, particularly for children. Excitement is felt by the body in a similar way to stress. Keeping the atmosphere calm and routine can help prevent overexcitement and sleep problems.

11. Family Support
Christmas is a time when many people spend more time than usual with family and this can have both its up and downsides. If your family are supportive that is a great bonus but if they have difficulties accepting epilepsy it can feel very isolating. Consider in advance how you will obtain support to help you through the holidays - talking to your GP, joining a support group, getting referred to counselling, or calling a telephone helpline like the Samaritans. Don't be afraid to ask for the help you need to cope.

12. Expectations
Keep your expectations realistic. If you hope for perfection, you will probably be disappointed. Remember that the images we see in TV and advertising are idealised and that we live in the real world!

Brainwave wishes all our members a safe and enjoyable Christmas and New Year

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