This year has once again been a long year to say the least given the ongoing situation with COVID-19 but the excitement is now growing for the festive season. While this year has been hectic and stressful for many people, Christmas in itself can bring a whole new level of stress. Often at the beginning of each New Year, our staff receive calls from people with epilepsy who have had breakthrough seizures over the festive period. This is often because routines have changed dramatically over a short period or a person is overcome with the stresses that the Christmas period brings – amongst other factors.
Therefore, we have devised our 12 Tips of Christmas to bear in mind for over the festive period!
1. Plan ahead!
We’ve all been there – last minute hunting for the perfect gifts; rushing from shop to shop trying to get that perfect something to bring a smile to a person’s face over the festive period. It’s not always enjoyable! This may be compounded further this year as there will be a need to queue and social distance which may add to the stress of it all.
Bear in mind that stress can be a seizure trigger for many people with epilepsy so our tip is to plan ahead with your shopping. Keep a list; break your list into manageable tasks from week to week and this should help you to reduce stress.
2. Transport and Travel
Linked to point 1, you’ll also need to plan your travel to and from your local shops. If you’re not driving, you’ll need to co-ordinate a lift from someone or know your local public transport schedules. Also bear in mind that public transport is back to full capacity now and with last-minute shopping, your local transport service could be busy or crowded.
Again, planning ahead and knowing your local public transport schedules will help reduce stress.
3. Eat as normal
When you’re out and about shopping, it can be tempting to skip eating to ensure you get your shopping or Christmas tasks done. Avoid this as we get our energy from eating. By not eating, our energy capacity reduces and therefore, so does your seizure threshold. Keep to your regular pattern of eating.
4. Medication supply
Make sure that your medications are up to date and that you have enough to cover you for the holiday period. Make note of the opening and closing times of your local pharmacy during the Christmas period. Most importantly, make sure you take your medication as prescribed and as directed. Time can run away from you during the Christmas holidays but it is very important that you ensure that you’re keeping to your medication routine. This will help prevent breakthrough seizures. Most smartphones have a reminder/alarm function and this can be a good way to help remind you to take your meds as normal.
Again, related to the point above – time can run away from you during the Christmas period between the Christmas movies and staying up enjoying the festivities with family. Lack of sleep reduces your energy which in turn reduces your seizure threshold. If you’re planning a late night, rest up beforehand or make sure you catch up on your rest the following day.
It’s the holidays! Be sure to take a moment to unwind and do something you enjoy - be it meditation, mindfulness or listening to music. There can be so much going on at Christmas between preparation and then the big day itself which can drain your energy levels and increase stress; all of which can reduce seizure frequency. Take a moment to put yourself first and take it all in. If you need a hand with this, why not check out the video below and have a moment of mindfulness with our Community Resource Officer Cliona.
Christmas does usually come with a tendency to over-indulge and it’s important to bear in mind that alcohol can be a seizure trigger for many people with epilepsy. Manage your intake over the festive period and know your limits.
8. Lights & Fireworks
For those who are living with photosensitive epilepsy, be aware that you may be exposed to more flashing lights over this period. While all local authorities should follow health and safety guidelines, it’s worth remembering that this doesn’t apply to your own home or that of a neighbour or family member. Risk factors for photosensitive epilepsy are flicker mainly from 15-20 flashes per second (hertz) glare and strong contrast, and saturated reds. For some people the hertz rate that affects them can be as low as 3 or even up to 50. Know what your threshold and don’t be afraid to ask for the lights to be switched off it they are affecting you.
If the lighting is impossible to avoid, covering one eye with one hand should prevent exposure and reduce risk of a seizure. In relation to fireworks for New Year’s celebrations, it’s difficult to predict the flash rates they create. Again, covering one eye with you hand can be an effective preventative measure.
For kids and big kids alike, Christmas can be the most exciting time of the year. This might be further increased this year; given the difficult year we’ve had again and that families could realistically be coming together for the first time in months. In a similar way to stress, overexcitement could reduce a person’s seizure threshold by being unable to sleep with the excitement of what lies ahead. Try to keep things calm and stable to avoid this.
10. Family Support
On the other side of this, for some people, being overexposed to family can be equally stressful – particularly if they have a lack of understanding about epilepsy. Again, consider how you will get support and please link in with your local Community Resource Officer in advance of the holidays to discuss any concerns you may have. We will do our utmost to advise and assist in any way we can. You may also be interested in the video below. Earlier this year, we teamed up with Mental Health Ireland to offer a special session on Epilepsy & Wellbeing and much of the information and advice contained within may be directly appliable for the festive period.
We are all guilty of putting too much pressure on ourselves at times but this is particularly so at Christmas. Trying to make everything perfect is difficult and stressful and when things don’t go to plan, it is equally disappointing and stressful. We do not live in a perfect world and mistakes with the Christmas dinner or the size of the Christmas jumper that you bought for your nephew can and will happen but don’t let it get the better of you and let it stress you out. The same situation will be happening in households across Ireland – you are not alone!
12. Enjoy yourself!
This article is in no way intended to tell you to drain the fun out of your festivities; it is merely a guide for people with epilepsy to bear in mind to help prevent breakthrough seizures. It has been an extremely long and difficult year for so many so please; kick back, rest, relax, eat too many sweets, enjoy the time within your bubble and know that just like throughout 2021, we will be there for you on the other side in 2022.
From everyone at Epilepsy Ireland, we wish you and yours a very Happy Christmas and Happy New Year. Thank you for your continued support throughout 2021 and stay safe throughout the Christmas period.
Note: with the booster vaccination programme continuing over the Christmas period, we know that many people with epilepsy may be called for their booster shot during the festive season. Please see links below for further information and advice on vaccination.