Christmas ostomates fatigue

Christmas is fast approaching, and this can mean different things to different people.  For some it is a time of great significance with lots of joy and celebration, whereas for others it is just another day on the calendar. Similarly, for ostomates, Christmas can represent many different things.  It may be a time of great fun and festivity with lots of social events and outings.  There may be lots of opportunities to catch up with friends, family and loved ones. And there may be wonderful food to share which is not part of the usual daily diet, which can be a source of great anticipation and excitement.

For other ostomates, however, Christmas may be a time of fatigue, fear and uncertainty because routines are changed, social functions are different and foods are festive rather than the usual fare.  Travelling to strange destinations to socialise or celebrate Christmas, being out of your comfort zone, not knowing where the toilets are, and maybe even flying during the holiday period can all increase the degree of exertion and apprehension experienced by an ostomate.  Knowing what to eat and how to stay well during this time can be a source of concern, especially if the stomal surgery is recent and the landscape is new.

Previously I have written about physical demands and festive food at Christmas to provide some guidance on these matters, but this year I would like to focus further on one particular issue that can alter how Christmas is perceived or experienced by some ostomates.   And this issue is fatigue.

The reason I want to focus on fatigue is because it is one of the main health challenges I am asked to address by my ostomate clients.  Lack of energy is a common and constant concern that can be debilitating and limiting to lifestyle as well as a source of added anxiety. Christmas often brings with it added tasks and responsibilities, and having a list of jobs that need to be attended to in a set timeframe can be stressful for anyone, but even more so for those who are fatigued.

As a result, Christmas can demand an extra degree of energy expenditure that is not required at other times of the year.  Meals are often more elaborate, beverages may flow more freely and the general ‘vibe’ can be higher due to an added layer of animation and expectation that is not present during other holiday seasons. There can also be a sense of needing to rise to the occasion, which can create an extra layer of stimulation for some and distress for others. And the festivities and celebrations at this time of year can continue for several weeks rather than days.  It can feel like gearing up for a marathon, which can be exhilarating for those who are energetic but daunting for those who are not.

Addressing fatigue certainly includes assessing nutrient status and increasing nutrient intake if appropriate and possible.  However, it also involves reducing physical and mental demands so nutrient status and energy production are not further compromised.  

Constant or even periodic fatigue can affect a person both physically and mentally.  Low physical energy can make the simplest of tasks arduous and take the fun out of otherwise light-hearted and joyful occasions.  Instead of being fun and festive, Christmas may feel overwhelming and oppressive. It can all seem a bit too hard!

Low physical energy can often be accompanied by low mental energy, which can lead to low mood, lack of interest and apathy.  Therefore, for a person experiencing limited physical and mental energy, Christmas may also feel isolating. Lack of energy may mean that you feel unable to participate in social events, and low mood can reduce the desire to do so, which further compounds the situation.  Isolation at this time of year can lead to greater feelings of depression and fatigue, which only perpetuates the cycle.

In addition to this, dietary limitations as a result of stomal surgery may create a feeling of separation that is not as prevalent at other times of the year.   Many Christmas festivities revolve around celebratory foods that contain ingredients that are not part of the usual daily diet and, as a result, dietary habits can stray from the norm.  Exposure to different foods can create fear or uncertainty for ostomates as to the potential consequences for them.   This can add a layer of stress, apprehension and isolation not experienced by others.

Christmas cupcakes diet ostomates

However, there are ways to navigate the festive season and lift your mood so that you can find some joy in the extra activities on offer at this time of year without compromising your health or taxing your physical or financial reserves. 

Some activities that are easy on both mind and body include:

  • Using the KISS principle (Keep It Simple, Stupid!) in all plans and preparations around Christmas to reduce unnecessary stress and strain.
  • Inviting friends and family to your house rather than travelling to theirs, and asking them to bring a plate to share to ease the burden of entertaining.
  • Listening to some Christmas music and allowing yourself to be carried away by the uplifting, sometimes even infectious, melodies.
  • Going one step further and even singing some Christmas carols (or other songs if you prefer).  Using your voice in this way can be invigorating and energising.
  • Thinking of others and sending a simple card, note or text.  Taking a minute to let people know that you are thinking of them can be a source of joy and comfort to both of you.
  • Extending warm wishes and a smile, even if you don’t feel like it.  Small gestures like this can make a huge difference at any time of year, but especially at Christmas.  Your gesture may lift the spirits of someone experiencing the same thoughts and feeling as you, and you may even benefit in return.
  • Counting your blessings, no matter how small.  We are often fortunate in ways we don’t realise or appreciate.

If your level of physical energy is fine but your mood is low at this time of year, then focusing on others rather than yourself can help to lift your spirits. Thinking of and helping others is a wonderful antidote to a low mood as it occupies your mind and gets you outside of yourself for a while.  It provides you with a focus that can be rewarding and uplifting.  Consider doing some volunteer work to get in touch with the Christmas spirit and connect with a feeling of fellowship.

There are many ways to celebrate Christmas, and for good physical and mental health during this time it can be valuable to celebrate it in a way that is comfortable and meaningful for you.  Take care of yourself at this time of year, reduce the stress and strain as much as possible, find joy in the little things and focus on what you CAN do.  Forget about the rest!  If it is really important someone will jump to the task.

Wishing you good health, happy days, and a safe and prosperous festive season in a manner that brings you joy, peace of mind and gratitude of heart.


Article by Margaret Allan

Margaret Allan is a qualified Nutritionist who advises Ostomates and the general public on diet and health-related matters. Nutrition for Ostomates provides a range of consulting options - find out more on our Services Page.