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Navigating the Holidays with IBD

by Randa Samaha, FNP-C

The holidays are the time of year where family and friends gather, and food and drink are shared.

While the holidays tend to be joyous, we can be left feeling overwhelmed with busy social schedules, end of year deadlines, shopping, traveling, and more. For some, this increase in stress and anxiety can contribute to GI symptoms and general fatigue.

See below for tips to help you enter the New Year feeling renewed and energized!

Avoid Overdoing It

Stuck between attending your friend’s holiday party or your annual work event? Hoping to try and squeeze in both? It’s okay to decline an invitation without feeling guilty. Knowing your limits, physically and mentally, is part of being resilient. It will also ensure you enjoy the events you do choose to attend without needing as much time to rest and recuperate after. Choose to attend events that will include people that lift you up and help you feel supported.

Limit Your Spending

Financial concerns can cause stress and anxiety known as “money anxiety.” This can, in turn, have a negative impact on your quality of life (Swaim, 2022). Holiday shopping tends to result in higher than usual spending. Try to make celebrating your priority during the holidays. Many friends and family treasure the time spent together more than the gifts they receive.

Consider a game of Secret Santa or a White Elephant party that will reduce the number of gifts you’ll need to buy. For those you do plan to buy gifts for, try making a list and stick to it. This plan can help curb spending whether you are shopping online or in person. If you’re starting to feel weighed down by spending or just don’t know what to buy someone, try a cooling-off period. This can help you re-set your priorities and your budget.

Consider a Volunteering Tradition

Volunteering can make a difference in people’s lives and can benefit your own health, too! Try starting a tradition of volunteering this holiday season (and keep it going throughout the year!). The holidays are a great time to reflect on what you are grateful for and pay it forward.

Research has found that volunteering can improve physical and mental health as well as lower depression, anxiety, and stress by releasing dopamine, the feel-good hormone (Thoreson, 2022).

Some suggestions include volunteering at a food kitchen, “adopting a family” and purchasing their holiday gifts, or helping decorate an elderly neighbor’s home for the holidays.

What else can you think of?

Prepare For Holiday Travel

Having IBD can make traveling feel daunting. With a little preparation, you’ll be ready to handle any challenge that IBD may throw your way. Let your doctor know if you plan to leave the country. They may help ensure you have all the necessary vaccines up to date, refill your prescriptions so you don’t run out while you’re away, and provide you with a letter explaining your condition and why you may need to travel with your chilled medications and an icepack on board.

Make sure to pack all your medications in your carry-on in case your checked items are delayed. This is a good habit for ostomy supplies as well. Consider packing an extra pair of underwear and pants, toilet paper, and wipes in your carry-on luggage. If you’re traveling by bus, train, or plane, try booking an aisle seat in advance so you know you’ll have easier access to a toilet if needed.

For extra reassurance, check your insurance policy to see if urgent care and emergency room visits are covered while traveling. You may also consider travel insurance which typically covers medical emergencies, trip cancellations, delays, and medical evacuation, as well as lost, damaged, or stolen items.

Plan to Enjoy Your Holiday Meals

Dreading the heavy dishes that are sure to accompany any holiday meal? Afraid you’ll offend the host if you don’t partake? Check with the host to see if it’s okay to bring a dish you know you’ll tolerate well. If you’re in a flare, consider baked chicken and roasted veggies or sweet potato mash. Bring enough for other guests to enjoy it with you. You may also want to try eating foods you tolerate before leaving home, so you don’t arrive overly hungry and feel pressured to eat foods that you know will upset your digestive system. Try avoiding fatty options, such as foods laden with gravy and cheeses, and opt for leaner options, such as lean meats, poultry, and fish.

Alcohol can irritate the gut and contains a lot of sugar, which can contribute to bloating, abdominal pain, and diarrhea. So, keep alcohol intake to a minimum and consider swapping out the eggnog for a less sugary option. It’s okay to hold and sip a holiday cocktail while socializing, to feel like you’re partaking in the festivities, but remember to hydrate first and foremost.

Don’t hesitate to reach out to your Resilience Team for extra support as you navigate the holidays. IBD shouldn’t hold you back from enjoying this time of year with your friends and family.

Resilience for IBD is Resilience for Life! ™


Angela Thoreson, L. I. C. S. W. (2022, August 25). 3 health benefits of volunteering. Mayo Clinic Health System. Retrieved November 8, 2022, from

Swaim, E. (2022, May 13). Your guide to managing money anxiety. Healthline. Retrieved November 7, 2022, from

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