This post is part of the Epilepsy Blog Relay™ which will run from November 1 through November 30, 2016. Follow along!
It’s the most wonderful time of the year!!! Christmas and wintertime are my favourite time of year, and for so many others too, but this festive season can be a difficult time for people with epilepsy and associated conditions as there can be triggers.
If someone has an Epileptic seizure when looking at flashing or flickering lights, this is a sign that they possibly have photosensitive epilepsy. Whether you celebrate Christmas or not, it is inevitable that there will be hundreds of Christmas lights around you for a month or so, some of which can be flashy, and by that I don’t mean ostentatiously attractive.
Christmas lights and decorations put up by organizations should not flash at a rate that could trigger seizures in people with photosensitive epilepsy. The unit of frequency lights are measured is in Hz. Most people with photosensitive epilepsy are sensitive to 16-25 Hz. Although organizations generally follow guidelines for the public, individual stores that sell tree lights do not have to comply with health and safety regulations, so this can be the main worry for people living with epilepsy.
Tips to protect against holiday lights
Although I cannot stop your seizures or my seizures, I can offer you some tips on preventing seizures and protecting yourself from those flickering lights.
- My top tip for preventing a seizure due to photosensitivity is cover one eye. Sounds odd, right? But it works. Cover one eye and turn away from the source of flashing lights. Researchers have found that if only one eye is exposed to the flickering screen, a smaller area of the brain’s cortex is affected than when both eyes are exposed. The difference is significant enough to greatly reduce the likelihood of a seizure.
- My other tips for you for keeping those seizures at rest is to get plenty of sleep each night. Christmas is exciting for the little ones, so in the run up to the holidays — set a regular sleep schedule, and stick to it. I tend to wind down by 9pm, read a book or sit watching a bit of tv before heading straight to bed.
- Learn stress management and relaxation techniques.
- Plan Ahead. Start making a list of things you need to do for Christmas early. We get our shopping (food & decorations) ready weeks beforehand; it’s easy to make a list so you can tick off what you have done and what is left to do.
Stress and crowds
Write your cards early, wrap your gifts early and even buy your gifts months before. Christmas soon arrives and I hate shopping when hundreds of people are in the shops at once, this is a huge trigger for me. If it’s already too late for you to plan now, save this article for next year!
Know when to stop
Decide when you will stop your Christmas preparations and start to relax and enjoy the holiday. Work towards and try to stick to this goal, even if it is in the late afternoon on Christmas Eve. Remember that Christmas is your holiday too. Don’t spend it being stressed.
Practice your breathing
When we’re stressed our heart beat increases and our breathing shallows. Breathe in deeply through your nose, and then breathe slowly out through your mouth, repeat for a few minutes to instantly help reduce stressful feelings. And remember, keep moving – keeping up your regular exercise routine can give you the fitness and stamina to make it through the demands of the festive season. Even an evening walk will help a lot.
Make a schedule
If you’re struggling with managing time on the day, and you need a little help, try writing a holiday schedule. I do this everyday! But on Christmas it is especially useful. Make a note of when you want to put the turkey in the oven or when to start making the crumble.
Forget the drinks, remember the meds
The next big tip is to avoid the alcohol. I don’t mean avoid it altogether, but try not to overdo it; excessive alcohol dehydrates your body and makes your liver work overtime to process it. Alcohol can also mix badly with anti-convulsions, so be careful.
With all the excitement it is easy to forget to take all of your medications. Make an alert on your phone or to do list, to ensure you take your medications as normal. Skipping your meds can be a huge seizure trigger.
It’s your holiday too, so remember to relax and have fun, laugh and be thankful. Christmas time is the chance to spend time with your loved ones, a time to enjoy and to be thankful. Skip TV and computer time whenever possible. Excessive use of the TV or computer can be a big strain and although it’s easy to get drawn in by all the holiday shows or those games your children may have received for the PC, it is important that you take time away and give your eyes and brain a little rest.
If things don’t go to plan, do not to worry, instead laugh about them and make them into fun memories that you can talk about during holidays to come. Have a great, stress-free, holiday season!
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25 yr old monthly columnist on Living Well with Epilepsy. Full time worker of NHS England.
Emily’s Perspective is a snapshot of what life is like living with Epilepsy. I was diagnosed with Epilepsy at the age of 10.
Based in UK.