Learning of a cancer diagnosis or going through cancer treatment during the holidays completely changes your perspective during one of the most festive times of the year. How can I celebrate when I’m going through this? Will I feel good enough to even see my family this Christmas? What is going to happen next year? Those are just a few of the questions that can race through your mind as you are waiting in doctors’ offices, awake in the middle of the night or receive another holiday card in the mail. When just about everyone else is busy decorating their houses or heading out the door for yet another holiday function, time stops when you have cancer and doesn’t guarantee things will go back to normal any time soon. However, there are ways you can cope with cancer during the holidays to help reduce your stress and even lift your spirits.
The American Cancer Society offers this advice for patients and their family handling the impact of cancer and treatment during the holiday season. It is a time to allow for healing, while also making room for more realistic expectations. Most importantly, patients and family members need to listen to how they feel and respect those feelings.
Listen to your emotions and do not bottle them. Give yourself permission to express how you feel – whether it is joy, sadness, anger, disappointment, or excitement. If you need to laugh or cry, let it out.
Focus on your wellbeing. From eating well, to sleeping and staying hydrated, your physical wellbeing is paramount during this time. Even getting in regular exercise helps relieve tension and stress.
Enjoy the small things like enjoying a hot bath or watching one of your favorite movies. Making time for these pleasures can help boost your mood.
When appropriate and when you feel right, schedule outings with friends or family to help take you out of this world for just a bit. A movie, recital or lunch out are good ideas.
Make a plan for holiday traditions. Before you feel the pressure of trying to do something you are either not ready for or don’t feel up to, plan out what you would like to do with family this season. Plan how you would like to spend your time and for how long you will be able to attend these events. Remember to keep your overall wellbeing a top priority.
Don’t forget to ask for help – whether that is with picking up gifts to bringing in food and cleaning up.
Remember that it is OK to say no. You don’t have to feel obligated to participate in everything or try to appease others’ requests at this time.
Don’t put pressure on yourself to make this holiday season just like all the others. Give yourself the time and the permission to make changes this year.
Don’t drink too much alcohol as it can lead to depressed feelings.
If you are not in the holiday mood or feeling happy, don’t force yourself to be something you are not right now. This goes back to listening to and honoring your emotions.
Don’t make up for feelings of guilt by overspending on others. Decide how much you are going to spend on gifts and stick to your budget.
Don’t spread yourself too thin. Plan plenty of rest and downtime among other holiday plans.
If you have questions or concerns about how to cope with the stress, expectations and hustle and bustle of the holidays, make sure you talk to your health care provider and let them know how you are feeling. Sometimes all it takes is hearing someone else say that you need to allow for time for yourself and that it is okay to say no.