How to Cope - Survivor Finding Holiday Joy While Coping with Cancer

Grandmother and kids cookingThe holiday season can be a wonderful time of year, filled with cherished traditions and quality time spent with loved ones. It can be the perfect opportunity to add more joy to your life. However, the holidays can also be stressful, especially when you’re dealing with cancer too. The holiday craze of planning, decorating, cooking, cleaning, visiting, and shopping can become exhausting. While there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to celebrating, here are some tips to help you keep the joy and lose the stress this holiday season.

Be open to change. There may be some holiday traditions you just don’t have the time or energy to take part in. Reframe your expectations. Modify your usual holiday traditions to meet your needs this year, or create new ones that make the most of your energy. Enjoy those special moments with your loved ones, and try not to focus on how cancer has changed your holidays.

Set realistic goals. Keep it simple. Don’t feel like all your holiday celebrations need to be “perfect.” Overextending yourself in the flurry of festive activities can cause stress and worsen fatigue, which can make you miss valued quality time with friends and family. 

Make priorities. Figure out what is most important to you and your loved ones. Making a list of the holiday activities you want and need to do can help you see which ones you can skip this year. 

Remember the reason for the season. Think about what the holiday season means to you. Focus on what’s most important to you and your family. Don’t get too wrapped up in getting the best gift for loved ones or making the perfect family dinner. Appreciate being around the people you love, and focus on the present moment.

Don’t overcommit yourself. It’s OK to say no. You shouldn’t feel obligated to take part in every festivity that comes your way. Saying yes to everything can lead to stress and exhaustion during this busy time of year. Be gentle with yourself. Your loved ones will understand if you can’t participate in every holiday activity. Limit yourself to what you can manage and enjoy.
It’s OK to say no. You shouldn’t feel obligated to take part in every festivity that comes your way.Communicate with loved ones and ask for help. Express how you feel with loved ones, and let them know what you want to do this holiday season and what you need help with. You don’t have to do it all, especially by yourself. If someone offers help, accept it. This will allow you to preserve your energy during the long holiday season. If there are certain traditions you want to continue this year, it’s OK to ask for help to make them happen. 

Be with people who lift your spirits. Spend time with people who make you happier, and not those who drag you down. Don’t feel like you have to spend time around negative relatives just because it’s the holidays. When you have limited time and energy, it’s best to spend it with the people who matter most. 

Take a breather. Slow down. Sometimes the holidays get so busy we forget to relax. Allow yourself to do less than you’re accustomed to during this time of year. Strike a balance between downtime and social time. Set aside days where you don’t have much planned so that you don’t wear yourself out this holiday season.

Allow yourself simple pleasures. Find what’s meaningful to you. Give yourself plenty of “you” time, and do what makes you happy. Watch a festive movie. Take a bath. Read a book by the fireplace. 

Maintain a regular routine. Try to keep your normal mealtimes and sleep schedule. Don’t abandon your healthy habits. Eat regularly. Stay hydrated. Keep late nights and long days to a minimum, especially when you’re feeling tired. Don’t compromise your health for holiday festivities.

Be mindful of your eating habits. It’s easy to overindulge when there are holiday parties and seasonal goodies everywhere you look. Control your portions. Eat balanced meals, and avoid drinking excessive amounts of alcohol. Give your body plenty of the healthy food it needs.

Keep moving. It’s easy to forget about exercise during the holidays, but it’s important to make time for it. Get your loved ones involved. Go on walks with family members, or build a snowman with the kids. Physical activity can help you feel better mentally and physically and give you more energy. Just make sure to talk with your doctor before starting any exercise program. 

Listen to your body. You may not always feel up for participating in holiday events. Plan activities for when you feel at your best, and set aside time to relax and recover. Avoid overworking your body and mind. Take a break from the festivities when you need to. It’s important to balance activity and rest throughout the holiday season.


This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, November/December 2017.