Are you newly diagnosed with cancer, in treatment, or have a loved one with cancer? Does it stress you out thinking about the holidays? The average person anticipates this time of year with both excitement and dread.
But, what happens when we add cancer to normal holiday stress? Stress x 10? Maybe. We can’t say for certain because it is an individual experience. What we do know is that cancer is stressful and stress may have a profound impact on our mood, how we feel, and how we function every day. With holidays to boot, that stress can feel overwhelming.
The good news is, while we can’t always control what happens around us, we can control our reaction to stressful events. This means you can take control of stress before it takes control of you. By taking good care of yourself, you can change a chaotic situation into one that is manageable and perhaps even enjoyable.
How? Let’s see if we can add some tools to your self-care toolbox that will help you feel empowered rather than depleted as you face cancer AND get through the holidays.
- Honor your feelings: You may feel sad, scared, anxious, depressed or helpless. These feelings are normal. Acknowledge your feeling and release it, like you might drop a leaf into a stream and watch it float on by.
- Be your own best friend: Ask yourself – how am I a best friend to my best friend? Now, turn that around and make a promise to do something every day that feels nurturing, positive, and comforting. Set your intention and write it down.
- Take time for yourself: A quiet walk, stretching, or reading your favorite novel. Spend some time with yourself every day to recharge.
- Have a go-to place when you’re stressed: It can be a physical space like your favorite nook at home, or an internal place like a calming mantra statement you repeat again and again – this too shall pass.
- Breathe: Taking ten slow deep breaths will help restore balance to your nervous system and promote calm and wellbeing. Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths slowly, through your belly. Take time out each day to notice your breath and quiet your mind.
- Get support: It’s easy to retreat or withdraw when we aren’t feeling well. Letting others support you not only helps you but is a gift to your loved one. It is healing for both of you.
- Delegate: Give yourself permission to share the burden. Make a list of what needs doing, break it down by category according to difficulty and match your items to particular people. Then ask and allow others to help you.
- Know your limits and say no: Having a “yes” attitude and taking on more than you can handle only adds stress, and now is not the time! Saying “no” will give you confidence and help you regain control so you can focus on what you need in order to heal. Respect your limits.
- Speak your needs: Your loved one can’t read your mind. Telling him what you need takes pressure off, so you don’t have to feel resentful or hurt and he doesn’t have to keep worrying something is wrong. You may need the kids picked up, your hand held when you’re hurting, or you may need a listening ear. Be honest and clear about what you need.
- Fuel your body well: Commit to good nutrition, activity or a walk every day (even if to the mailbox!) and get a good night’s sleep. Your body will thank you.
- Fuel your mind well: Pay attention to your thoughts and remember this is how you are talking to yourself! Use Thought Stopping when you notice a negative thought and replace it with one positive thing about yourself.
- Forgive yourself: Tempted to eat more Christmas cookies? Said something you regret? It’s okay. Forgive yourself and choose better next time. Forgiveness is often the first step to emotional healing.
- Keep a Gratitude Journal: Gratitude is the greatest healer. It will lift your mood and encourage good feelings. Write down five things you are grateful for each night before bed. You will sleep better and wake up feeling lighter.
Remember – you hold the key to your experience. The greatest gift you can give yourself (and others) this holiday season is to go easy with yourself, be grateful, and release any burdens you are carrying. Try it and see. It may even get you singing “Jingle Bells” with those nearest and dearest to you.
Julia A. Wick, MS, LCMHC, is a licensed clinical mental health counselor at The University of Vermont Cancer Center.