According to the popular holiday song, this is supposed to be the happiest time of the year. But for many people, that’s just not true — and the expectation that everyone should be happy can make things even worse.
It’s even harder if you are going through or have recently completed cancer treatment, and are just not feeling well. Then it can seem that the world is going on without you, everyone bustling about when you just can’t.
But I know from experience that there are ways to make the holiday season easier.
For starters, if you have a preconception of the way a holiday should be, let it go.
“There is no right or wrong way to celebrate the holidays," according to Sarah Reed, a social worker at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute's Adult Survivorship Program. "Dealing with illness can make tasks such as shopping, baking, and decorating overwhelming or impossible. It's important to find what works and is comfortable for you."
My memory of being in treatment during a holiday is not actually from this time of year, but rather from the July Fourth holiday — a different circumstance, but similar.
At that time, I was in the hospital for the intensive chemotherapy to treat leukemia. My sister brightened up my Independence Day by bringing a red, white, and blue treat to my hospital room: blueberries, raspberries, and whipped cream. It was just a little something, but it went a long way.
If treatment seems overwhelming this holiday season, the American Cancer Society offers these tips to help make it easier:
• Give yourself permission to feel and express your feelings.
• Take care of yourself: Eat balanced meals and make time for some exercise. Physical activity is a good way to release tension.
• Allow yourself simple pleasures — hot baths, naps, favorite foods — that will help lift your mood.
• Find distractions such as going to a movie or dinner, or doing other activities you enjoy.
• Prepare for the holidays. Decide if you want to continue certain traditions or create new ones. Plan how you want to spend your time, with whom, and for how long.
• Enlist support for organizing holiday gatherings, meal preparation, and cleanup.
• Learn to say no.
• Don’t pressure yourself with unrealistic expectations or try to do everything yourself.
• Don’t overindulge in alcohol. Because alcohol is a depressant, it can bring out or heighten bad feelings
• Don’t try to force yourself to be happy just because it’s the holiday season.
• Don’t shop till you drop.
• Don’t try to do too much in one day. Plan ahead, setting aside specific days for specific tasks.
• Don’t abandon healthy habits. Eat and drink in moderation. Get plenty of sleep.
For me, good exercise is anything within your own capacity, even if that means just doing some simple stretching and strengthening exercises in your home (such as standing up from a chair and sitting down or lifting one leg and then the other).
And when seeking a distraction, you might not be up to the suggestions such as going to a movie. So you could read a book that has been on your shelf for a while, or maybe browse through a magazine or watch TV. Simple, relaxing activities are always good ideas.
You could even get cozy under a warm blanket and just let the noisy world fade away, if only for a little while.
I wish you a happy holiday season — even if it’s not “the happiest time of the year.”
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