Winter holidays have officially arrived, bringing food, family, friends and celebrations. But for many people, this time of year also comes with the holiday blues. Rather than feeling festive, you may feel sad, isolated or numb. The blues may hit those fighting mesothelioma and other cancers harder than others.
Patients may feel stress about their illnesses and cancer treatment costs. They may also worry about having enough energy for treatments and holiday events. These stressors can put a damper on the most festive celebrations. But experts have suggestions for managing even the bluest of winters. Here are a few tips and tricks for cancer patients and others navigating a difficult holiday season.
Keep It Real
One important tactic for cancer patients is to keep their holiday expectations realistic. This applies to expectations about events, other people and themselves. Patients often have cancer symptoms and treatment side effects at the same time. This may mean dealing with exhaustion, nausea and more.
Accepting the impact of these circumstances can help you prioritize what matters most. Examples of managing holiday expectations include:
- Accepting your feelings: It is entirely understandable to feel more blue than jolly if you’re fighting cancer over the holidays. Chemotherapy side effects would fill anyone with more nausea than joy. Give yourself the freedom to simply feel what you feel. If that means being angry, tired or just sad, that’s alright. Your feelings are valid, and you don’t need to police them because of the holidays.
- Communicating honestly: It can be difficult to admit your negative emotions or physical struggles to others. You may not want to tell family members that you can’t do some of the things you used to. But being open about what you do or don’t feel up for helps everyone make the most of this season. It empowers loved ones to make plans you can enjoy and lets you rest when you need to.
- Embracing the messy and imperfect: Prioritizing your physical and mental health often means other things may not be at the top of the to-do list. You may not put up the usual decorations or bake someone’s favorite pie. You might be too tired to dig out your favorite ugly sweater from the attic. But you can still spend your time the way you choose, with beloved people, pets or holiday movies.
- Going with the flow: Cancer patients experience a wide range of physical and emotional sensations. Even people without cancer don’t wake up feeling the way they’d like every day. It may be helpful to give yourself permission to change plans according to how you feel. If you wake up to a difficult body or mental health day, it’s ok to cancel existing plans. Give yourself the space to care for the changing needs of your body.
- Saying “no” freely and without guilt: Between treatment appointments and holiday events, calendars can fill up quickly. But cancer-related fatigue can leave patients with limited physical and social bandwidth. Declining less important events lets you reserve your energy for the things you care about. This may mean only attending one or two events throughout the season, and that’s fine. Reserving your strength for treatment and recovery is a healthy choice that requires no apologies.
Cancer patients may find some of these suggestions tough to put into action. It may be easier to do with the help of a trusted friend or family member.
Don’t Go It Alone
It’s easy to get overwhelmed while managing cancer and trying to navigate the holidays. Patients should remember they aren’t alone in the fight. Friends, family and caregivers are often ready to provide all kinds of support. You might ask them for help with tasks like gift wrapping or decorating the house. It may also be helpful to request a friendly voice and listening ear if you are feeling lonely or sad.
Friends and family may want to help their loved ones with cancer but don’t know how. This is a great time for patients to reach out for aid and support.
Feed Body and Soul
It’s important for cancer patients (and everyone else) to take care of their bodies. No matter how hectic the holiday season is, don’t forget to eat and rest! A body battling cancer needs proper nourishment and fuel for the fight. Eating well doesn’t mean taking all of the fun out of festive feasts, though. You can still indulge in foods that bring joy.
Self-care is important for everyone and can be even more vital during stressful times. Patients should make sure they’re supporting their minds and emotions, too. This could mean taking time alone to read a new book, meditating, going to a spa or getting a massage. You may also want to take a walk with family, join a support group or anything else that helps you feel mentally healthy.
Give It a Rest
Rest is vital for anyone battling an illness. Overexertion and overstimulation can create or add to sleep issues. A lack of quality sleep can affect mood, energy and the body’s ability to heal itself. No matter how busy the season gets, you should prioritize sleep.
If you find sleep difficult during this time, talk to your doctor or oncology team. They may recommend over-the-counter or prescription sleep aids. They might also suggest trying complementary or alternative therapies to help you snooze.