Tips for Cancer Patients on How to Cope with Stress at Christmas

Keep Calm and Carry On Christmas Ornament

Christmas is an enjoyable, yet stressful time of the year.

Sending out cards to far away family and friends, maneuvering your way through the crowds at the mall and making sure you take time to visit loved ones can seem impossible for those battling cancer.

While cancer patients would love to put their exhaustion and other cancer symptoms aside so they can be “on” for all of the holiday festivities, this isn’t always realistic.

People diagnosed with mesothelioma or any other form of cancer can experience many stages of pressure, including stress, decompression, reflection and future outlook.

Stressing over Holiday Festivities

Whether you’re in the first stages of cancer or undergoing chemotherapy or radiation treatment, gearing up for visits and meals with loved ones can cause distress.

Licensed mental health counselor Dana Nolan, who leads The Mesothelioma Center’s monthly support group, says distress, also known as bad stress, occurs when our perceived obligations or responsibilities outweigh our perceived ability to meet them.

We may have certain expectations for how we’d like Christmas to play out, how we’d like the decorations to look, the food to taste, our family and friends to react, but the truth is these expectations are the factors that can cause feelings of distress.

It’s important to realize that cancer symptoms, which may include fatigue, loss of appetite and difficulty swallowing, may make doing certain things more difficult for you than if you were completely healthy.

The good news is there are plenty of ways to cope with this stress.

Find Ways to Decompress

Is the thought of hosting Christmas dinner, preparing a dish to bring or hosting out-of-towners causing you distress?

Nolan offers five tips to help cancer patients cope with holiday stress:

  • Ask for help or accept others’ offers to help. Are you too tired to put up the tree or too busy with doctor appointments to find the time to shop for gifts? Perhaps, you’re feeling overwhelmed by all the dishes you have to prepare or all the family members you have to host or visit. It’s important to realize that it’s OK to ask for help or take up loved ones’ offers to help you shop, cook or decorate.
  • Let go of stressful or tiring holiday traditions. Just because you pride yourself on starting and finishing all of your Christmas decorating on Black Friday each year, it doesn’t mean you have to push yourself to do the same this year. Traditions can and should be modified to accommodate your physical, emotional and mental needs.
  • Modify your holiday travel plans or social activities to include the opportunity to rest. Limiting the time you spend with family can give you more time to rest. If you’re feeling down while you’re at someone’s house, knowing ahead of time you’ll have access to a bedroom where you can rest will make you feel less stressed about attending holiday gatherings.
  • Lower your expectations and simply your life. You may not be able to see everyone you had planned on seeing this holiday season, and that’s OK. Be realistic about your expectations. Focus on doing what’s easiest for you and what will be most meaningful in the long run.
  • Set aside “me” time. When you’re feeling stressed, it’s hard to stay emotionally and physically healthy. In order to keep yourself feeling top-notch, you should incorporate exercise, healthy eating and proper sleep into your holiday routine this year. And to lift your spirits, try watching your favorite movie, going outside for some fresh air or playing some seasonal music.

Additional Tips for Dealing with Holiday Stress

Give Yourself Time to Reflect

Although Christmas is known as the “most wonderful time of the year,” you may not be feeling festive, and that’s totally understandable. Listen to your body. Be honest with yourself about what you can and can’t do this holiday season, and then share what you’re going through with your loved ones.

The Dana-Farber Cancer Institute suggests joy often accompanies other emotions, such as sadness or frustration, and it can help to talk these through with a loved one or a professional counselor.

In some cases, you might be the first person diagnosed with cancer in your family or circle of friends. If you don’t tell them what you’re capable of doing during the holidays, they won’t know.

Talk to your family about what you’re going through. Be specific about what you can and can’t do. Otherwise, they might assume you’re able to host Christmas dinner as you’ve done in previous years.

It’s also important to let them know what you can and can’t eat so they know which items to prepare for you. Certain dishes are considered to be cancer-fighting superfoods, while others need to be avoided.

Life After Christmas

As the holiday season comes to an end, think about what you will do differently next year or next time you get together with loved ones for a special occasion. Will you be more open and honest about what you’re capable of doing? Will you set aside more time to rest? This year will serve as a good dos and don’ts guide for the future.

Cancer Patient Performing Low Impact Exercises

You should also think about new ways to improve your quality of life.

For instance, participating in clinical trials would give you access to cutting-edge cancer treatments. These trials allow doctors to measure the effectiveness of the newest drugs and most up-to-date treatment procedures.

Personal trainer Adam Lee also recommends maintaining a low-impact exercise routine to help you relieve symptoms and stress.

Before attempting either of these alternative treatment methods, make sure you consult with your doctor to find out what’s best for you.

  1. Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. (2012, December 18). Cancer and the holidays: Five tips for a less stressful season.
  2. Retrieved from http://www.dana-farber.org/Newsroom/News-Releases/cancer-and-the-holidays-five-tips-for-a-less-stressful-season.aspx

Lynette Zilio is a public outreach coordinator for The Mesothelioma Center, where she strives to spread awareness about mesothelioma and the dangers of asbestos exposure. She graduated magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Science degree in online journalism and a minor in Spanish from the University of Florida. She currently is pursuing an online master’s in mass communication and social media at UF. If you have a story idea for Lynette, please email her at lzilio@asbestos.com

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