10 Tips for Managing Stress Over the Holidays

The holidays can be a very stressful time for some people – uncomfortable family time, tons of entertaining, financial strain and sometimes a time of loneliness and sadness. Compound that with going through cancer or a crisis and you may have some dark days ahead.

Here are some tips for managing your stress over the holidays.

Have Realistic Expectations

Photo by Erwan Hesry
Photo by Erwan Hesry

Not everything is going to be perfect so do not expect it to be. If you are in cancer treatment or caring for someone in cancer treatment, the holidays may have to look different this year and you may have to downsize the festivities. If you normally have a big tree, opt for a smaller artificial one that doesn’t need care. If you have an annual cocktail party, maybe this year is about having a few of your closest friends over for a potluck, or cozying up on the couch with your pets to watch It’s a Wonderful Life for the 80th time.

Set Realistic Budgets

Photo by Ben White
Photo by Ben White

Spend only what you can afford and talk to your children about their expectations for this year. The costs associated with cancer can be really taxing, especially with one person in a family not working. This might be the year to pull back and keep gift-giving lean. If you are a crafty person and have some easily made homemade items, this can be a great way to give something special. Or consider a Chris Kringle where everyone chooses the name of one person in the family to buy for so everyone gets one gift. You can make it fun by keeping it anonymous and trying to figure out who bought who what. If you buy your children 8 nights worth of presents for Chanukah, consider one special one instead.

Set Aside Time for Yourself

Photo by Chad Madden
Photo by Chad Madden

Read, exercise, do something you enjoy. Although the holidays is supposed to be a time of relaxation and rest, it can often feel hectic and busy. If you are in some sort of recovery or you are caring for someone, you may have to carve out the time you need to recharge your batteries. It may feel anti-social or even selfish, but it is an important part of self-care.

Say No

Photo by Andy Tootell
Photo by Andy Tootell

Do not accept every invitation or go to every function. There is a lot of pressure to socialize over the holidays. If you are a person who likes to be out and about but you are not feeling 100%, consider being picky and only going to a few soirees. Overdoing it can cause exhaustion and possibly compromise your immune system if you are in treatment.

Be With People

Photo by Chad Madden
Photo by Chad Madden

Surround yourself with loved ones or, if you are alone, join a group or volunteer at a charity. The holidays can be a very isolating time for people who don’t have family or many friends to be around. If you are already a part of a cancer support group, this may be a good time to call on those peers. If you don’t prefer large groups, one-to-one time might feel a bit safer for you, especially if you are feeling fragile.

Easy on the alcohol

Photo by Jez Timns

Minimize the drinking and go for the mocktail. If you are in treatment or just finished you may have already cut out alcohol from your diet. Not only are there risk factors associated with alcohol and cancer, liquor (yes, even wine) can be a depressant. Some people feel these affects with just one drink so it’s a good idea to monitor your mood and alcohol’s affect on it.

Seek Direction

Photo by Jonathan Simcoe
Photo by Jonathan Simcoe

Don’t feel compelled to surprise everyone with their gift – ask them what they want. Some people spend a lot of time and energy on finding the “perfect” gift. While this is extremely thoughtful (and an awesome skill), it’s also ok to ask for guidance so that you are not spreading yourself thin.

Accept Help

Photo by Annie Spratt
Photo by Annie Spratt

Whether you are hosting a party, lighting Chanukah candles, or need your tree trimmed, ask others for help. Again, this year may be the year that you are not able to do EVERYTHING on your own. Do you remember all of those well-meaning friends, neighbours and family members who offered to help when you were diagnosed? It’s time to ask them to put their elf hats on and assign them some jobs to get you ready for the holidays.

Keep Decorating Simple

Photo by Markus Spiske
Photo by Markus Spiske

Perhaps deck just one hall rather than all of them. In the age of minimalist modern décor, Christmas never got the memo. People still like to go ALL OUT. Maybe choose to focus on one area of your home like the living room or the outside lights, and keep the rest of the house as is. It is less clean-up and schlepping during a time when you may not have as much energy. See tip above for helpers!

Set aside differences

Photo by Mayur Galla

Let grievances or family squabbles lie. This is a really important one because one of the greatest sources of stress over the holidays is family politics. If you can find away to forgive grievances and accept people for who they are (in all of their dysfunctional glory), magical things might happen. Holidays can bring people together and opening your heart up a bit may invite love and new beginnings. And let’s face it, we can all use a little of that in our lives.

Support during this difficult time is challenging with holiday closures but there are some resources that remain open and available should you find yourself needing someone to talk to.

Crisis Centres Across Canada

Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation Helpline 

Cancer Support Helpline 

Cancer Connection 

For more support sign up for Rethink’s Young Women’s Network here.

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