Weekly challenge: easing holiday stress when you have a chronic illness

The holiday season with its gift-giving deadlines, dietary challenges, and travel requirements can be a stressful time for anyone, but for those undergoing cancer treatments it can be especially challenging.

“There is no right or wrong way to celebrate the holidays,” said Sarah Reed, a social worker at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute’s Adult Survivorship Program. “Dealing with illness, or grieving a loss, can make tasks such as shopping, baking, and decorating overwhelming or impossible.”

Here are some tips she suggests for cancer patients and others dealing with chronic illnesses to help them manage the holidays with plenty of rest, relaxation, and joy.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

1. Keep it simple. You won’t be able to do it all, so don’t even try. Pick one or two meaningful traditions like baking grandma’s cookies or calling loved ones who live far away, and put the rest aside. Some families even create new traditions when a loved one is going through treatment like ordering in from a favorite restaurant.

2. Shop online. Fighting the traffic and crowds at the local mall can sap your energy and expose you all sorts of circulating viruses like the flu. Shop online instead, and send e-card greetings if you aren’t up to writing out all those cards by hand.

3. Express your real feelings. Expressing fears or sadness about your condition can bring a sense of relief. The holidays aren’t only about happiness but about feeling close to our loved ones. Dana Farber and other area hospitals also offer support groups and one-on-one sessions with professional counselors.

4. Listen to your body. Balance activity with rest, and plan festivities at times when you know you tend to have more energy and then set aside time to relax and recover. Aim for healthy activities, like outdoor walks with family or friends.

5. Plan a little “me” time. Grab a coffee with a friend, get a professional massage, or just sink into the couch with your favorite book or movie. Doing something just for your own pleasure can help take your mind off the illness and restore a sense of peace and hopefulness.