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How to take care of yourself this holiday season - by Donna McMillan

christmas cookies

The holidays are fast approaching, and with it comes the excitement and joy of being with family and friends and the anticipation of the festivities that come with the holiday season. There is also that natural stress that is associated with the holidays: the shopping, the cooking, attending those holiday parties, and planning those traditional holiday activities.  It is an exhilarating and exhausting time of year for anyone. Add to that being a cancer survivor also dealing with long-term or residual effects of treatment or maintenance and it can be downright debilitating. So how do you take care of yourself this holiday season?

How to practice self-care when there is no time?

Look up self-care on the internet and you’ll find all sorts of ideas – take a bubble bath, unplug, light a candle, grab a cup of coffee or tea and read a book. And these are great ideas when you have the time and when you just need a day to rest to feel rejuvenated.  But when the holidays and its demands are bearing down on you the one thing that you don’t have is time. And when you are also fighting that all-consuming fatigue that comes with cancer survivorship, a one day of rest isn’t really going to do it for you. So, what can you do?

First, understand that self-care at any time is more than just bubble baths, candles, and a cup of tea. When life has you frazzled, exhausted, or burnt out, you need more than just a bubble bath, candle, and a cup of tea. You need a reset. Or maybe you just need a way to incorporate true self-care into your daily life.  Here’s what I’m talking about.

Saving my energy and time to do what matters the most

During the holidays there are lots of activities that we feel that we must do. We must put up outdoor lights. We must decorate the house. We must have a massive tree with beautiful decorations. We must wrap gorgeous presents. We must go to all the holiday parties that we have been invited to. But here’s the thing. We don’t have to do any of it. If cancer taught me anything it is to save my energy and my time for the things that matter most. Love decorating that tree? Then do it. Hate going to all those parties? It is okay to say, “No thank you, I can’t make it.” Love baking cookies? Bake them. Or maybe you only have energy to bake one batch. Then pick your favorite and do one batch and say no to more.  

Simply said, the best way to preserve your energy and your sanity is to figure out what means the most to you and to say no to the rest. On a good year you can’t do it all, and this is no truer than when you are a cancer survivor.  Your friends and family will appreciate you being able to be fully present rather that wiped out from doing a multitude of activities that you probably won’t remember years from now. When you slow down and bake those peanut butter Hershey kiss cookies only for the holidays, or spend time together snuggled on the couch every year to watch “Home Alone” or “Elf,” then it becomes special. It is during those special times that we will later remember with fondness. Not the overscheduled holiday obligations. Be brave. Change those traditions if you must and say no to everything but what is important to you. Those important things will later become your magical holiday memories.

Surround yourself to people that make you happy

While self-care during the holidays can look like saying no to everything but what matters to you, it can also mean surrounding yourself with the people that make you happy. If being around certain friends or family members stresses you out, then either elect not to spend time with them or limit your time with them. Stress is not a good companion to cancer survivors so do what you can to limit stress.  If that means limiting time with certain friends and family, then give yourself permission to do so. Maybe there are some activities that make you feel rejuvenated like taking a walk, meditating, talking to your best friend,  journaling. Whatever activity that is for you, make time for those activities instead of making time for people or events or activities that stress you or drain your energy levels.

Remember, from now on your health is your priority. 

It doesn’t matter what everyone else can or wants to do. Hurt feelings aside, if you don’t have your health then you can’t fully live. And we now remember how important and precious life is. To honor that gift, value it and safeguard it. Protect your health, physical and mental, at all costs.  

Saying no, changing traditions, and limiting your time with people and events that cause you stress and drain your energy can be difficult to do. But this is true self-care. As cancer survivors, we had to learn how to advocate for ourselves during our cancer treatment. Now we need to do that outside of the medical community and start doing it in our day to day lives. There is no better time to start than during the holidays. You can set the tone now and for the year ahead. Let others know you are prioritizing your health so that you can be around for future holidays. Let them be disappointed if they must or pick up the slack if it’s something really important to them. It’s not your job to make others happy.  It’s your job to protect your health and well-being and to embrace this life you have been given. That includes enjoying the simple pleasures of the holiday. However simple they need to be or however simple you want them to be. They will be perfect because you will be there. Nothing else really matters. Don’t forget that.


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