Iris Oncology
Everyday Support, Navigating Emotions

Doing the Holidays Differently

The holidays are supposed to be the happiest time of the year. But for many people, especially those living with cancer, holiday emotions can be complex. For some, the holiday season is a welcome oasis of peace and calm. For others, the pressure to be “happy” or live up to certain expectations can lead to disappointment, exhaustion, and stress.

Health conditions may limit travel, a fragile immune system may restrict socializing, or you may simply live on your own with limited options for sharing the holidays with others. Regardless of the reason, you may find yourself experiencing a range of emotions when the holidays look different from years past.

Here, we’ve collected some suggestions for navigating the holidays when coping with changes brought on by cancer.

Stay in the Moment

Mindfulness helps redirect your thoughts away from what was, what could have been, or what might happen in the future. It’s a way of being curious, attentive, and above all, kind to yourself.

There are many paths to mindfulness. Meditation probably gets the most attention, but whenever you choose to focus your attention on the present, suspend judgment, and focus only on what you’re experiencing right now, you are practicing mindfulness.

As an example, Stephanie Meyers, a registered dietitian and licensed nutritionist with Iris, suggests finding mindfulness in food by creating a ritual that feeds your soul. Practice appreciating your food by engaging all your senses. Feel the warmth of your plate in your hands, smell the aroma of your food, and take the time to savor every bite of something you enjoy. Lighting candles or plugging in string lights and turning on the music you love can make mealtime into a richly mindful experience.

Connect on Your Terms

Holidays are traditionally a time to connect with loved ones, but it’s okay to interact with others on your terms—or not at all. When cancer keeps you isolated from others, think creatively about how you can have social connections.

For those who want social interaction, Zoom, FaceTime, Skype, etc. are wonderful tools. Make the most of time spent on them by thinking ahead about how you’d like the conversation to go. If there are subjects you’d particularly like to discuss or avoid discussing, for example, reach out to others beforehand and let them know.

Bear in mind that not all distance socializing needs to be focused on conversation. You might prefer to socialize around an activity, such as making cookies with your grandchildren on Skype, having a watch party of your favorite holiday movies on Netflix, or planning a special online dinner with friends or loved ones.

And if you’d rather not socialize at all, that’s fine, too. Wish anyone who invites you to an event a warm and happy holiday and say no thanks. You can give as much or as little explanation as you’re comfortable with.

Consider a Gratitude Practice

Being told to “count your blessings” may feel trite, especially when facing a serious illness. However, research shows that cultivating a gratitude practice of just a few minutes a day can have significant health benefits.

Taking the time to write down anything you’re grateful for is a simple way to start. You could also send notes of appreciation to anyone who has helped you over the past year, verbally thank anyone who helps you in person, and consciously look for moments of beauty and peace throughout the day.

Nurture Yourself

While cancer is unwelcome, it can allow for a shift in considering priorities and caring for oneself during a busy season.

Take some time to focus on your own comfort, needs, and desires and think about what would bring you joy. That could mean finally getting around to that book you’ve been meaning to read, reconnecting with someone you’ve lost touch with, picking up an old hobby, or taking up a new one.

We all have an idealized vision of what the holidays “should” look like, which can be a source of deep disappointment and stress when your current reality fails to meet expectations. Allowing for change and approaching the holidays with creativity and curiosity can make space for an entirely new version of comfort and joy.

This article meets Iris standards for medical accuracy. It has been fact-checked by the Iris Clinical Editorial Board, our team of oncology experts who ensure that the content is evidence based and up to date. The Iris Clinical Editorial Board includes board-certified oncologists and pharmacists, psychologists, advanced practice providers, licensed clinical social workers, oncology-certified nurses, and dietitians.